"I'm not a feminist either": Ruminations on shying away from the 'f' word amongst some black vegans

This morning I worked diligently on promoting the upcoming Sistah Vegan Conference, scheduled for September 14, 2013. I started locating pro-vegan organizations that would be interested in getting the word out about the event. I became excited when I saw a particular black vegan Facebook page with over 10,000 likes. I sent the owner of the page a message about posting the conference to her site. Their response was amazingly snarky:

Her response: We basically do this once a month for free

My response: Ok, then you don’t have to post this. Was just searching for folk interested in critical race, black feminist, critical queer studies applications to veganism in the US academy. Thanks for considering it anyway.

Her response: I’m not a feminist either

My response: Thanks for letting me know that you have no interest in circulating this message and I’ll be sure not to reach out to you or your organization about any other future events and books that the Sistah Vegan Project is doing.

I thought that even though she may not identify as a feminist, that perhaps one of her many followers would find the content of the conference interesting. After looking at a lot of the ‘health conscious’ awesome health activism she was doing, I noticed that the topics covered in my conference were absent from her take on Black ‘conscious’ veganism. I wasn’t really sure then, what she meant that “We basically do this once a month for free.” What was ‘this’ exactly, since her content did not engage the critical topics the conference will look at? Perhaps her fans would benefit from both of what we are doing. I also wondered how she defined feminism and wondered if she thought about how black feminist activists made it possible for us black women to be at the point in which Jim Crow was eradicated and The Civil Rights Act passed. I wonder how many people do not know there are all types of feminisms; and that many that are in contradiction of each other: Mormon Housewife feminists, decolonial feminists, Chicana feminists, Marxist feminist, Black feminists, Vegan feminists, Catholic feminists, etc.

I found her response confusing, as she claims they do this once a month for free, yet I don’t see any perspectives about black feminism, critical queer studies, sizeism, or disability studies as part of her health conscious activism for Black people. I’m wondering how or why my conference topics illicit what I can only read as a ‘snarky’ and an ‘irritated’ response from her. It is notable that while I get ‘irritated’ comments from white vegans about my critical race and critical whiteness analysis of mainstream veganism, I get a fair number of Black ‘conscious’ vegans who seem irritated that I take a black feminist, pro-lgbtq, and anti-ableist approach to understanding vegan food culture in the USA.

I actually think that this is why the Sistah Vegan Conference is quite important, because we ‘dare’ go where both mainstream white vegans and a significant number of black ‘conscious’ vegans dare not go: questioning not just normative whiteness as an organizing principle in the USA, but also questioning how anti-feminism, heteronormativity, fat-phobia, transphobia, heterosexism, and ableism are upheld by even health ‘conscious’ communities of color (as well as white). After all, people of color may collectively be recipients of structural racism, but many of us must also be aware of how we benefit from our other privileged social locations at the expense of ‘other’ marginalized people [of color]. Does your health, food, and vegan activism or ‘conscious’ approach also build solidarity with those who are LGBTQ identified? Those who are living with disability? Who do not fit into the ‘thin’ bodied fat-phobic health rhetoric? Does it consider what feminist (and there are a plethora of different types of feminisms, not just ‘one’) or anti-neoliberalist capitalist perspectives can offer? Does it consider how not to replicate sexist stereotypes or normative whiteness?

And of course, we are all not going to agree. But that is not the point. The point is to be open to new ideas and to go into the ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘unfamiliar’ territory that could yield positive transformations in ourselves that we could have never fathomed. Remember, opening yourself up to transformation is supposed to be a little hard, a little scary, and a little bit uncomfortable. What we have always known as ‘safe’, ‘secure’, our ‘stable identity’ starts getting questioned, but that doesn’t mean this is a bad thing. I remember feeling this way when my black feminism was questioned by critical animal and anti-speciest scholars and activists. And, now years later, I realized how much integrating the ‘scary’ concept of veganism has enhanced my understanding of how to achieve mindfulness, justice, and harmlessness as a black feminist scholar, writer, and activist.

I welcome you to join us for the upcoming web conference. You need NOT to identify as a Black female vegan, a feminist, or even a vegan! All we ask is for the participation of people who are open to other perspectives and worldviews about health, food, justice, and animal compassion that often are silenced by a USA society that takes structural ‘isms’ for granted. We are seeking allies to build a type of veganism, food ethics, social justice paradigm, and animal compassion movement that acknowledges what it means to be racialized-sexualized as Black females or NOT (i.e. Chicana lesbian or white middle class man living with disability) ; to be part of a way of thinking that gets us to question the external as well as our own internal challenges, privileges, and ignorances.

14 thoughts on “"I'm not a feminist either": Ruminations on shying away from the 'f' word amongst some black vegans

  1. really interesting and challenging, as always…we may or may not have the same perspective about what “feminism” is. similar to the whole, very useful thread you started about what is “racism” in the usa. for me, feminism is NOT what any particular female or group of females decide it is. it is a movement that has a history and a context, as well as a structural analysis of patriarchy and capitalism. all justice advocates are not feminists, but all feminists are justice advocates. and anyone who is a justice advocate in some but not all areas of human liberation needs some educating, in my view.

  2. I think you would communicate better your intent if you explained what you expected viewers to gain from the seven hour conference, and why you were charging a registration fee that appears too low to cover the costs of paid professional speakers.

    I realize that you’re probably trying to attract a group that does not have a large educational budget; the way to attract them is not to value your education lower, it is to price the education at the true value but make it clear and obvious that you will subsidize people who can’t afford it. If attending a seven-hour conference isn’t worth at least $300 to someone with the level of educational budget that can adsorb that cost, it probably isn’t worth the time to attend at any price.

    By putting a lower price on attendance, you signal both a low value of attendance and a profit motive.

    1. I politely disagree with you.

      Does the 6 page schedule and abstract not convey what people will learn? It conveys titles and abstracts. I’m just wondering why I would need to write even more than a 6 page schedule with descriptions to get people to know what they’d ‘gain’ from it. Maybe it’s just me, but all I need to do is look at a speaker line up and their abstracts to the presentations for me to immediately know that it is knew knowledge that I’ll gain from attending a conference; or if it’s something I already read, learned, went to a workshop about.

      I am not trying to reach out to people who can afford $300 on a WEB conference. This is about accessibility. I want people to be able to afford it because I have never been able to afford the academic conferences I wanted to attend, taking place in physical locations with ridiculous $200-$400 fees, as well as hotel and plane costs.

      If I wanted to make profit, why would I charge $35 instead of $300? It’s a web conference. I invited women to speak who are not necessarily ‘paid professional speakers’. I think anyone who takes the time to write talk (which takes a long time) should be paid, whether they are first time speakers, professional, or whatever.

      I also don’t have money to subsidize people who can’t afford $300 and in all honesty, with a significant number of my followers having emailed me over the course of 7 years that they are working class, ‘poor’, or struggling vegans, I’d think it is unmindful to still want to charge $300 out of my own principles of making information ‘more accessible.’

      My response to my interaction today, along with going through and analyzing this woman’s content, is part of a larger context and history of ‘black health conscious’ movement. And I’m just wondering if you’ve ever analyzed the Black vegan health conscious movement and are familiar with the troubling theme of fatphobia, transphobia, heterosexism, ableism, and constructing ‘feminism’ as ‘something evil white lesbians force onto black women to emasculate black men.’ Her content did not critique structural heterosexism, ableism, transphobia. So, I was noting that, even if her intentions are unconscious, I was simply noting this absence.

      1. Addressing those points not in strict order: More information would not be a better way to attract people. Almost every abstract buries the lede; the very first sentence should have simple structure and make the key point without any background buildup (e.g. “We discuss how white supremacy and patriarchy directly impact animal welfare. In the animal rights movement, …) The speaker list, by itself, says nothing to most people. Even with a title (such as “PhD Candidate (Theology of Animals)”), most people have no usable information.

        I tried to be clear; set the price somewhere around the value for the high end of your audience, and make it clear everywhere that you indicate the cost that you will offer aid to people who cannot afford it. Someone who believes that they got $400 worth of conference for $35 and seven hours will be much happier than someone who believes that they got $35 worth of conference for $35 and seven hours. (You don’t have to make any changes to the conference itself, nor do any actual vetting of the aid requests; the entire point is to manipulate perceptions.

        The perception that you have a profit motive is much more important than the reality; if you explained what marginal expenses were being covered by the registration fee, that would also mitigate the perception of the profit motive. (If there are no marginal expenses, why have the fee at all?)

        And no, I haven’t ever analyzed that particular reference class; does that particular specialization offer specific, generally applicable insight into feminist practice in the same way that mindfulness does? I am familiar with body and role policing, with discrimination (although I’m unconvinced that there’s a more important distinction among discriminations than ‘for sound/unsound reasons’.), and I’ve had long frank conversations with enough different types of feminist to become convinced that any appearance of a unified group is an illusion.

        I also am utterly convinced that the only thing that matters is results; you set out with the intention of reaching more people by networking into additional exposure, and you did not attain your primary goal. Had you asked about what they already doing once a month for free, and offered to provide a speaker for their whatever-it-is, you might have gotten the opportunity to reach an existing audience, or you might have gotten around the objection that it was already being done. Instead you took a specific objection as a blanket refusal.

        1. “I also am utterly convinced that the only thing that matters is results; you set out with the intention of reaching more people by networking into additional exposure, and you did not attain your primary goal. Had you asked about what they already doing once a month for free, and offered to provide a speaker for their whatever-it-is, you might have gotten the opportunity to reach an existing audience, or you might have gotten around the objection that it was already being done. Instead you took a specific objection as a blanket refusal.”

          Actually, to me, it was quite obvious she has not interest in wanting to help. I took it as a a blanket refusal, because unlike the other people I have contacted who may not ‘be feminist’, ‘black’, ‘vegan’, etc, they had a more inviting response and said they’d help let people know about it anyway.

          About selling…. I just don’t have the ‘business’ mind and modeled my conference fees off of most food justice and social justice ‘grassroots’ organizations that offer low fees for their services to it is accessible to everyone. And I’ve observed this model as very productive for most, so this is wher eI get confused by what you are saying in the context of my own ‘food justice’ and ‘social justice’ not really into capitalist business approach to vegan education.

      2. If you are attracting the number of people that your conference can support, obviously you are doing things well enough. It appeared to me that you were making low-probability cold calls to get the word out.

        1. Maybe there was a miscommunication about what my blog post was talking about?

          I am not having problems promoting and marketing the event, i was just pointing out how there seems to be a significant number of Black ‘health’ conscious vegans who don’t critically examine what it means that heteronormativity, fatphobia, and ableism, even classism shape the logic amongst most plant-based dietary health reform. And in addition to that, I have found that many Black identified people, vegan or not, shy away from the word ‘feminism’. So, that is what I was really referring to.

          But no, not having a problem with getting people to help me spread the word about it for the most part.

    2. I’m not sure why the price of something would be the only thing that speaks of its value. Just because something is lower in price, does not mean it is also lower in value and not worth the expenditure. After reading the conference abstract, it was clear to me the value of attending the conference would be VERY HIGH–price aside. I am very grateful I can afford to attend the conference, but that is just an added bonus. I also don’t expect to be able to afford everything, but I would not devalue the conference because it is priced within my budget. Doing that might mean I don’t value what I can afford just because it might not be the same things someone with more means can pay for.

      1. There are decades of marketing research that back up the fact that a higher price attached to something connotes higher quality or is more valued by the consumer. Pricing is definitely an aspect of marketing. You may see “marketing” as a capitalist manipulation, but in reality, we all market ourselves and our ideas and so on all the time–sometimes consciously, sometimes not. It’s folly to randomly choose a price for something without considering actual costs and the value people will then attach to the item as a reflection of that price.
        It may not mean that we don’t value what we can afford. The psychology of consumption is more complex than that. There is a restaurant that charges $40 for dinner, and one that charges $18. You are on a tight budget, but you’re going out for your birthday. You find a deal to go to the first restaurant for $20. Which place are you going to go? Probably the first, because you think more of the place that charges $40 for dinner, even though you can now go for only $20. Super-simplified example, but hope you get the idea.

      2. @Andrea – I get your points and reasoning, however, my point was just to state that price was not the ONLY qualifier of value. I think it was wrongly critical of deciusbrutus to point out to Dr. Harper that the price of the conference is low, therefore, the value of the conference is low. The value of the conference is evident in the abstract. And I can’t compare this situation to dining out, and I think that is why deciusbrutus’s comment was so out of pocket to me–this is not a unspecific occurrence that should be evaluated within terms of generic market research, this is specifically the First Annual Sistah Vegan Conference which has specific context and meaning. I just think all that was overlooked when criticizing the cost of the conference. I worked in marketing for several years so I understand the complexity of assigning a value to goods/services–but these approaches are not limited to flashing high prices to assure a consumer it must be worth because it cost more than anything else you own. Cost is important if I want to buy something I have only x-dollars for, but cost is not important if I want to buy something that I am WILLING to spend x-dollars for. I know I am not every consumer, but there are many consumers like me.

      3. Lana: I didn’t intend to imply that price was the ONLY way to signal value. I did say that putting a low price signals a lower value than ‘free’ would. I also didn’t say anything about reality- everything I said was about perception of value, particularly perception of value from people outside of the academic circles. Rational economic agents will not be attracted to higher price, unless they are rational enough to explicitly use price as evidence of value.

      4. @deciusbrutus – Somehow my point has become unclear. Overall, I found it exponentially odd that of all the things one could comment on with regards to the conference, especially with such a lengthy abstract packed with a range of topics, the cost would have never made my list. My last footstep in academia was well over a decade ago so my perspective, on any subject including value, rests outside of any sort academic circle. But still, the only thing the cost of the conference signified to me, was that it would be money well spent.

  3. @ Breeze–I’m sorry that you have to constantly be undermined every two minutes by deciusbrutus!

    @Deciusbrutus–I follow Breeze’s blog often and I realize that you throw around the word “miscommunication” immensely. As a Communication graduate student myself, I don’t understand why you consistently feel the need to undermine Dr. Harper’s communication skills every time she posts a blog post up. I think she has consistently been very clear with her goals and intentions. Perhaps you’re conflating your own confusion and misunderstanding with Breeze’s communication skills. No one else seems to have an issue with that.

    Yet again, you don’t realize how condescending you are coming off! Harper has a PhD in these topics; therefore, the unwarranted “advice” that you’re offering her is a bunch of bullshit. As Breeze has noted, she is more concerned about the accessibility of the information, rather than overcharging people just so that she can feel “legitimate” in her conference planning skills. I mean, how can you essentially tell Breeze that the amount of money she charges should be equivalent to the importance of the knowledge produced??Decius–i’m still convinced that you’re a troll or something, so I will refrain from remarking on your comments! It seems like you “half” read her blog posts and then make comments longer than her post.

    back to Breeze now–Yep, feminism is a rough terrain for many women today, especially women of color, regardless if they’re vegan or not. The “mainstream” feminism that is advertised in women’s studies classes (assuming that the institution is predominantly a white institution), will start with Susan B. Anthony, as if women of color were not born yet. I majored in Women’s Studies as an undergrad and I had the absolute worst time in my life. I was the ONLY women of color in my classes for four straight years!! Even as a grad student now, I took a grad-level class in Women’s Studies last semester, and I was, yet again, the only African American woman and the knowledge we were exposed to was still predominantly white. I mean, there were several times I went home and cried because I was so upset. Therefore, I think as long as we live in a white supremacist culture, where white women have privileges (even if they don’t think they do), we will always feel invisible in regards to MOST knowledge’s and histories.

    Additionally, I have to add in that it’s an increasingly confusing climate because of third wave/post-feminism. It’s difficult because feminism, as a mainstream term, has become commodified and depoliticized. Therefore, we also have the OTHER side of this debate where people claim the “feminist” title without actually knowing what feminism is….people assume that because you have a vagina that that automatically makes you a feminist, which means that the feminist activist space can EASILY be co-opted by patriarchy all over again. I think that’s the issue mainstream feminism is having now. Not only does it still silence narratives from women of color, it is being co-opted by patriarchy where only the most elite white women can enjoy the “benefits” of feminist equality. I mean, think of movies like “Sex and the City” where feminism becomes a celebratory space for the most elite women who OPENLY discuss sex and “have” economic equality to men.

    I think these mainstream images of feminism, or feminist activism, like Slutwalk, deters women of color from joining because feminism has been co-opted a bit by white supremacist patriarchy.

    Also, mainstream third wave/postfeminism has become so INDIVIDUALIZED and DEPOLITICIZED, and as Patricia Hills Collins says, since whites are viewed as raceless, they have always been seen as individuals, whereas people of color have always been seen as a GROUP. We dont’ have the “privilege” of being viewed as individuals. Therefore, the constant emphasis on “individual empowerment” in feminism today seems disconnected for women of color who are usually brought up in strong black female communities who don’t have access to the “individual.”

    1. As a communications student, you understand that there is no situation where a speaker communicates effectively but the intended audience does not understand. I’ve pointed out cases where the intended audience misunderstands and tried to help bridge the gap (particularly when that gap is entirely due to a refusal of all parties involved to compromise on their definition of a basic term).

      I’ve never thrown around my personal qualifications, I never will, and I will never be so impressed by qualifications that I consider my opinion meaningless. I’m trying to get the information more widely disseminated as my primary goal; making it more accessible has instrumental utility towards goal, but other methods also improve dissemination. The best way to make it more accessible is to make the a/v and transcript available to everybody. Transcribing the ~7 hours with commercial services will cost about $500; if that cost can be recouped without harming quality, there are even more winners. (Recording and posting the video should have a de minimus cost, and the default of putting the conference on Youtube afterwards is my basic standard of accessibility.)

      Putting a price on participation closer to the expected value makes it more attractive to people who filter low-value things from their attention using imperfect heuristic of price. That is true even if nobody pays the listed price!

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