Critical Whiteness Studies Does Not Mean Being Anti-white against individual white people

The other day, someone shared my post about the upcoming Sistah Vegan Conference. The post made it to a Facebook group page that promoted intersections of feminism and vegan philosophy.

After viewing my video about the upcoming Sistah Vegan conference, a ‘white’ immigrant identified woman had an interesting response to my use of the word “Critical whiteness” for the Sistah Vegan conference. She shared that she won’t be supporting a vegan conference that singles out a particular race of people.

Interesting interpretation. Especially since the whole conference is critical race, critical whiteness, critical animal studies, critical feminist oriented, with my keynote at the end talking about a Black feminist critique of Afrocentric veganism, such as its [un]conscious promotion of heterosexism and transphobia.

So, I decided to create this video to once again try to clarify my work as a social science researcher. Please watch the video BEFORE commenting.

The Sistah Vegan web conference is called “Embodied and Critical Perspectives on Veganism by Black Women and Allies.” It is Sept 14, 2013. 10am-6pm PST. You can go here for more information:

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Also, download the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matters spring 2015 conference recordings and learn about our 2016 conference, ” The Role of Foodie+Tech Culture in an Era of Systemic Racism and Neoliberal Capitalism (Challenges and Possibilities).


13 thoughts on “Critical Whiteness Studies Does Not Mean Being Anti-white against individual white people

  1. I saw that white immigrant woman’s comment.

    What a privileged postracial view of the world.

    Being critical of power dynamics and structures does NOT mean that you’re being “negative” or “oppressive” lol. It just means that you’re placing a spotlight on the privileged who normally go unexamined! Ugh.

    It’s the whole, “IF YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT OPPRESSION, THEN YOU’RE BEING OPPRESSIVE” mentality. What a nightmare.

    1. But I also saw a lot of pain in her comment and how she spoke of being bullied when having moved here to the USA. I don’t want to dismiss that or think it is irrelevant. For the most part, we are all trying to understand our hurt and pain, even if we exist with these multiple social identities in which some identities are ‘privileged’ while others are ‘oppressed.’

  2. I think you hit on a crucial issue near the end of your video, and, in fact, I have wondered how you deal with it: the fact that many people simply do not have the education to easily or adequately understand the content of your research or your blog.

    When you said that the strongest reactions to explanations of your research are reserved for the word “whiteness,” what jumped out at me is how person-specific the term is. “Veganism” and “feminism” name practices and ideology without naming agents. “Whiteness,” on the other hand, is easily construed to name white people. I suspect you would receive a similar reaction if you said something like “male supremacy” instead of “feminism.” The agent-specific nature of the term is probably clutching people by the guilt-strings.

    There is also something that I have wondered about when faced with unanticipated emotional responses to what seems to me to be benign academic topics: the difference in perspective between those of us who have been “academicized” and those who have not. I suspect that college and research environments, in addition to perhaps disproportionately attracting and retaining people who are predisposed to navigate issues dispassionately, further condition us in this respect to the point that habitual dispassionate intellectualization and controversial research interests render us alien to many who have spent little or no time in such environments. The “anything and everything is open to questioning” attitude prevalent in academia is probably foreign to most people, and questioning itself is often seen as a bare sign of criticism and disapproval instead of an impulse to understand. Academia’s tendency to tamp down the personalization of issues is unmatched in society at large.

  3. Using academic jargon when addressing the general public is hard even when it is used consistently. Using academic jargon inconsistently should be expected to lead to major miscommunication almost every time.

    Instead of telling civilians you will be “analyzing veganism through the lens of critical whiteness theory”, try saying “We will discuss veganism as it is seen and applied by the mainstream and different subcultures.”

    A good heuristic to use might be that if the first appearance of a word or phrase in the entry-level textbook about a relevant subject is, bolded, if the word or phrase is a chapter or section heading, defined in the lexicon, or has more than a couple of pages in the index, then that word or phrase is probably jargon and people who have not studied that exact subject should not be expected to understand what you mean by it, even when you try to explain exactly what that jargon means to you.

    1. Decius,
      Are you doing anything to dismantle systems of oppression on your end? What kind of outreach do you do? I’d like to see examples of your work to see how you operationalize this advice. If you have no work of your own, and if you’re just here to criticize Dr. Harper’s delivery, I am leaning towards her interpretation of your posts…as a means of avoiding uncomfortable discussion about, maybe even repulsion to, race, gender, etc.

  4. I actually think it’s something to be said that I don’t have to explain “whiteness” to mostly people of color who have spent most of their time in the USA; whether I say ‘critical whiteness’, ‘whiteness’, white supremacy, they all collectively GET IT. I have never had a communication problem with MOST black folk, for example, regardless of education background when I use these terms or even speak this way. Never. My parents have GEDs and they know what I’m talking about. Before I ever was an ‘academic’ and used lay jargon, I got the same defensive responses form white folk. I really don’t think it really is JUST the language I use.

    I also do not get the same irritated responses from white people when I say I will take a critical perspective on blackness and food. I am not told I’m ‘singling out a particular race’ or trying to make ‘them’ look bad.

    Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. There is something to be said about the responses I get from white people, whether I used lay terms, non academic terms in my youth or more ‘academic’ terms. I just don’t believe that this is a limitation.

    Decius, I notice that whenever I post anything, you seem to always suggest that I AM THE PROBLEM and that I don’t know how to communicate effectively. You never actually engage with the problems of systemic whiteness and racism. I interpret your actions as basically being an apologist for systemic whiteness. I’m just wondering if that is your personality type. Do you feel anything when I discuss the actual emotional hurt and pain of racism and normative whiteness? Or, are you impartial and just want to discuss it in more stoic or objective terms as if real human lives aren’t feeling pain, aren’t suffering? It has been very difficult to read your tone because I don’t know who you are, but you have seen and listened to my videos which convey tone probably better than just typing something up.

    I’m also wondering: do you think if the White Pride (white nationalists) site supporters read a primer on critical whiteness studies, would that then change their minds about how they posted my work and then decided I am ‘anti-white’? If I just communicated in the way that you suggest, would they suddenly just turn over a new leaf and have an epiphany that white supremacy is just plain bad for everyone? I’m not being snarky, but I feel like the previous manner of communication with you (me being all submissive and apologetic) isn’t working, so maybe I’ll just try a different method.

  5. There are also plenty of white professors who know social science language, etc., who become equally as angry at the use of the words/phrases ‘whiteness’ or ‘critical whiteness’ or even ‘critical race’.

    My post also was on a page in which ‘critical’ is a common word/concept engaged by these women who support critical feminism and critical animal/vegan studies. It’s not like ‘critical’ is a foreign concept, and nor is understanding systems of oppressions when addressing patriarchy, sexism, and speciesism.

    1. Dr. Harper,
      As previously stated, I did not understand on a an intellectual level what whiteness meant. I directly questioned what you understood as being “white” and took responsibility for my misunderstanding/ignorance. I “got over myself” and asked a question. Why is that hard ? Is it the ego ? Is it fear ?

      I would not want the terminology to change to my own liking just because the word has been misappropriated by my uncousciousness. If I need to learn something, I want to LEARN SOMETHING.

      It would not serve anyone well to get defensive/offensive because of a word, because of how it sounds and then not learn its true meaning. I believe that would be foolish.

      Please do not “get all apologetic” for doing what a teacher should do: teach.

  6. Not sure if you know this, maybe you do but this conference happens to be on the holiest day of the year for the Jewish community. If this becomes an annual conference may you can keep that in mind for next year. I think you are doing great work and I hope to participate in the future.

    1. Sandra, I admit ignorance. I grew up celebrating no holidays or religious events, so it was literally not on my radar to check the religious and holiday schedule when I chose Sept 14 as the date. I didn’t realize it was Yom Kippur until 3 others wrote me, saying they would love to participate but it’s on Yom Kippur. For next year I will definitely be more mindful! I guess this is what happens when I plan and organize a conference all by myself. Next time, I need more input from others. My best, Breeze

  7. Why is it that you are forced to reinvent the wheel every.single.time? Repeated incidents like these on your blog make me understand your frustration and admire your perseverance. I feel like your mission of having all of society learn to “do algebra” is hampered by 2/3 of the class who have have no idea/no desire to learn even the simple arithmetic required to go to the next level. Kudos for your spirit and determination to teach 101 so frequently.

    I’m a regular reader, as you know, but I’ve been “off the grid” for a number of reasons over the last couple of months. Glad to be back.

  8. I must honestly say, to the best of my knowledge, I had never heard the term whiteness before. I don’t even know if blackness is a word ? Is it ?
    I did not know what whiteness meant. I did not get it. I asked, and I got an answer. End of story. So what is the fuss about ? Sheeshh…
    (I am aware this comment does not really enrich the intellectual level of this type of conversation, I am just really tired and what to give my two cents on the subject) 😛

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