UPDATED January 21, 2016 22:05 PM PDT
Over the duration of my scholarly endeavors (12 years), I have experienced increased hostility towards my critical race feminist engagement with ethical consumption , as well as Buddhism, by primarily white identified people.
There is a difference between mindfully disagreeing with a person and being cruel , a bully, and violent because that person doesn’t agree with you.
So, here are some questions/thoughts…
What is the strategy in gathering an army of white-identified people and teaching each other that the scholarship and other writings/work by A. Breeze Harper are”racist” and “bigoted”? There has been 450+ years of racism/whiteness in operation in the USA (institutionally, legally, structurally, systemically). It has changed throughout time…and it is going to take a lot of work to understand and dismantle it, using various methods, including critical theory, legal studies, and grassroots activism. I have found that these racialized systems of oppression have deeply affected ethical consumption in the USA; it’s inevitable, as ethical consumption was not developed in a vacuum.
When I suggest how this white supremacist racial caste system has affected nearly everyone in the USA, I am intrigued by the amount of uproar and pure vitriol that comes from mostly white identified people. We are all racialized subjects with racialized consciousnesses that have been born out of a white supremacist racial caste system; the way we are socially and geographically located in that system affects how we frame, perceive, experience, everything. This includes ethical consumption. This isn’t about me saying individuals are bad vs. good. I’m more or less pointing out the damages/consequences of such a system… and that it affects most of us at a deeply somatic and unconscious level.
It would seem that many of you have made it your full time job to intimidate me by immediately joining this army. Here is a gentle reminder: “white identified” people are ‘damaged’ by such systems as well, in the long run, despite the many privileges that come along with it. (And no, I didn’t make this up. I would love to send you a long list of citations that show these damages).
I consider myself on the continuum of many Black anti-racism activists and scholars that have come before. And during this continuum, various scare and intimidation tactics have been used to dissuade folk like me from doing the work that we are doing. I am not sure if you realize this, but thus far, these tactics have not worked throughout the centuries. It’s not going to work on me, so you may want to stop putting so much time into it; furthermore, even though many of you spent a lot of time trying to be cruel, verbally abusive, etc, I don’t ever react the same way towards you. I’m not an eye for an eye type of person. It’s just not going to happen.
I’m not going to dedicate my life to trying to destroy you or spend countless hours trying to gather an army of people to hatefully bully or troll you. Right now, I just accept that bullying, threats, etc towards me is coming from a place of fear, insecurity, anguish, etc.
Perhaps some of you can explain what the point is in gathering such armies and then trolling my social media sites and intimidating me by calling me things like a “white hating racist”…? Or making comments like beating me to death with a crow bar because I critique the ways well known leaders of mainstream food and sustainability movement frame their ethics through normative whiteness? I’d like to hear more concretely what those fears, insecurities, etc are– especially when I make it a point to not attack individuals but rather, understand racism and whiteness from the systemic and unconscious levels….and how we are affected by that machinery of whiteness as racialized subjects within that system. I cannot count enough , how many times I have been called a white hating racist when I simply give a talk about the work I’ve been doing.
Recently, I went to University of Oregon to talk about my new book Scars. I recorded the talk with my camera. Someone who watched a video of the recorded talk on my YouTube channel, posted that I was must hate white people and blame them for everything. They concluded this after spending 3 minutes watching the 60+ minute video of me reading from my new fiction novel and talking about how whiteness impacts the ways 2 characters practice plant based diets. The book had nothing to do with hate and everything to do with unconditional love and working through the collateral damages of racism together. These intensely hateful reactions to my writing and talks happen all the time and really only through social media and similar online platforms.
I’m curious about this tactic. As someone who wrote an award-winning Masters Thesis at Harvard focusing on, ‘But I’m not racist’ White vegans who used cyber space to ‘bully’ POC who wanted to engage in critical race interrogations of normative whiteness within AR and veganism, I’m not really surprised these reactions are coming my way, 12 years later, but still, if you could share what’s on your mind, I’d love to hear.
Perhaps I can share something with you that can help you leave the realm of spite, vitriol, and bullying…. When I was being critiqued for my ableist framing of my Sistah Vegan project’s early years (because I have able-bodied privilege it affected how I made assumptions about ability and health) , I chose to not gather an army. I chose not to bully those who are doing disability studies work and activism and/or living with disabilities. What did I do? I picked up some training materials and educated myself about how, even though I’m not “overtly” an ableist, I am still framing health and veganism from an “ableist” angle and need to STOP doing that. That as a visibly able-bodied woman, I have benefited from systemic ableism my entire life. I did not bully or harass those who call me out. Instead, I realized they are not attacking “me” but critiquing how I “frame” veganism and health (believe it or not, these are two different things) and that even though I may not agree with everything they say, I could learn a lot from them that can only strengthen my activism towards creating a world with less suffering and violence. I learned from those who have developed knowledge from the embodied experience of being systemically oppressed… and without saying they know everything, but without saying I know everything either.
I’m also interested in what the strategy is of ‘hiding’ behind social media to intimidate me. Feel free to respond on the social media you are using or on my blog, because I’m curious. Many of you block me, after you intimidate me and that makes it difficult to have an open dialogue (or perhaps your ultimate goal is just to intimidate me?) If you are so confident that I’m a “racist” or “hate white people”, then why immediately block me? Shouldn’t you have the confidence to believe in what you have said without needing to “Block” me?
When someone such as myself spends years using social science methods to TRACK themes/patterns , analyze them, and come to the conclusion that, “This is the new way in which [type in systemic oppressive patterns of white supremacist racism] operates” , this is not simply “making up new definitions” for racism. Many have implied I and other women of color doing critical race studies scholarship are ‘redefining’ racism to achieve some ‘hidden white hating agenda’. When many of you write me that I need to only use the Webster dictionary definition of “racism” from 70 years ago, you’re basically saying this dictionary definition should “trump” the complex definitions of ‘racism’ developed by the more recent critical race studies scholar. Those scholars developing that canon weren’t invited to write up the dictionary at that time, for obvious [racist] reasons. What is the strategy in explaining to me that you are sending me the Merriam-Webster definition to “educate” me on how I am “incorrectly” using the word “racism” ?
I think you probably don’t understand this or how academic disciplines work, such as critical race studies. Critical race studies scholars don’t just ‘make up’ and randomly define the way new forms of racism and normative whiteness operate. We collectively go through a rigorous process to develop these theories through various methods that are usually “approved” by the disciplines we are working within. That’s how new theories/knowledge about systemic oppression are developed; we don’t refer to the dictionary definition via Merriam-Webster…
Just because you don’t like the results of what decades of critical race studies scholarship reveals, doesn’t mean the collectivity of people of color engaged in this scholarship are “racist” or “hate white people.” It means that we know something is very “wrong” within the moral fabric of the USA…. and has been for centuries. We are developing the tools to create a literacy and action plans around this. Even though at first, it makes many white people ‘mad’ and ‘uncomfortable’, this is what the results of this canon reveals: systemic racism/normative whiteness exists to a degree that significantly impedes people of color’s ability to thrive and be in safer environments, have the resources we need, etc. I can’t change or lie about those results (and why would I?). Some tips:
- Consider taking time off from intimidating me and instead, explore the canon of critical studies of race and whiteness so you can develop a critical literacy skill set and a plan to dismantle these systems.
- Get out of the Jim Crow era of simply using Webster dictionary definition of “racism”.
- Be gentle to us and yourself by admitting you just didn’t know how new systems of racism and white supremacy operate…and that the anger and vitriol you have is a symptom of terror.
- Consider the fact that maybe you are terrified about what this could all mean to your points of security and what you know as ‘normal’ and comfortable.
- Let’s we work together, and like I said, it took 450+ years to create this, so why don’t we understand it’s going to probably take just as long to understand it and unravel it?
Again, I won’t engage in an eye for an eye. No matter what. The more hostility I receive, the more I want to understand it and find new ways of using mindfulness, unconditional love, my Engaged Buddhist practice, to break through it and enter a new sphere of possibilities. The anger, vitriol, spite are symptoms of the collateral damage– the emotional and spiritual damage– that this systemic racial caste system has caused to the very white people who want to [un]consciously hold onto it.
For those of you interested in the spiritual poverty that systemic racism and white supremacy have created within the collectivity of white people living in the USA, I think the Starr King School of Ministry says it best for their Educating to Counter Oppressions core values. (*Please note that even though the below excerpt is within the context of religious education, this school of ministry promotes using spirituality and anti-oppression as their core values; fighting white supremacy is listed as part of their values. As an agnostic, I am still able to appreciate the use of ‘religious task’ for what I could interpret as ‘moral/spiritual task’ for myself):
People of color have resisted white supremacy in many ways. Communities of color teach patterns of resistance. Each person who survives oppression has found and moved along a path of resistance.
Those who ‘were never meant to survive’ but have survived, extend to the larger human community the wisdom and ways, options and opportunities, sounds and rhythms of resistance and survival. Such people make their lives a gift of authentic presence and witness.
Members of the dominant society often miss the opportunity for fuller human meeting. To become more fully present and engaged, we must all engage in the work of seeing how white identity has been constructed in narcissistic ways. An embrace of fuller humanness relinquishes self-centered needs, arrogance, and self-serving patterns, and contributes to fresh possibilities for just and sustainable community.
Members of the dominant society must accept responsibility for this religious task, without depending on people of color to be ‘the mirror that talks back’ and makes whites visible in their ignorance, thoughtlessness, or denial. At the same time, genuine and transformative human encounter happens when people are willing to speak the truth in love to one another and are open to being confronted.
White supremacy reveals a spiritual crisis at the heart of the dominant culture. Overconsumption and exploitation are hidden and tolerated for the sake of a quality of life that is neither abundant nor sustainable. Engaging white supremacy involves discovering a deeper experience of abundant life. This discovery, in turn, means confronting and changing social systems, including economic systems, that perpetuate too banal a sense of ‘the good life’, making it available to too few and causing harm to too many and to the earth.
Fanon knew it.
DuBois knew it.
hooks knows it.
Yancy knows it.
Powell knows it.
The collectivity of us doing this work have always known it…. and that is what keeps many of us on this path, despite the threats and intimidation.
Dr. A. Breeze Harper Giving a Talk about Scars at Pomona College in 2015
Dr. Harper’s most recently published book, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014) interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town.
Dr. Harper has been invited to deliver many keynote addresses and lectures at universities and conferences throughout North America. In 2015, her lecture circuit focused on the analysis of food and whiteness in her book Scars and on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix) which explored how key Black vegan men us hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies.
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