When Talking About Racism is “Insulting”: Thoughts on My Animal Care Expo Keynote Talk



May 14, 2018 I gave the opening session keynote talk for the Animal Care Expo event in Kansas City MO, hosted by Humane Society of the United States. There were about 1400 in attendance. This was hosted by Humane Society of U.S. . I was told that I had been the first keynote lecturer who was non-white and the first to tackle the “taboo” subject of diversity, inclusivity, and equity. I also came at it from the black radical tradition . That means I presented how to think about animal advocacy within workplace culture and how it can (or cannot) be “inclusive” when we think about how anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and and consequences of ante-bellum slavery inform and influence consciousness/praxis— even in animal advocacy related sectors, such as dog rescue, vegan food companies, and being a Black veterinarian.

It was a challenging talk to give because these topics never really entered that space (so I was told). I ended up inspiring a lot but I also ended up angering quite a few people who walked out before I finished, upset that I was even talking about animal care and advocacy within the context of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and living in a white settler nation (USA). A person who attended the talk, Tweeted me that they had walked out of the talk and said my “program” was “insulting.” I asked her to explain, but she never replied. This is not the first time, as during my last 15 years of doing this specific type of Black feminist engagement within animal rights, veganism, and similar, I have been constantly told by mostly white people that I am “divisive”, “white-hating”, “race-baiting”, or “angry Black woman” for engaging in the type of social justice and animal rights work that I do.

Also, when I talk about these subjects, I usually have at least several hours to convey the information. For the first time, I needed to compact it into 1 hour– and for a professional audience that was not necessarily used to these type of topics in the way that my primary audience is (which are usually institutions of higher learning or folk who are used to concepts like intersectionality or really seek solutions to addressing racial inequities within their work place, scholarship, etc).

I wrote/performed a new story I had specifically written for this talk in order to link that narrative to the concepts I introduced people to. Sometimes it is hard to understand critical theory or definitions around diversity, equity, inequity, exclusion, and inclusion when there are no tangible examples of how those concepts operate. This is “Lucy’s Family” and I will develop it into a novel and/or develop it into a longer piece that will be integrated into my latest book Black. Mama. Scholar.

I got a lot of positive responses, after the talk, indicating that this was a much needed conversation. I also heard that there were negative comments, ranging from the talk being “too academic” to “the story was too long”, to having “nothing to do with animal care”; not directly towards me, but I had heard it through the grapevine.  So, I’ll see what I can do to make my message even better… However, I’m not sure how to address those who were simply angry that I was talking about white supremacy, racism, and anti-blackness within animal advocacy. I don’t think there is a solution for that, no matter how “gentle” I talk about it, present it, etc.

**CORRECTION** In the talk I say that Petaluma is in Marin county but this is incorrect. It is in Sonoma County. My apologies.

**I had Power Points with quotes and other info, which makes the presentation easier to follow. The video recorders weren’t able to show that. I quoted from Edward Hubbard PhD and other folk when defining things and you can’t tell by seeing the video.

If you enjoyed Dr. Harper’s lecture and would like to invite her to speak at your event, school, or organization, please email her at bookbreezeharper@gmail.com

About Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. A. Breeze Harper (Photo Credit: Sun Harper-Zahn)

Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutionsa seasoned speaker, and author of books and articles related to critical race feminism, intersectional anti-racism, and ethical consumption. As a writer, she is best know for as the creator and editor of the groundbreaking anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society (Lantern Books 2010). 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 use hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies. In 2016, she collaborated with Oakland’s FoodFirst’s Executive Director Dr. Eric Holt-Gimenez to write the backgrounder Dismantling Racism in the Food System, which kicked off FoodFirst’s series on systemic racism within the food system

Dr. Harper is the founder of the Sistah Vegan Project which has put on several ground-breaking conferences with emphasis on intersection of racialized consciousness, anti-racism, and ethical consumption (i.e., veganism, animal rights, Fair Trade). Last year she organized the highly successful conference The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter which can be downloaded.

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. Her current 2016 lecture circuit focuses on excerpts from her latest book in progress, Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical Foodscape which will be released in 2017, along with the second Sistah Vegan project anthology The Praxis of Justice in an Era of Black Lives MatterIn tandem with these book projects, she is well-known for her talks and workshops about “Uprooting White Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape” and “Intersectional Anti-Racism Activism.”

In the spring of 2016, Dr. Harper was nominated as the Vice Presidential nominee for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.


4 thoughts on “When Talking About Racism is “Insulting”: Thoughts on My Animal Care Expo Keynote Talk

  1. You are making important points that need to be heard. To paraphrase, “you can’t please all the people all the time”. This is something that I remind myself of when I address a topic that I just know some people will not be ready to open their minds to. While some will walk away “insulted”, others will take strength from your example of bringing much needed awareness to issues that have to be addressed if things are going to change for the good of all people and animals. Hopefully, your speaking out will help others to find their own voices.

    1. Plenty left with positivity and I’m also always just deeply concerned about those who left literally thinking that the reality I spoke of has “nothing” to do with Animal Advocacy or even outside of that. It blows my mind that one can be so insular and gated with the compassion they extend when it comes to certain being’s suffering over others. So many “post-racial” animal advocates would blow a gasket if people walked out of a room, “insulted” if they were talking about speciesism and the systemic oppression of non-human animals…their suffering and pain… But many of the same people who would blow a gasket are the same people who do walk out of the room or are “insulted” when confronted with how systemic racism causes suffering and pain to non-white people in the USA and how the collectivity of white folk are implicated (and this implication can range from being a direct racist Nazi to simply being ‘neutral’ or ‘silent’ about it).

  2. I have only admiration for your work and advocacy. So sorry that anyone claiming to be an advocate for justice would find fault with your talk. Maybe white fragility can explain that?

    1. I am 99% sure it is white fragility most of the time when this happens. I think it’s unclear if those doing it even realize that that is what is going on. Others are just straight up honest about not giving a damn about anything other than animals and have made it clear that they don’t care about movements like “Black Lives Matter” or the human rights of undocumented people living in the USA.

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