From Seed to Table[t]: Foodie-Tech Startups in a Neoliberal, Racist, and Capitalist [Food] System

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On CNN.com, I watched this video: Will Blue Apron Kill your Grocery Store?.

Since watching it, so many questions and comments have popped into my head in terms of this huge boom in the food-techie startup world and the lack of critical race and critical whiteness scholarship around it within the mainstream media and academic publications. Actually, I have been thinking about writing about food-tech businesses for the last few years. It’s kind of hard not to, living in the San Francisco Bay area and living less than 90 minutes away from Silicon Valley. We are the foodie and techie capitals of the USA it would seem. As a food justice, racial justice, and environmental justice scholar and activist, I have been overwhelmed by the amazing surge in ‘foodie’ culture in the Bay area that continues to function as a microcosm of the USA.And by microcosm, I mean that foodie-tech culture represents how resources as well as systems of power and privilege are organized along racial, class, and gender lines in a current era of neoliberal capitalism.  Food and technology, of course, are not untouched by these. I’m not just interested in food-tech businesses… I’m interested in how ‘foodie’ culture meets tech companies that are creating social media apps and other smartphone and tablet technology for a’foodie’ culture that loves ‘healthy’, ‘local’, ‘organic’, and/or ‘good’ food.

So, here are my thoughts as a critical race feminist researcher within the disciplines of critical food studies and critical pedagogies of consumption living in the SF Bay area and after watching the CNN video about Blue Apron

…What role do foodie-tech app companies worth tens of millions of dollars have in dismantling (or colluding with) a neoliberal racist capitalist [food] system? Like all these foodie-tech startups, yes, foodie-tech startups like Blue Apron and similarly highly successful foodie-tech start-ups will change the way of eating and ‘your’ relationship to your grocery store-

-But wait, who is ‘you’ and ‘your’?

Unpacking ‘You’ and ‘Your’ in a Neoliberal Era

What is neoliberalism and how do racism and other forms of oppression operate within its logic?

Neoliberal practices pull into its orbit a market of ideas about a lot of things including the family, gender, and racial ideology. It is, as Lisa Duggan (2003) notes, “saturated with race” (xvi) using capitalism to hide racial (and other) inequalities by relocating racially coded economic disadvantage and reassigning identity-based biases to the private and personal spheres…
Specifically, it has meant the establishment of a market orientation to this relationship. Ideally, within a neoliberal theorization of society, the success of the individual is directly related to his/her work output. Modalities of difference, such as race, do not predetermine one’s success as each individual is evaluated solely in terms of his or her economic contribution to society.What becomes clear is that this ideal relationship is not equally realized by all members in society.
(Source: David J. Roberts and Minelle Mahtani of “Neoliberalizing Race, Racing Neoliberalism: Placing ‘Race’ in Neoliberal Discourse.” Antipode Vol 42 No. 2. Pp 248-257. Pages 252-253.)

Within the context of neoliberalism, I’d like to know who ‘you’ and ‘your’ are when so many foodie-tech startups promote their products and services to you.

Does ‘you’ and ‘your’ include those living in spaces of environmental racism?  Are we talking about the nearly enslaved and abused mostly latino migrant workers who pick the very produce they are paid too low to have easy access to make the items on online menu and delivery services available for the privileged who can afford your services??

True to ‘foodie’ culture, Blue Apron company is focused on ‘locally’ sourced ingredients. However, would like to know what hands have made these ingredients possible. On their website, there is no transparency about this, other than the fact that we are shown the partners they have (small family farms); however small family farms don’t mean that those working there are treated ethically. Blue Apron answers the question about food being organic or not. I know this is not necessarily their goal, but it is interesting to note that  I do not see an open commitment or dialogue about farm-worker rights; nor do I see a commitment to making sure racial-sexual-class hierarchies of power are not maintained through how their supply chain is possible. I often wonder what foodie-tech startups would look like (or how profitable they could be) if not just ‘organic’ and ‘local’ were central, but also if the ideologies of folks like Dolores Huerta and Cezar Chavez were central. Once again, I know it is not Blue Apron’s goal, but the absence is quite telling and also has me thinking about the limits to what one can ask for, from venture capitalists that don’t seem ‘too political’. Concerns about farmworker rights and exploitation, restaurant worker rights, racial or sexual abuse of workers, etc., would most likely not be mentioned in the business plans of foodie-tech startups searching for funding.

Most people who are into mainstream ‘foodie’ culture care more about their food being ‘local’, ‘fresh’, and ‘organic’ than if the food came to them through the abuse and exploitation of farm workers and other marginalized human workers in the food system. This makes sense because that is what is marketed to and narrated to the general foodie population. Many foodies actually think organic and sustainable mean the treatment of human beings and non-human animals is ‘humane,’ which is false. What would be great to have from Blue Apron is a statement that acknowledges the need to be more critical about horrible treatment of human workers. So far, such statements are no where on their site, however, once again, it could very well be that investors do not want to appear to be ‘too political’ and prefer to be ‘post-racial’ and ‘post-class’. Yes, their focus is not farm-workers or other food industry worker rights. However, the silence around this is quite compelling because the fact is, foodie-tech start-ups could not exist without the human laborers in the food system.

What could all this mean?

Let’s face it: Foodie+Tech start-up folk live in an isolated utopian world in which their technology will only ‘solve’ the problems of the privileged neoliberal [white] socio-economically stable demographic. Notable in the video link above from the CNN interview with Blue Apron, is that the co-founder Salzberg states that their model isn’t for the entire world’s population, just a specific demographics [who seem to find going to a grocery story to get local and organic fresh foods a ‘burden’ (?)]. He does say that there is a place for the grocery store and doesn’t think that the companies like Blue Apron will ‘kill’ the grocery store.  However….

…analyze websites such as Blue Apron, Plated, Instacart that are THRIVING and you’ll find their rhetoric to be the following: food+tech+’post-racial’+buying power with our dollars will ‘change the world’+ being socio-economically privileged is the optimal approach to creating a ‘better’ food system (well, maybe just a better ‘foodie’ experience). I will give the benefit of the doubt that the founders aren’t directly conscious about their approach or the consequences….I will just assume that they really had ‘good intentions’ (though often, the road to hell is paved that way, no?). However, I’m still always fascinated by the fact that millions of dollars can be poured into foodie-tech apps by venture capitalists when food justice activists working in/for the poor and communities of color, with hardly any resources, struggle like hell to create food security and/or sovereignty for themselves.

Would venture capitalists for foodie+tech startups ever consider investing in structural and systemic change to dismantle not just an unequal food system, but the entire corrupt neoliberal racist capitalist system itself; a system that makes food insecurity and the loss of land a reality for most of the world’s people. Let’s remember that most of the people of the world do not include the Silicon Valley elite and alike. Let’s remember that Santa Clara region, where Silicon Valley is born out of, feeds the tech elite in a disturbing way: a majority of the exploited non-white immigrant farm labor force cannot even afford access to the produce they grow and harvest that end up on the plates of the tech elite (You can read more about this through Food Empowerment Project’s latest reports).

This leads me to conclude that subscribers of foodie+ neoliberal racism + technocracy create the illusion that they are invested in making the food system ‘better’ and ‘easier for all to access’… but it seems that they really just want to be the 1%. (Some people refer to neoliberal racism as racial neoliberalism. I like the term ‘neoliberal racism’  and am using it in the way Goldberg defines it and write about it. Goldberg uses the term racial neoliberalism but I decided to just be upfront and write ‘racism’ versus ‘racial’ to not hide that fact that what is going on is racism at the systemic level. ‘Racial’ seems a little to sanitized for me.) And please understand, when I speak of neoliberal racism, I am speaking about processes of racial inequality and racial injustice that are systemic and often promoted and maintained in very unconscious ways by individuals. Many people with good intentions but are ignorant about how racial, gender, and class injustice/inequality operate at the systemic level, end up engaging in food entrepreneurship that may unknowingly have negatively racialized, gendered, and classed outcomes.

Tens of millions of dollars are invested in foodie+tech each year so folk can do things like click on a button to have someone deliver to them something from Whole Foods; or to have a gourmet healthy food chef make a them a meal out of organic chard and artisanal cheese. Speaking of Whole Foods, did you know that Whole Foods benefits from the Prison Industrial Complex? In “From Our Prison to Your Dinner Table”, readers learn that Whole Foods actually contracts with Colorado Correctional Industries for food products such as tilapia; Whole Foods is one of their biggest clients!  Essentially, if one uses apps like Instacart, they could order tilapia from Whole Foods produced by inmates! (Check out Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: An Era of Mass Incarceration to learn more about labor exploitation of inmates.)  

The site Food + Tech Connect reports the weekly trends in food-tech business world. Food + Tech Connect constantly remind readers the endless amounts of wealth and resources are available for foodie-tech startup businesses (and don’t get me wrong. I love Food + Tech Connect as a rich source for my own work in food justice and racial justice. It’s a comprehensive– though unintentional– map that shows me the ‘gaps’ in systemic justice and how neoliberalism works). Recently, I learned that Munchery, a company similar to Blue Apron ($58 million in funding), just ended their funding round with $85 million dollars valuing them at $300 million dollars. Instatcart ($274.8 million in funding), Sprig ($56.7 millions in funding), SpoonRocket ($13.5 million in funding), and DoorDash ($59.7 million in funding) are also ‘good food’ delivery services similar to Blue Apron worth tens of millions of dollars as well. It is remarkable that the same type of capital is not put back into the marginalized communities that have no food security, live under racialized police surveillance, are prey to the Prison Industrial Complex as ‘free labor’ , and/or who have lost land and community space due to gentrification from Silicon Valley and alike, or land grabbing etc.

Venture capitalist invest a huge amount of money into foodie-tech start-ups. However, I wonder if the same investors would ever consider providing political, legal, and monetary resources for example, for the Black folk like those fighting to keep Afrika Town community garden alive in Oakland CA. Probably not. Why? It’s simply not lucrative to create food and land sovereignty for non-white and working class USA population. It is better to not fund those endeavors because it doesn’t keep neoliberal capitalism and white privileged access to ‘good food’ alive through cool smartphone apps that deliver food right to your door and masks how systemic racism, sexism, poverty, neocolonialism have made that ‘option’ available for the beneficiaries of Silicon Valley and alike. Food and Geography scholar Nick Heynen writes

The power relations that manifest under the tyranny of hunger relate explicitly to how capitalist societies, and the proliferation of free market forces, rely on access to food as a negotiating chip to maintain domination and coercion. As Engels (1881) suggested, “The Capitalist, if he cannot agree with the Labourer, can afford to wait, and live upon his capital. . . . The workman has no fair start. He is fearfully handicapped by hunger. Yet, according to the political economy of the Capitalist class, that is the very pink of fairness.” This contradictory notion of capitalist fairness, that is, that so many should go hungry amidst such material abundance, is hard to imagine as a result of its brutality. The spatial contradictions within this notion of fairness and justice are vital for articulating the interrelated and interconnected processes inherent in urban poverty and hunger, and how both impede social reproduction.
(Source: 409-410. “Bending the Bars of Empire from Every Ghetto for Survival: The Black Panther Party’s Radical Antihunger Politics of Social Reproduction and Scale” in Annal of the Association of American Geographers, 99 (2) 2009,pp. 406-422.)

I would argue that the lack of investment into food security projects like Afrika Town, is violence; the collateral damage of neoliberal capitalist oriented investments focused on spaces such as the [white] elite of Silicon Valley. It also resonates with the very real fact that Oakland’s Afrika Town’s struggle echoes the food security politics of the Black Panther Party’s Breaking Program for Children from over 40 years ago (also Oakland based). There is a reason why the U.S. government and white business elite saw the BPP’s morning breakfast programs as the central threat to their white supremacist state and subjugation of Black communities. Food justice initiatives such as the BPP Breakfast Party and Afrika Town continue to be direct threats to the notion of empire. Why? Empire— even the new ‘post-empire’ neoliberal [empire] era– rely on hunger and food insecurity of the planet’s majority.

Henry Giroux talks about the limits and violence of neoliberalism. Notable is how he places emphasis on the big wigs, including Silicon Valley elite in unveiling what is really occurring in the larger scheme of things:

Moreover, in the face of massive inequality, increasing poverty, the rise of the punishing state, and the attack on all public spheres, neoliberalism can no longer pass itself off as synonymous with democracy. The capitalist elite, whether they are hedge fund managers, the new billionaires from Silicon Valley, or the heads of banks and corporations, is no longer interested in ideology as their chief mode of legitimation. Force is now the arbiter of their power and ability to maintain control over the commanding institutions of American society. Finally, I think it is fair to say that they are too arrogant and indifferent to how the public feels.Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy and this has become more and more evident among people, especially youth all over the globe. As Zizek has observed, “the link between democracy and capitalism has been broken.” The important question of justice has been subordinated to the violence of unreason, to a market logic that divorces itself from social costs, and a ruling elite that has an allegiance to nothing but profit and will do anything to protect their interests.
Source: Truth Dig http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_militarization_of_racism_and_neoliberal_violence_20140821

Also, see below the interesting comment from Glassdoor. Of course, it’s just one out of 3 reviews on that Glassdoor site about working at Blue Apron. However, the reference to whiteness of management in terms of food spaces and institutionalized racism is nothing new in the world of food. The groundbreaking book Behind the Kitchen Door explores this power dynamic.

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The social science research book Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape also deeply analyzes the limits of neoliberalism and the popularity of being ‘non-political’ when it comes to ‘the good food movement’ supporters (i.e., “let’s not talk about class or race because it means we are being racist and classist…and anyway, ‘good food’ is neutral and has nothing to do with racial or class politics”). Blue Apron’s neoliberal approach to making ‘good food’ more ‘accessible’ and ‘affordable’ (which the founders talk about as reasons why the company was created) aligns with this interview below with Salzberg, the founder of Blue Apron (who I read as a white man when I saw his image in the CNN.com video). Salzberg gives ‘advice’ on how to find entrepreneurial success the way he did with Blue Apron:

Do it at the right time
Changing careers or starting a company is a stressful experience. Your professional life will be chaos. Your future role will be uncertain and so will your compensation. Who knows if you will even be good at what you’ve set out to do? And I’ve always believed that you can only have chaos in one sphere of your life at a time. So, if you’re thinking about a professional transition, try to do it during a time when your personal life is stable. Making a career change right as you’re about to have your first child, breakup from a serious relationship, or move to a different city can make the transition even tougher. When I started Blue Apron, I was based in New York City, had a strong network of friends and family, and I was in a long-term committed relationship. This secure environment gave me the confidence to take the professional risk I needed to successfully start a business.
Seek out experts and mentors
When you change careers you’ll have a lot to learn – and quickly. The best way to ease this transition is to seek out people who can advise and coach you along the way with perspectives that are different than your own. One of the reasons I went into venture capital before starting a company was because I wanted to build a network of other CEOs and start-up experts who I could lean on for different perspectives and advice when necessary. Similarly, when starting Blue Apron, I deliberately sought to work with people who had come from different backgrounds and could bring another level of expertise to the table. As a result, my co-founding team members all had skills that complemented one another, which have played an important role in the success of Blue Apron.
Be humble
When you’re making a career transition, you should focus on what really matters—how to set yourself up for long-term success. In most cases this means getting your foot in the door, so you can be in a position where you can learn and grow. However, I’ve seen too many people coming from success in a different industry fixate on getting the perfect role, compensation, or an important title. If you can find a position at a great company, or with a great boss who will help you grow — ultimately positioning yourself for future success — jump at it and don’t sweat the details. When I left private equity, I took a pay cut to get the experience I needed in venture capitaland I’m glad I did. The experience I got was critical to successfully starting a company, which was a long-standing career goal for me.Before starting Blue Apron I had no previous CEO experience, and it hasn’t been easy growing the company to over 1,200 employees in just two and a half years. We deliver recipes and ingredients for millions of meals across the country, and making that happen at scale requires us to reinvent the way things are done every day. The ability to embrace new challenges has been critical not only for myself, but also for business.
(Source: http://fortune.com/2015/03/31/matthew-salzberg-changing-career-paths/)

Though well intentioned, I’m always intrigued by the numerous articles and books in the mainstream that take this sanitized approach to business success. It’s as if it assumes that everyone starts off as a a highly educated (in the formal sense) white man with no impediments from systemic racism or systemic sexism. Salzberg’s advice is post-racial and post-sexist. There is no mention that those who are most likely to get venture funds to invest in a big career change to starting their own company are white men (due to implicit bias of most venture capitalists and supporters of neoliberalism who are cultured and mis-educated in the USA to accept [white] men as ‘naturally’ successful in any business venture or leadership role they want to pursue). One can argue that it’s ‘normal’ not to need to mention these things to make the message ‘universal’. However, the logic of universal has the implicit bias that the audience are white able-bodied heteronormative cisgender men. Perhaps Salzberg is aware of this, but when you’re doing an interview with Fortune magazine and your investors may be reading it, perhaps it’s safe to not mention impediments to career changes that implicate systems of racism, white supremacy, sexism, and even nepotism; such a bold move would jeopardize funding.

Here is some food for thought. Silicon Valley venture capitalists were found to be overwhelmingly male and white. From Emory University Law School, Dorothy A. Brown reported on diversity in the high tech industry. She writes:

Throughout Silicon Valley, start-ups tend to have all-male boards of directors, because board members are generally the venture capitalists who invested in the start-up. According to National Venture Capital Association, 89 percent of venture capitalists are men. Regarding race and ethnicity, 87 percent are White, nine (9) percent are Asian, two (2) percent were AfricanAmerican or Latino, and two (2) percent were of mixed race. Venture capital professionals who had been in the industry less than five years were more racially and ethnically diverse – although not true for gender diversity. Seventy-seven percent were White, 17 percent were Asian, three (3) percent were African American or Latino and three (3) percent were of mixed race. 
(Source: Brown, Dorothy A., Diversity and the High Tech Industry (2014). 6 Ala. Civ. Rts. & Civ. Lib. L. Rev. (2014 ); Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-296. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2485458)

One of the biggest impediments for people of color– especially women of color, is finding a mentor who is ‘networked in’ already and as well as a mentor who has the confidence to support their life’s goals, period– and with the acknowledgment that systemic racism and sexism position us women of color very differently in terms of opportunities and how the mainstream view our purpose as human beings. There is a significant number of women of color who simply do not get the mentoring support they need to make big shifts. Beyond the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, this disparity starts within K-12 education in the USA and goes into college and graduate school. There is an obvious need of mentorship that is VERY different from the cookie-cutter [white able-bodied male] mentorship logic.

Essentially, my final thoughts are that foodie-tech app companies worth millions of dollars may kill some of your grocery stores, but they certainly won’t kill the neoliberal racist capitalist [food] system that creates their wealth in the first place. The mainstream image of ‘successful’ foodie-tech entrepreneurs are almost always [white] men. They appear to have a convenient amnesia or ignorance about how the technology they ‘created’ would not be possible without the racialized and gendered inequality in tech industry; at least this is what they convey. And I emphasize the word convey because what they project in terms of image or public personae may not actually represent how they feel or what they know about ‘the system.’

In addition, it must be noted that [white] men are most likely to be the ‘intellectual’ creators and owners of the start-up. However, someone has to actually put the technology devices together through the supposedly ‘not so intellectual’ (i.e. ‘unskilled manual labor’) process of manual labor:

Race is built into the tech industry[…]The industry, like the region, carries with it the inequalities of race, class, and gender of the broader social context in which it resides. The tech firms in Silicon Valley are predominantly led by White men and a few White women; yet the manual labor of assembling circuit boards is done by immigrants and outsourced labor, often women living in the global South.
(Source: Daniels Jessie. “My Brain Database Doesn’t See Skin Color”: Color-Blind Racism in the Technology Industry and in Theorizing the Web.” American Behavioral Scientist. March 31, 2015)

In addition, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and a cadre of white male technology elites, including Bill Gates, Ron conway, Reid Hoffman, and Sean Parker bank on the exploitation of non-white and female manual laborers and are highly invested in a type of immigration reform that maintains their powerful and wealthy positions as white wealthy capitalist oriented men (Daniel 2015); this is not a coincidence. Their type of immigration reform reveals an obvious collusion with a xenophobic and racist-capitalist USA system that has used white supremacist based logic to allow certain immigrants more human rights than other. Did you know that

The immigration law would change Silicon Valley forever. In 1960, Santa Clara County, which is home to Google and Apple, was 96.8 percent white.* By 2010, it was 32 percent Asian-American and 26.9 percent Latino or Hispanic.*
Under the new system, immigration policy would select immigrants on the basis of their skills or their existing family ties in the U.S. It kicked off a “brain drain” from the world’s most populous countries, India and China, which both had governments that were less than 20 years old at the time. A shaky sense of political stability combined with poor economic growth and disastrous projects like The Great Leap Forward encouraged the crème de la crème of these countries to seek better fortunes abroad.
Many of the most technically educated migrants favored by the new U.S. immigration policy ended up in Silicon Valley. Reforms and explosive economic growth have since tilted the balance back with the emergence of new tech hubs in Bangalore and Beijing.
But if the 1965 law had one effect on the Asian-American population, it had an entirely different impact on the Latino community.
Until 1965, Mexican migration had largely been channeled through a temporary worker initiative called the bracero program. The old approach was flawed; labor activists like Cesar Chavez, who lived for many years at the southern end of what is now Silicon Valley in San Jose, criticized it for allowing farm owners to take advantage of low-income migrants who worked under terrible conditions.
(Source: http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/10/east-of-palo-altos-eden/)

I would like to know more about how foodie-tech businesses worth millions of dollars, with largely male and white leadership, are actively making sure the manual labor behind their ‘intellectual property’ and the ‘good’ food on their plates, does not also come at the expense of non-whites, women, or at the expense of less human-rights oriented immigration policy. However, perhaps my interrogations are fruitless; highly successful foodie-tech startups rely on neoliberal models embedded in competitive markets within a capitalist logos; and I need to remind people that capitalism– yes, even neoliberal capitalism supposedly designed to create an even playing field in a supposed post-colonial era– cannot exist without producing and reproducing systemic racial, gender, and class oppression as well as ecocidal views of the Earth’s resources. At first glance, I would argue that a lot of foodie-tech startups give the image that they are left neoliberals which they think is a ‘good’ thing to be. However,

The differentiation between left and right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state’s role in maintaining competitive markets. For me the distinction is that “left neoliberals” are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism. But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things.
(Source: Let Them Eat Diversity: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2011/01/let-them-eat-diversity/)

Is it possible? What would it look like?

I do not expect foodie-tech companies to be perfect. In the USA (where my scholarship is focused on), we are living in and under systems of oppression that have conditioned most of us to accept that racial injustice is ‘normal'; that hetero-normativity is ‘natural'; that cis-sexism is acceptable; that ableism is ‘okay'; that neoliberal economic policies and practices are the answer to creating justice in a now post-colonial world.  What I am asking is to acknowledge that most of us are starting within a system of logic that makes exploitation and abuse of people the ‘norm’– but if you’re part of a privileged demographic (i.e. heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender identified, middle to upper class, etc) you may never know that your privilege comes at the expense of those not in social and geographical locations of privilege. All I’m asking foodie+tech companies to do is to acknowledge these systems of oppression and to start making sure your business model (and other things) is not in collusion with these oppressive systems.

Thus far, a neoliberal racist capitalist [food] system has made it possible for foodie-tech companies to receive tens of millions of dollars in venture funding that benefit new foodie and technology projects that overall do not question or work to dismantle systemic racism, poverty, and hetero-patriarchy.  We’re not just talking about ‘from seed to table’ here; with foodie-tech startups on the rise who bank on their potential clientele’s use of iPhones, iPads, and Nexus tablets, we need to consider if it is possible for foodie+tech to operate in a way that does not maintain systemic inequality ‘from seed to table[t].’

My questions for start-up foodie-tech companies:

  1. What is your commitment to creating a food system that acknowledges that systemic racism, whiteness, and poverty need to be dismantled?
  2. What is your action plan in creating transparency or conversations around how racism, xenophobia, and sexism are utilized in the food supply chain?
  3. Did you build your space or business as a beneficiary of gentrification? What is your commitment to making sure that your foodie-oriented start-up isn’t at the expense of kicking out working class and/or marginalized communities of color that have a long history of food insecurity and being victims of gentrification?
  4. What is your commitment to not reproducing the racist-sexist power dynamics found and reported in books like Behind the Kitchen Door and by organizations like Restaurant Workers United?
  5. What is your commitment to abolishing the PIC? Are you aware of how the food and agricultural industries rely on the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people to create food commodities as nearly enslaved prison laborers? (Starbucks is one of them, and so are Wendy’s and McDonalds) .

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Like what we do? Consider learning more about the work we do and how you can help fund our social and food justice oriented projects by clicking here.  You can also learn more about the author of this blog post,  Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper by going to her professional profile.

Foodie-Tech Startups and Apps Worth Millions Won’t Kill the Neoliberal Racist Capitalist [Food] System

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Read more about the implications of the image above in the article written by Dr. Amie Breeze Harper called From Seed to Table[t]: Foodie-Tech Startups in a Neoliberal, Racist, and Capitalist [Food] System.

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Like what we do? Consider learning more about the work we do and how you can help fund our social and food justice oriented projects by clicking here.  You can also learn more about the author of this blog post,  Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper by going to her professional profile.

A Black Feminist Vegan Perspective on “Women, stop complaining and either raise a family or don’t have a family and just pursue your career”

Here are some updated thoughts to what I posted a few days ago about challenges to finding an opportunity in academe…

In terms of my previous post, I need to mention that one of my biggest challenges is that as the primary caretaker of 3 kids under the age of 6, most of the teaching opportunities I see do not pay enough for me to have someone take care of children and for me to work. Recently, I ended up losing a contract with an organization because I didn’t have enough income to hire someone to take care of my kids (1, 3 and kindergartner) when I needed to work. I rarely see this as an impediment for cisgender men. It is also challenging for me to ‘build’ a traditional teaching record when positions offered have a salary so low that it literally cannot cover child care (as a man in the previous post had mentioned that they were able to build their traditional teaching record in order to position themselves for a TT position).

I have heard the above challenges time and time again from women in heterosexual relationships and have children (Well, single women with children too, as I rarely meet a single father who also is the primary care-taker of his children; it’s usually women in heterosexual relationships that end up being the single mom and primary care provider if they separate from their boyfriend or husband). Anyway, the women I meet who are in heterosexual relationships with a man and have kids, their man partner, rarely if ever, are impeded by having kids. In contrast, many women who are ‘highly educated’ (in the Western educational sense) end up giving up their dreams of being in academe (or other fields) because for their family it is ‘cheaper’ if they stay home and take care of the children.

In this day and age of Academic Industrial Complex USA, a significant number of the teaching opportunities are low paying and not higher paying TT jobs (especially in the fields of women and gender studies, ethnic and racial studies); they are low paying with lots of hours as adjuncts and instructors for a 1 year or less time period. I have never heard of a cisgender man telling me that he no longer pursued his academic dreams because he had to stay home and take care of his children to save the family money– which usually makes sense because men are paid much more than women so it wouldn’t make economic sense for that primary income earner to leave that high paying position if his woman partner cannot make enough. These are the thoughts I have had and I don’t see it being talked about enough in mainstream talk about challenges to getting a position in academe–

Oh, I was just reminded via a social media ‘friend’ that I should not be posting about how my childcare issues ‘impede’ my ability to have a successful professional life; that I shouldn’t be speaking about these impediments ‘publicly’ because then potential hiring organizations may read it and simply read my children as an impediment to me being a successful employee. Well, thanks for your concern social media ‘friend’, but why keep this silent? It’s a real problem and to ask us to be ‘silent’ about it because we do not look ‘professional’ is just making these problems worse.

I have a lot of ‘well-intentioned’ people who don’t have kids– or they do have kids and they usually are cisgender men who don’t have to take care of their kids (Because they usually have a women partner who does). They tell me with a lot of confidence that I just need to keep on working harder and do this or that but their strategies don’t include that whole children bit. The strategy/advice come from a perspective of someone who basically just has to take care of themselves during the day, if that makes sense. I appreciate the advice but am also unsettled by the constant lack of awareness around the fact that still, most women with very young kids are doing the 48 hour work day, not getting sleep at night because they must take care of kids who don’t often sleep at night, as well as needing to care of the kids and/or work at the same time. When I am sick with the flu or what not, the kids are too and I can’t nap or sleep at night for a long time because I need to take care of them so I am sick forever (because the body can’t heal if it doesn’t sleep).

I also am intrigued by the mostly [white] men who advise me and kind of miss talking about the childcare part as well when they speak to me; I am spoken too as if I have white and male privilege and am not engaged in ‘inflammatory’ work/discipline (i.e. critical race feminism, anti-speciesism, and critical white studies) that makes it harder for me to secure financially stable employment. Yes, thank you for your advice, but at the same time, I just need to understand why these very obvious differences are not being recognized in who has more of a chance of securing a financially secure position and who doesn’t.

Just the other month, I met a woman who said she lost her job at a medical institution. She has 3 kids and had just had a baby but went back to work ASAP. She wasn’t sleeping at night (which most of us don’t do if we have a new baby) . The constant sleep deprivation meant she couldn’t do well at her job. What did the employer do? Told her she had to leave her job because her performance was being compromised by she needing to take care of her newborn as well as other 2 kids. Don’t we love living in a country in which we don’t have the structural support we need so we can just have the basics while taking care of dependents? But, oh well, we’re just women and we need to select one or the other: Either raise kids or pursue your career. You cannot do both. In addition, let’s make life even more difficult if you want to start a family and not have state supported maternity and paternity leave if you adopt or give birth to a baby.

Um, is this 2015 or 1915?  Even more frustrating is that unless you’ve actually taken care of very little kids and have not slept in months, most cannot comprehend what this means. Even when folk have never experienced it and READ the social science research that shows the consequences of not giving women (or most primary caretakers of young children) the support they need, there isn’t a lot of compassion, understanding, or move to make some systemic changes. Also, let’s revisit the very real fact that for many who are in Academe, it’s “killing us”. And add on being a woman of color doing social science work and activism that center dismantling systems of racism and white supremacy and I’m in the zone of academia’s racial battle fatigue. I would like to have a real and upfront conversation with the many white cisgender men who sincerely try to advise me yet don’t even know what the hell racial battle fatigue is (because that is what racial and cisgender privilege means– you don’t need to know!). But, when I try to be real and upfront about it, it is dismissed. And beyond the childcare issues, there is the very real fact that Black [Women’s] Lives [Don’t] Matter in academe (well in the USA) in general, as Tamura A. Lomax brilliantly writes.

Oh, and we can’t forget the time when I shared these impediments, that a ‘compassionate’ vegan responded with much snark, “Have some more kids why don’t you?” (see snapshot below and click on it to go to URL of blog post). And I confronted them and asked if it was easier to say this to me on the internet and because I am a woman and Black, it’s easy to invoke that stereotype that white America has about Black women having too many children and not knowing how to take care of them. Of course they didn’t respond. As I struggle with the challenges of choosing to both raise several young children AND have a professional career, all I keep hearing from the mainstream is, “Women, stop complaining and either raise a family or don’t have a family and just pursue your career.” Um yea, because a cisgender man thinking about starting a family and still having a career is told that all the time—NOT!

soybean

Anyway…..off my soap box

Original post:

Hello my supporters. I have a birthday wish (My birthday is May 30).

Many of you know how I have struggled, like so many social justice oriented PhDs in the USA, to find employment in academe. I need your help. I admit it: Looking through job boards has been overwhelming. I have tried alternative paths since I received my PhD in 2013, but my heart is simply being pulled back to academe. I am revisiting my deep desire to be a professor– a desire I have had since I was 12 years old when I said I’d get a PhD and be the first in my family to do so.

It has been awhile, but I am ready to try again because it is challenging trying to write an academic book and do other scholarship without having full time paid employment and a university type community. I have published 2 books, put on 2 conferences, given numerous keynote addresses, and published 7 articles and chapters. Hence, I can’t say that I don’t have the skills or the drive to do this work. I am not tooting my own horn, however, I have been told by many people who have attended my keynote talks or read my publications that my work is groundbreaking, thought-provoking, and a game changer. When I put on the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter online conference, the response was amazingly positive. People wrote me that the conference had shifted their way of thinking in a way that they never could imagine. 

I refuse to believe that there is no place for me in academe.I just came back from giving several talks in Oregon the other week and several people who enjoyed my work said they were surprised and confused that I had never been offered a post-doc or tenure track professor position. Yes, perhaps it doesn’t make sense– especially since after I give my talks or people have read my books,  I’m  generally told that my scholarship is ‘one of a kind.’ (But, who knows. I applied to over 100 academic positions and got one phone interview for a 1 year lecture position that didn’t pay enough for me to put my kids in daycare so perhaps there are just more PhDs in social science than there are positions? ) (

Here are my simple birthday requests:

  1. Do you know of any postdocs or assistant professor job openings at your institution (online universities are great for me to consider too)?
  2. Can you connect me with non-profits or universities that would benefit from the work I am doing and have done?
  3. Would you like to invite me to give a talk at your institution (my idea is that hearing me speak and me interacting with faculty, students, and staff are good ways to get to know my scholarship beyond a CV)?
  4. Do you know any people who could benefit from hiring who can do consulting around diversity and inclusion issues in an academic setting?

I am searching for critical food studies, black studies, women and genders studies, or critical race studies opportunities but am also open to other possibilities. Here is a taste of my latest work (see video below) which is a talk I gave. I did a critical race materialist reading of the food objects in my latest book Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England.

And my books:

SOCI Harper-PB_Finals

51jAH5T-7hL

Refusing to Be Shut Out of Academe: A New Game Plan and I Need Your Help

Hello my supporters. I have a birthday wish (My birthday is May 30).

Many of you know how I have struggled, like so many social justice oriented PhDs in the USA, to find employment in academe. I need your help. I admit it: Looking through job boards has been overwhelming. I have tried alternative paths since I received my PhD in 2013, but my heart is simply being pulled back to academe. I am revisiting my deep desire to be a professor– a desire I have had since I was 12 years old when I said I’d get a PhD and be the first in my family to do so.

It has been awhile, but I am ready to try again because it is challenging trying to write an academic book and do other scholarship without having full time paid employment and a university type community. I have published 2 books, put on 2 conferences, given numerous keynote addresses, and published 7 articles and chapters. Hence, I can’t say that I don’t have the skills or the drive to do this work. I am not tooting my own horn, however, I have been told by many people who have attended my keynote talks or read my publications that my work is groundbreaking, thought-provoking, and a game changer. When I put on the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter online conference, the response was amazingly positive. People wrote me that the conference had shifted their way of thinking in a way that they never could imagine. 

I refuse to believe that there is no place for me in academe.I just came back from giving several talks in Oregon the other week and several people who enjoyed my work said they were surprised and confused that I had never been offered a post-doc or tenure track professor position. Yes, perhaps it doesn’t make sense– especially since after I give my talks or people have read my books,  I’m  generally told that my scholarship is ‘one of a kind.’ (But, who knows. I applied to over 100 academic positions and got one phone interview for a 1 year lecture position that didn’t pay enough for me to put my kids in daycare so perhaps there are just more PhDs in social science than there are positions? ) (Updated May 19 2015 11:55 PST) 

I also needed to mention that one of my biggest problems is that as the primary caretaker of 3 kids under the age of 6, most of the teaching opportunities I see do not pay enough for me to have someone take care of children and for me to work. Recently, I ended up losing a contract with an organization because I didn’t have enough income to hire someone to take care of my kids (1, 3 and kindergartner) when I needed to work. I rarely see this as an impediment for cisgender men. It is challenging for me to ‘build’ a traditional teaching record when positions offered have a salary so low that it literally cannot cover child care. I have heard this time and time again with women in heterosexual relationships and have children. Their man partner, rarely if ever, are impeded while many of the women end up giving up their dreams of being in academe (or other fields) because for their family it is ‘cheaper’ if they stay home and take care of the children. In this day and age, the teaching opportunities are low paying and not higher paying TT jobs; they are low paying with lots of hours as adjuncts and instructors for a 1 year or less time period. I have never heard of a cisgender man telling me that he no longer pursued his academic dreams because he had to stay home and take care of his children to save the family money– which usually makes sense because men are paid much more than women so it wouldn’t make economic sense for that primary income earner to leave that high paying position if his woman partner cannot make enough. These are the thoughts I have had and I don’t see it being talked about enough in mainstream talk about challenges to getting a position in academe. (Update 1223 pm May 19 2015). Oh, I was just reminded via social media from someone that I should not be posting about how my childcare issues ‘impede’ my ability to have a successful professional life; that I shouldn’t be speaking about these impediments ‘publicly’ because then potential hiring organizations may read it and simply read my children as an impediment to me being a successful employee. Well, thanks for your concern social media ‘friend’, but why keep this silent? It’s a real problem and to ask us to be ‘silent’ about it because we do not look ‘professional’ is just making these problems worse.

Anyway…..

Here are my simple birthday requests:

  1. Do you know of any postdocs or assistant professor job openings at your institution (online universities are great for me to consider too)?
  2. Can you connect me with non-profits or universities that would benefit from the work I am doing and have done?
  3. Would you like to invite me to give a talk at your institution (my idea is that hearing me speak and me interacting with faculty, students, and staff are good ways to get to know my scholarship beyond a CV)?
  4. Do you know any people who could benefit from hiring who can do consulting around diversity and inclusion issues in an academic setting?

I am searching for critical food studies, black studies, women and genders studies, or critical race studies opportunities but am also open to other possibilities. Here is a taste of my latest work (see video below) which is a talk I gave. I did a critical race materialist reading of the food objects in my latest book Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England.

And my books:

SOCI Harper-PB_Finals

51jAH5T-7hL

Oregon Adventures: Talking about scars and whiteness, racial micro-aggressions from a Sarah Palin supporter, and ‘the clap’ doll.

I had a fantastic time during my book talk tour in Oregon this past week (May 6-10 2015). I read from and analyzed my new novel Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England . I read the food object in my novel and explained how they can tell us about current racial power dynamics in the USA. Highlights to share include ending my University of Oregon-Eugene talk at the podium while nursing my 1 year old, Kira Satya, on my right boob while answering questions. Kira Satya came with me on my 5 day trip throughout Oregon. The adventure included 2 talks, 1 workshop I led, and 1 panel discussion. If you’ve been following my work for awhile, you know that I think it’s ridiculous that I have to ‘hide’ nursing my baby– or even argue that I can take her with me since I nurse on demand (like every other mammal on the planet). I am glad that PSU and UO Eugene supported me. And duh, I’m a food justice activist and scholar. Being able to nurse on demand (if one can) is a food justice issue; a social justice issue; a reproductive rights issue; a public health issue. If you watch the end of the video, you can see Kira’s arm wiggling above the podium as I nurse her and answer questions. After I placed her down, she even made a big loud poop in her diaper and the audience heard since she was next to the mic. Plenty of folk laughed (while I’m sure plenty were disgusted, but hey, better than being constipated!) LOL. Below is the UO Eugene talk.

On Saturday at the Eugene Public Library, I was on a panel with Novella Carpenter, Diane Abu-Jaber, and Donna Henderson for the 4th annual Women’s Writers Symposium and the theme for this year was food and women’s stories of resilience. During the panel, us authors answered questions thrown at us by the moderator and we were also asked to read passages from our work. I selected excerpts from an interview I gave about the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter. Also, I centered anti-racism and critical race feminism whenever I’d answer most of the questions or give a comment, making it clear that I don’t think ‘post-racial’ response makes any sense and to remember that for many (especially since it’s largely white Eugene OR where the mainstream may not think about race), ‘whiteness’ is NOT the norm for everyone and can be very violent (discursively, overtly, and systemically). The audience was 90+% white. Each panelist was supposed to read something, so I read my interview from my most recent The Feminist Wire interview about the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter. The first person who rushed up to me after us panelists were done was a white person whose answer to my critical race vegan oriented scholarship was that Sarah Palin is the only person that they will listen to. They said something like, “Sarah Palin goes out and shoots animals and eats them and would be the best president for the USA. I believe anything she says over anyone else.” It was an obvious reactive racial-microaggressive response to how I had explained to the audience that my writing and critical food studies inquiries interrogate neoliberal whiteness, speciesism, as ways to dismantle systemic racism and support Black Lives Matter. I didn’t feel like taking the bait and simply responded, “Well, thank you for sharing your opinion.” They promptly turned around and walked away. However, plenty of white folk did some up and thanked me for providing introductory knowledge to this timely issue of systemic racism and how to be allies to Black Lives Matter movement. After participating on that panel, I learned that 6 extra people who attended that panel discussion signed up for my workshop in the afternoon. Several told me that they had originally signed up for another one but then wanted to challenge themselves as white people to take the plunge and learn about whiteness and Black Lives Matter. So, I gave my a workshop called “Narrating Racial [In]Justice Through Critical Food Writing” that afternoon. It went quite well I think since it was my first time doing it.

Before Kira and I arrived in Eugene, I had given a talk in Portland at Portland State University. Kira and I ate our way through vegan cafes and restaurants of the area and ended in Eugene, after we took the bus there, at Cornbread Cafe. Here are some lovely picts after the written portion below. The first photo is a doll given to my baby on the plane from SFO to PDX. Kira wasn’t feeling well and vomited, so the woman next to us gave her a doll from a conference she had gone to. It was an OB/GYN conference and she got ‘the clap’ in the form of a doll. I learned that ‘the clap’ was short for the French ‘clapier’ where people contracted the ‘the clap’. So, she gave the doll to Kira.

I gave my talk on May 8 2015 in Portland at the Walk of Heroines event. Kira and I had been sick for the past 36 hours with non-stop stomach issues which resulted in the baby vomiting a billion times and giving me the same disease. I couldn’t hold anything down and was wondering how I’d have the strength to give a talk– especially since the baby just wanted to nurse non-stop (which is hard to do when mama can’t hold anything down and the body eats itself to make breastmilk). Kira finally passed out and took a long nap in the afternoon (about 4 hours) and woke up as if she had never had the stomach virus. I somehow made it through the talk (see below) despite me feeling very weak throughout the talk. I think the energy probably came from the audience’s energy and enthusiasm to have me there :-)

On Friday in Portland, we tasted many vegan treats including a vegan bratwurst made from chickpeas (yummy!) as well, a strawberry sorbet popsicle, vegan gluten free cupcake, and a green smoothie. Kira seemed happy. On our way back to the airport from Eugene, I was on a shuttle service. A white guy going to the airport also asked what I did, once he found out I was going to SFO and that I lived in Berkeley. I said critical food studies looking at race and whiteness . 9/10 times, this is the response I’ll get  “Oh, so you must know Michael Pollan’s work. He teaches in Berkeley. Have you ever take any of his classes?” And yes, I got this response from this guy as well….

Ok, I’m just going to say it: I’m so amazed by the gazillion white people I meet whenever they find out what my field of studies and then they talk about Michael Pollan. Why is Michael Pollan the [white] face of food studies all the time!? Even after I’ll tell people that I am looking at how race and whiteness shape ethical food consumption culture, I’ll get, “Oh, so you must like Michael Pollan’s work?” My internal monologue is screaming inside, “When did Michael Pollan ever critically engage with systemic racism or even question his own neoliberal whiteness and male privilege? Oh yea, that was in his latest bestselling book that came out in the fall of—NEVER!!!!” (Breeze falls off her soap box). Ok y’all, enjoy the photos below.

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To access the conference recordings to the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter click on the image below

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[De]colonial food objects and writing about the scars of neoliberal whiteness in social fiction novels

SOCI Harper-PB_Finals

I am excited to use my new novel Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in White Rural New England as a springboard for discussion around veganism, food objects, neoliberal whiteness, and systemic racism in Oregon this week. I will be speaking first at Portland State University on Thursday evening (May 7 2015) and then University of Oregon-Eugene on Friday evening (May 8 2015). Here is a snippet from the Portland talk I’ll be giving. Savannah is the 19 year old protagonist in Scars. This is still in the works, so don’t be too focused on content of grammatical errors. Also, if you like what I’m doing here, please consider inviting me to speak at your organization or school by emailing bookbreezeharper@gmail.com .

Coca-Cola’s powerful influence in Savannah’s life throughout the book is quite significant. There is a scene in which Savannah and her mother are at the dinner table, and Savannah drinks it. It ends up being so sweet for her that it causes pain in one of her unfilled cavities. Simultaneously, Coca-Cola offers a scholarship to college students that Savannah would like to apply to. Coca-Cola is a marker of modernity, but it also, a marker of extreme capitalism, human rights violations, and water privatization to name a few. The soda that Savannah is consuming is destroying her dental health, but her highly stressful life and socio-economic class make her and so many others in her situation, easy prey to food-stuffs that deteriorate bodily health as well as overall community health. Commodities such as cigarettes and fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s also come into play as significant creators of pain and suffering to Savannah and her mother’s lives. Interestingly, when Esperanza presents veganism to Savannah, it is an offering for Savannah to extend her rather human and 1st world centric view of liberation and freedom; it is actually a decolonial and anti-racist approach. Alternatively, Eric is also vegan, but his relationship to the vegan food objects he consumes and how he presents it to Savannah is a neoliberal whiteness approach, indicated by his PETA buttons and lack of having ever read one book about how systemic racism and white privilege operate. Savannah is not interested or ready for Esperanza’s new philosophies—especially since along with the veganism, Esperanza has asked Savannah to question her support of cocoa sourced from child slavery, Coca-Cola, and Savannah’s use of animal words to insult people (i.e., referring to someone as a ‘wolf’ as a negative attribute.).

Also, check out our latest conference recordings to The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter: Challenging Neoliberal Whiteness While Building Solidarity Among Vegans of Color and Allies (Before, After, and Beyond Ferguson). veganpraxisblm(fb)

Like what we do? Donate and learn more about our next steps and new book projects!

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“What is systemic racism? Is that really a ‘thing’?”

Race Forward Answers, because I’m kind of sick of repeating myself :-)

Please read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander to understand the new age of mass incarceration.

And I highly advise checking out the recordings to the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter conference. You actually don’t have to be ‘black’ or ‘vegan’ to benefit because the conference is about how systemic racism operates– even within veganism and/or the food system! And we talk about how Black Lives Matter ‘matters’ to everyone.

Enjoy.

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The Humane Hoax….Just in case you didn’t know about ‘humane’ labeling…

TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic visuals of chickens being slaughtered ‘humanely’.

Video Is by United Poultry Concerns. TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic visuals of chickens being slaughtered ‘humanely’.

Just another reminder to think about what ‘humane’ means in the interest of human beings and not the actual non-human animals’ needs.

Male chicks are killed as soon as they are born and macerated by machines. Or they are tossed into trash bins while alive. Killing of billions of newborn baby chicks is hidden from consumers and routinely marketed to consumers with the myth of ‘humane.’.

REDUX: Reflections on using the word ‘nigger’ and racial ignorance embedded in [white] friendships

Source: http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_4161.jpg
Source: http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_4161.jpg

I wrote this in August 2013 but I am reposting in light of Ferguson and now Baltimore and in response to the plethora of ‘good’ whites I am friends with and/or contact me with racial micro-aggressions. 

——–

The other year, I tried to reconnect with a friend I had gone to Dartmouth College with in the 1990s. We’ll just call him “Thomas”. I saw that “Thomas” was on Facebook. I sent him a message to see how he was doing. Somehow, we started talking about things we remembered from college. I told him how I remembered sharing with him that I had been called the ‘n-word’ my first day of 7th grade. We had been sitting on stairs outside somewhere and he had been shocked that, “People still do that!?” It was 1995. He was white, straight, and from an upper-middle class background. He had grown up in Southern California and had shared with me how he had graduated Valedictorian of his high school class. We were buddies throughout college.

However, our re-connection via Facebook ended up being rather confusing to me. After I had reminded him about all the different things we had talked about during college, in particular, how I talked to him about how deeply affected I was by being called the ‘n-word’ as a child (in an all white school system), we started talking about the U.S. presidential election.  He eventually ended up writing something like (sorry, I don’t remember it verbatim and didn’t save it), “I would never vote for a nigger.” Though he was referring to Obama, I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. I’m assuming he was, but I was really thrown off guard and couldn’t comprehend why he thought that it was okay to say or even joke about using that word. I ended up stopping our communication immediately. I thought that this just didn’t make any sense. How could he not know how triggering “nigger” is for me? And especially after I had shared that childhood trauma with him? Why did he think it was funny to say that to me?

In 1997 or 1998, “Thomas” had told me that his mother would never approve of him marrying a Black girl. “Yea, she’d be okay with me dating, but not marrying.” I remember being really confused by how he seemed so nonchalant about her beliefs. Alternatively, my parents really didn’t care at all about who I dated or married. How could he be so calm about his mother’s racism? During the same year, our two mutual friends had started dating each other. They were a heterosexual couple, black (“Henry”) and white (“Jessica”). They were supposed to go to “Jessica’s” family member’s wedding together. However, “Jessica’s” mother had told her that she was not allowed to attend the wedding with him because he was black. I remember the couple had gotten into an argument about it and I also remember her nonchalantly telling me, “Well if I have to choose him over my family, I’m going to choose my family.” It was with the ease in which she had said this that made me very uneasy. Don’t get me wrong: I know how hard a child/parent relationship can be; especially if you don’t want to disappoint them, if you love them, and yea, if they are your sole financial support. However, what was disturbing was the ‘ease’ of which she had shared her thoughts with me about the situation– without ever even saying something like, “Breeze, you are black and my mom’s beliefs about dating black people as unacceptable must be really hurtful for you to hear.” But no, neither “Thomas” or “Jessica” ever wanted to talk more about the implications of what it means for their parents, who are part of the racial-class status quo of the USA, to have these beliefs about black people (or perhaps anyone who didn’t fall into their social-class category). After all, if Black people aren’t good enough to marry their children, then they simply aren’t good enough, period. And the implications of this really troubled my 21 year old mind. I remember thinking:

If we’re not good enough to marry, then I wonder how “Thomas’s” or “Jessica’s” mothers think about us in other contexts. If they had to be on a jury and determine if a Black person on trial were guilty or not, would they automatically think they aren’t as deserving as being considered as innocent as white peers in their social network? If these women worked at a bank and a black person came in for a home loan, would they feel like they were less likely to deserve it than a white person with the same economic background? If they were on a college admissions committee and saw that the applicant had marked ‘African-American’ as their racial identity, would they not weigh his achievements the same way they’d weigh a white applicant’s?

After all, one just can’t think that their desire for their child not to marry ‘another race’ doesn’t impact how they generally feel about ‘that other race’ (and I put this in quotations to acknowledge that there really are no races; race is a social construct), even outside of the context of considering who your child should marry.

It has been a couple of years since the Facebook interaction I had with “Thomas.” I have yet to re-connect with him. However, over the last few years since I became more and more active on Facebook, I have been able to follow a lot of my Dartmouth peer’s lives who have Facebook friended me. It has been interesting for me to see the fan pages, political groups, etc., that many of my white peers follow and support.  I am taken aback when I see some of their strong support of political parties such as the Tea Party, or their firm stance against immigration, or liking particular public figures who are blatantly racist and white nationalists in their thinking. Had they always thought this way while we attended college together ? Why would they want to be ‘friends’ with me on Facebook if their heroes are people who hate those who are not white? (Or just hate another population in general!?)

About a year after I had graduated from Dartmouth College, I moved to Princeton, NJ to take on a telecommunications job. I had made a new friend named “Curt” who was working at a hat store I would frequent. After hanging out for a few weeks, he invited me to go on a weekend trip to NYC to explore the Stonewall area as well as other vibrant areas of LGBTQ life in NYC. We hitched a ride with his friends, a white gay male couple, “Luke and Dan”. While we were driving to NYC, a driver cut off “Luke”. In instant rage and anger he yelled at the driver, “Nigger!” (the driver of the other car had been white). Everyone in the car went silent as they realized that this was kind of awkward with Breeze in the car. After a small bit of silence, “Luke” responded with , “Sorry. Great, now she probably hates me now.” I responded with something like, “I don’t hate you, but you really should be careful with saying that word.” I think what was weird about this comment was that it was not really an apology as much as he was worried about how I would hate him. Was he not disturbed by his comment and what it represented about his consciousness and how structural racism and white supremacy had made him comfortable to say what he had? To think the way he did? He only seemed concerned about, “I wonder if Breeze now hates me”? It was an external response, not a deeply internal and critical response. For the rest of the weekend trip, he didn’t talk about it or offer a more sincere and deeper apology/analysis of what it means to be a white male and how he may collude with upholding racism and white supremacist ideas about Black people and other non-white folk (i.e. using “nigger” to insult someone). And perhaps this had more to do with the fact that we live in a USA in which white people– at least during the end of the 1990s– just don’t feel comfortable about talking about that white elephant in the big USA room because they are collectively socialized NOT to talk about it in this “post-racial” age.

When I first started the Sistah Vegan Project, I was met with a significant amount of resentment and anger from white vegans who truly thought that if focused on how racialization and socialization affected black female vegans’ collective epistemologies, I was creating disharmony, distractions, and ‘playing the race card.’ As I shifted from just black female vegan epistemologies, to understanding how neoliberal whiteness undergirds mainstream vegan philosophy in the USA, I opened up Pandora’s box. When posting updates on my Facebook status about the work I was doing and the questions I had, I ended up receiving posts and emails from white friends (none I think were vegan) who didn’t understand why race was so important to me. I even had a child hood friend unfriend me and call me a racist when I had posted about racism and white supremacy as structural and systemic problems. She sent me a post that ‘reminded’ me that she had grown up very poor and that we were friends and that she had never judged me because of my skin color. She told me she was not a racist and how could I post these types of questions and concerns that implied that she was, ‘just because of her white skin color.’

I was amazed that she interpreted my research as a direct attack against her as an individual. This is common, as I have spent years trying to explain structures and systems versus ‘individual racists’. No, having ‘white skin color’ doesn’t automatically make you a racist, but let’s start thinking about how all of our consciousnesses have been shaped by white racist structures in the USA. How has being racialized influenced how all of us experience our world, regardless if you identify as an ‘individual’ or ‘overt’ racist or neither? This is what I tried to share with her, but she completely disagreed with me and promptly unfriended me. For those who I have grown up with or went to college with and have not [yet] unfriended me on Facebook, I get the ‘reminders’ several times a year that, “I am not racist and don’t care about skin color.” Funny reminder, no? You know, when I receive posts, articles, updates from friends who analyze their embodied experiences about being fat in a fat shaming culture, trans identified in a trans-hating culture, or living with disabilities in an ableist culture, I know they are not individually attacking me as a slim bodied, CIS gender identified, able bodied woman. I completely understand that they are trying to understand issues of sizeism, transphobia, and ableism at the structural and systemic levels. I also understand that regardless if I am or am not a fatphobe, transphobe, or ableist, my consciousness has been affected and I have automatically earned certain privileges because of my body shape, my CIS gender identification, and my able-bodied status. And yea, I want to know what I don’t know, because of the ignorances that my privileges have produced in my consciousness. I am thankful that I’m asked to engage with these issues because I may very well be complicit. I want to eradicate the injustice, suffering, and violence that epistemologies of ignorance and privilege produce.

I still hold in my heart the wonderful memories and times I have shared with these friends, in spite of these clear instances of racial ignorance and misunderstandings. (As a matter of fact, that weekend “Luke” yelled “nigger” was a weekend that also inspired me to write about my experiences and develop them into the ‘fictional’ character “Cesar” in my newest novel Scars). However, maybe I’m naive, but I also hold in my heart that one day, my friends from childhood and college, such as “Thomas” and “Jessica” , will make the effort to reconnect with me one day. I fantasize that they will share with me a type of awakening and acknowledgment they have had about the realities of systemic racism in the USA; how they were able to realize that ignoring racism in any manifestation won’t make it go away… and that they really are trying to do something to remedy it.

In the mean time, for many of us who are still hurt and confused, and seek ways of healing from ongoing racisms and/or racial micro-aggressions: I continue to do my anti-racist and critical whiteness awareness activism and scholarship through webinars, web-based conferences, and writing. See below how you can learn from my work and support us through GO Fund Me and our latest online conference The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter…

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