Was Charleston Enough or do you Need More to Stop Being Silent or Post-racial?

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 have posted this (see below) several times over the last few years and I am going to re-post it in light of the Charleston SC tragedy. I want to repost this again because it’s important to understand that Roof was not an anomaly but the ‘norm’. How he enacted it may be ‘rare’, but racism is racism and it can only have negative consequences for ALL. The other day, I posted about the silence I experienced by my mostly white friends over the years about race, racism, and white supremacy in this country. In particular, I was frustrated and heartbroken over the lack of engagements with anti-racism amongst my white friends, after the Charleston shooting by a white supremacist. This ‘silence’ reflects the core of many of my white friendships throughout my life. I would like to share this article again that I wrote and it’s a shame that I have to keep on posting it because white supremacist racist acts of violence continue to happen in the USA and beyond.

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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…

gofundme

veganpraxisblm(fb)

Sistah Vegan needs a home. Can you help?

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Who Wants to Give My Awesome Mommy a New House to Live?

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I want to stay in the SF Bay area (preferably Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, Alameda, Albany, El Cerrito, or Kensington CALIFORNIA).  It’s the optimal place for me to do my scholarship and activist work. Why? Because it is the hub of food justice and Foodie culture.

Our family must move out of our current house by August 1, 2015. Our landlords are moving back.

We’ve been competing against applicants who attend the many open houses we have found on Craigslist or Zillow. Easily, 20+ applicants we compete against.

With 5 weeks left to find a new home, I thought I’d ask for your help and hope that I can find something “by word of mouth” (versus having to keep on showing up to open houses and compete against a bunch of other people).

We’ve also learned that many times, those who ‘win’ (i.e., the applicants who are offered the places) are able to offer more than what was listed or even pay the entire year’s rent up front.

If you have a place you’d like to rent to our awesome family (2 adults and 3 kids), please let us know. If you don’t have a place but know someone who would love to rent to Sistah Vegan and her super duper cool family, please connect us.

A 2 or 3 bedroom house is our first choice. However, we are also open to condos, apartments, and duplexes.

Thanks everyone.

Best,
Breeze and Family

Sistah Vegan needs a home. Can you help?

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`

I want to stay in the SF Bay area (preferably Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, Alameda, Albany, El Cerrito, or Kensington CALIFORNIA).  It’s the optimal place for me to do my scholarship and activist work. Why? Because it is the hub of food justice and Foodie culture.

Our family must move out of our current house by August 1, 2015. Our landlords are moving back.

We’ve been competing against applicants who attend the many open houses we have found on Craigslist or Zillow. Easily, 20+ applicants we compete against.

With 5 weeks left to find a new home, I thought I’d ask for your help and hope that I can find something “by word of mouth” (versus having to keep on showing up to open houses and compete against a bunch of other people).

We’ve also learned that many times, those who ‘win’ (i.e., the applicants who are offered the places) are able to offer more than what was listed or even pay the entire year’s rent up front.

If you have a place you’d like to rent to our awesome family (2 adults and 3 kids), please let us know. If you don’t have a place but know someone who would love to rent to Sistah Vegan and her super duper cool family, please connect us.

A 2 or 3 bedroom house is our first choice. However, we are also open to condos, apartments, and duplexes.

Thanks everyone.

Best,
Breeze and Family

“Full Blown Racists”, Preemptive Strikes, and Silence Amongst Mostly White Friends

The other day, I posted this update to my Facebook account:

I think My problem is that This Roof guy is loving the attention and it’s obvious he is excited to be written into the history books while the victims will just remain ‘nameless’ and ‘non-rememberable’ by the mainstream. Once again, centering then giving power to ‘whiteness’. (I will name them Clementa Pinckney, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson.)

I actually think white racists are not anomalies. They are everywhere and it just manifests in differing ways. [A Facebook friend wrote whether or not Roof is a ‘full blown racist’.] I am not sure how one would define a ‘full blown racist’. Does it take shooting up a Black church to be one? I actually think not; but that is just me and a majority of the scholars in critical studies of race and whiteness that think this way; or just most Black folk in the USA, regardless if they are critical race or whiteness studies scholars.

SPLC has tracked hundreds of white supremacists groups in the USA. Actually, they track all HATE groups but look at their statistics and about 97% of these hundreds of groups are WHITE SUPREMACIST. Roof wasn’t an anomaly but the NORM in terms of his white racist consciousness. He engaged in ‘preemptive’ strike against a supposed black population that is going to ‘hurt’ innocent white people. This is the same mentality we find with the thousands of mostly white cops that engage in preemptive attacks against us Black people because they perceive us as ‘going to hurt them’. A 12 year old child (Tamir) is SEEN as a scary adult by police and shot.  A 14 year old Black girl at an Austin Pool party is attacked and handcuffed by a white police offer. Notice how Roof, a 21 year old MAN is being constructed as ‘some kid’ (white innocence).

I come from the perspective of a black racialized subject in the USA and a PhD in the subject of critical studies of race and whiteness (through the platform of food).

I have learned that no matter how much we explain this to white folk, no matter the academic degrees, the rich canon of studies, the testimonies, we continue to have to EXPLAIN that this shit is real and white racism is not an anomaly but the NORM. (Head explodes).

And I have to say that except for one ‘white’ friend (non-FACEBOOK but in real world), I am shocked that none of my white friends have checked in with me about how I am feeling about what has happened. Like, this sh*t is traumatizing and even more traumatizing that there isn’t the ‘natural’ inclination to ask how it’s affecting my mental health. I am sure there is no conscious ill intention, but it really just says a lot about how differently race is lived by most of my white friends.

This morning, I had to pull over to the side of the road to talk about this more in the form of video.

What I didn’t say in this video is that I have isolated myself and my emotions so no one else can witness it. I have been trying to find places to cry alone. My mini-van works…while in the shower works. Some of you may be asking why I simply don’t approach my white friends directly. My answer is that at this point, it’s just too much; the ‘race education’ piece for me right now is simply too much. I am not sure how else to explain it, but it probably wouldn’t be emotionally healthy for me to be the one to ‘start the conversation’. I did burst into tears in the solitude of my own car, after recording this video. I was parked on the side of the road next to North Berkeley Library where I get wifi. I also thought about the plethora of white vegans who continue to dismiss or poke fun at Black Lives Matter– indicating that Black Lives Matter and veganism are incompatible. I thought about the micro-aggressions I have dealt with from mostly white male Buddhists when I have decided that engaging with race/racism/whiteness is a wonderful way to enhance the buddhadharma vs. ‘distracting’ from it. I thought about the amazing Black Lives Matter event in Oakland this past year, that was directly organized for families by a mothers of color activist group…and the racists and cruel comments that followed by many who thought it was ‘child abuse’ to teach children to be anti-racist, despite us using Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches and arts and crafts activities as springboards to introduce kids to these concepts.

I assure you, I’m not looking to be ‘saved’ by white friends. I’m also not suggesting that because most of my white friends who rarely, if ever, talk about systemic racism, should no longer be part of my life…. At this point on June 22 2015, I am not exactly sure what I am looking for….

…But right now, I am trying to take care of myself. I have been thinking again about my recipes for racial tension headaches and doing sitting meditation. I made a fresh dandelion greens, maca, kale, ginger, and chlorella smoothie this morning. I wanted something packed with sugar, but I told myself that I need some adaptogens (such as maca) to deal with this stress and sadness…And as I thought about adding more ‘hemp’ to my diet today, I thought about how hard it was to get big name ‘ethical consumption’ food companies to get on board with supporting the Black Lives Matter vegan conference this past spring. Then, as I drank my smoothie, I thought about the recent Time magazine issue about the secrets to ‘living longer’ that completely ignores how living in a white settler nation built on systemic racism, colonialism, and white-supremacist based capitalism negatively affects ‘wellness’.

If you like what we do here at the Sistah Vegan Project, find out more how to support us and check out our critical race feminist consulting and strategic planning services for food, ethical consumption, and technology sectors.

Secrets to living longer, healthier, and aging well….

…seems to be being a ‘white’ person (and probably living in a gated community)…

LiveLonger

Yea, basically, the ‘science of aging well’ isn’t really solvable through 100% ‘hard science’ (and anyway, even hard science has implicit bias). It’s more like systemic racism and poverty that influence ‘living longer’ and being ‘healthier’. Social science and public health research make it clear that the ‘healthiest’ groups are white middle to upper class people in the USA. Not because of ‘racial superiority’ (wouldn’t the FOX News folk LOVE to think that that is the ‘fact’), but because of systems of racism and poverty that obviously negatively affect ‘living longer’ and being ‘healthier.’ If health and food resources are organized via racial and socio-economic class lines, then being white and financially stable will ensure the ‘healthiest’ and ‘longest’ life because that is the demographic that has the ‘easiest’ access to these things due to a white supremacist capitalist based racial caste system that is the USA.

But Time magazine certainly won’t go there. So, I did (….with some editing software and a snarky attitude). I saw the above magazine cover at CVS the other day and could not resist taking a snapshot. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have them put the top 23 things as things like, “Try not to be a victim of racial battle fatigue….”  and “Try not to be racially profiled and then beaten by the police.” Or, how about, “Avoid being an exploited migrant farmworker who is so destitute you can’t even afford to buy the organic kale you are picking for the wealthy Silicon Valley hipster class.” “Racism cause high blood pressure in Black people, so…be white and live in a gated community that is fervently protected by your local police force.”

Can someone at Time please update this issue with a different photo that doesn’t position a white person as the rubric for ‘living longer’?  That reflects the realities of systemic racism (white supremacist capitalist system) on the effects of health and living longer?

Snarky is fun.

Resistance Ecology, Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter, Hip Hop Youth Dinners

Breeze, kind of looking constipated.... With the lovely Lauren Ornelas.
Breeze, kind of looking constipated…. With the lovely Lauren Ornelas.

I gave a talk at Portland State University’s annual Resistance Ecology conference on June 13 2015 . My talk was called The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter and I recapped the Sistah Vegan conference from April 24-25 2015 and talked about the continuation of this and challenges. I give thanks to The Resistance Ecology Conference organizers for yet another amazing conference. 

I speak about the tweet that Vegan Revolution sent out that dismissed the relevancy of Black Lives Matters in terms of the importance of non-human animal lives. I also talk about the Sacramento Hip Hop Youth vegan dinner as an example of ‘vegan praxis of Black Lives Matter’ , featuring many artists such as Dj Cavem and Alkemia Earth doing their culinary concerts. Sacramento dinner was part of the Hip Hop Green Dinner tour for 2015, organized by Keith Tucker. Below is the same video I show at the end of my talk above, but this is far better to hear and see because it is directly from youtube while the one I show is a video recording of the Youtube video and it’s difficult to hear for many.

After the talk, I was on a panel with Jacqueline Morr (Project Intersect) & Lauren Ornelas (Food Empowerment Project) to discuss privilege in terms of animal liberation and vegan spaces. I learned a lot. I thank not just the speakers but the audience for engaging with us and asking really necessary but difficult questions. One woman spoke about a vegan and animal rights author who just published a book and is on tour. She said that he has committed sexual harassment against a woman (maybe more than one). She informed us that DXE tried to shut his talk down and she was disappointed that there was no support for DXE; that there seemed to be this excuse from his supporters that despite sexual harassing behavior, there was the notion that “He has helped so many animals, so we shouldn’t focus on things like him sexually harassing one woman.” She noted that there were a lot of women who still wanted to support him with these types of excuses. I thought that I don’t know much about the accusations towards this author but overall, the dialogue got me thinking about the many women who have privately emailed me telling me certain well known men in vegan or AR movement that have harassed or assaulted them or someone they know… but they are scared to say something about it. What do I do when both sides claim to be ‘innocent’ and we can only rely on the ‘legal system’ to ‘prove’ that something ‘wrong’ did or did not happen? (sigh). The entire 80 minute panel with q&a is below.

On a different note, I was interviewed this past weekend during my travels… and at the end, the interviewer said I was very ‘articulate’. Interesting, huh? Am thinking about how to breath and meditate on it; and how I will communicate to him that he should be careful, as a white guy, complimenting a Black woman for sounding ‘articulate’… I have always been told by white friends and random white people that I don’t “sound Black” throughout my life. I think they think that’s a compliment (?)….Tis not, but thanks for trying….

And as usual, if you like what I do, please consider funding the Sistah Vegan Project or hiring me to speak or do consulting and strategic planning for you or your organization.

The photos below quickly recap my journey.

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Sacramento CA Hip Hop Green Dinner t-shirt
Sacramento Youth Hip Hop Vegan Dinner Organizing Crew. June 12 2015.
Sacramento Youth Hip Hop Vegan Dinner Organizing Crew. June 12 2015.
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Alkemia Earth and DJ Cavem giving a Culinary Concert at Sacramento Hip Hop Green Youth dinner. June 12 2015.
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Crew promoting info about the Bigger Picture documentary about diabetes and sugar consumption.
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Cleaver promotional and informational materials from the movie The Bigger Picture.
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Cleaver promotional and informational materials from the movie The Bigger Picture.

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Lauren Ornelas, Breeze Harper, and Jacqueline Morr on June 13 2015 at Resistance Ecology in Portland, OR.
Lauren Ornelas, Breeze Harper, and Jacqueline Morr on June 13 2015 at Resistance Ecology in Portland, OR.

Critical Race Feminist Approach: Consulting and Strategic Planning Services

Dr. A. Breeze Harper, founder of the Sistah Vegan Project, also has a consulting and strategic planning business called Critical Diversity Solutions. This is what a research consulting and strategic planning firm looks like with critical race feminism, critical food studies, and ethical consumption as its foundations.

Click on the picture below to be directed to a separate website to learn more.

Or, download the full PDF brochure of what we do here: CDSPamphlet

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