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.

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

Products and Services (1)

From Seed to Table[t]: Can Foodie-Tech Startups Change 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 you 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, 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 Breakfast 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.

glassdoorblueapron

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. 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. Maybe Salzberg he did mention impediments based on racial and gender inequality but it was edited out? Perhaps Salzberg is aware of these, 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. Basically, we may never know what was edited out during the interview.

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.

Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/12/30/2014-the-year-silicon-valley-spilled-its-diversity-data/
Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/12/30/2014-the-year-silicon-valley-spilled-its-diversity-data/

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, and capitalist [food] system that creates their wealth in the first place. The mainstream image of ‘successful’ foodie-tech entrepreneurs are almost always [white] men. There is basically a non-existent consciousness around the technology they ‘created’ and how likely it would have been made possible without racialized and gendered inequality in tech industry. 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 to not have a commitment ‘precisely to those things’? If so, 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, and 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 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 systems of racism, xenophobia, and sexism basically uphold the food commodity chain?
  3. How are you supporting a thriving wage for food workers? Do you actively vote for laws and support policies to ensure a living wage for food workers? (See Mark Bittman’s NYT article Can We Finally Treat Food Workers Fairly?)
  4. 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?
  5. What is your commitment to not reproducing the racial and gender power dynamics found and reported in books like Behind the Kitchen Door and by organizations like Restaurant Workers United?
  6. What is your commitment to abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex? 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) .

These questions are a good start and I don’t expect anyone to have all the answers over night.

There also are plenty of resources out there that address how structural racism operates in the U.S. food system if you want to learn more about this. Two scholars at Michigan State University just put together an annotated bibliography about how racism in the US food system that you can access at: Structural Racism in the US Food System (2015) .

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About the author:

pomona

Contact Dr. Harper via email.

Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper has 15 years of experience in Social Justice Activism and Research. Her training and award winning Masters thesis from Harvard University employed critical race feminist methodology to understand how and why women of color use educational technologies to organize, learn about, and mobilize around ethical consumption practices such as veganism. She earned a PhD in Critical Food Geographies (with an emphasis in ethical consumption and Critical Race Feminism) from the University of California-Davis. Dr. Harper recently created and organized the conference, “The Praxis of Black Lives Matter” that took place April 24-25, 2015 (www.sistahveganconference.com).  The central theme focused on how ethical consumption and Black Lives Matter are not separate

For the past eight years, she has been the senior research analyst and trainer for Critical Diversity Solutions (CDS). Founded in 2007, Critical Diversity Solutions is a social justice oriented consulting and training organization that seeks to teach people about social impact through food, technology, and wellness. CDS uses the creative platform of ethical consumption and ‘good food’ movement to address timely social justice issues.

Recently, Dr. Harper gave a book talk and workshop at University of Oregon Eugene (May 2015). She read from and analyzed her new book Scars and explained how food objects in the book can tell us about racial and socio-economic power dynamics in the U.S.A. View video of lecture here

Contact Dr. Harper via email.