“All racial identity is racist!”: The Broken Record of White Post-Racial Utopian Fantasies

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I must sound like a broken record by now.

But, here I go.

In 2005, I did a call for papers for contributions to the Sistah Vegan Anthology book project. The call for papers went out onto the web and ended up on many sites, including the site VeganPorn, which had nothing to do with porn. However, it was a hot spot for vegans to talk and discuss. Upon seeing my call for papers and the title word ‘sistah’, as well as reading that I was searching for black female vegans, an 80 page discussion thread was generated from largely white identified vegans claiming many things: the project was ‘racist'; gender had nothing to do with veganism; race had nothing to do with how one enters their vegan practice; racism is no longer an issue in the USA so why talk about it?; why is Harper using Black English (i.e. ‘sistah’), as anyone who can’t speak proper English shouldn’t be surprised if they can’t find a job; Black English sounds like one was born to a ‘crack addicted mother.’

Long story short, this thread became empirical data for my award winning Harvard Masters thesis which interrogated how covert whiteness operated within cyberspaces dominated by ‘liberal’ white vegans and animal rights proponents(The shortened version of this, published in a peer-reviewed journal, can be found here). Less than a year after being granted my Masters degree, I would then continue my work as a doctoral studies student. I was awarded a 2 year coveted fellowship at University of California to pursue intersections of veganism, ethics, and how whiteness and racialization impacted one’s relationship to, and perception of, the vegan food commodity chain. I was awarded my PhD and deemed an ‘expert’ in this intersectional field of study.

The other weekend, the Sistah Vegan Web Conference took place. As some of you know, it focused on the “Embodied and Critical Perspectives on Veganism from Black Women and Allies.” Before the event, Vegan Society of the UK posted it to their Facebook page. They actually sponsored the event, showing solidarity with the fact that how we practice food ethics is not in a vacuum and is dramatically influenced by systemic oppressions such as speciesism as well as racism, whiteness, and sexism. Even though there were comments in support of the conference’s intentions, these were some of the other post-racial comments in response to the posting:

  • “All racial identity is racist!”
  • “Omg why O why must we have such division!! Life is so complicated ! Ugh.”
  • “Actually, white men are the minority.”
  • “‘Black female vegans’ LOL!”
  • “R u playing the minority card- EVERYONE IS A MINORITY – lets unite – not divide- This makes me sick!!!!”

8 years later, the same broken record from the same collective demographic of post-racial [almost always white] people who actually think talking about ‘race’ is ‘racist.’ I think this is funny. No really, I do. WEB DuBois, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Roland Barthes, and Frantz Fanon, if you were alive right now, what would you be thinking? Would you be surprised, or would you not be surprised, just really disappointed in the same theme; the same broken record?

I’ve been reading the book Combined Destinies: Whites Sharing Grief About Racism¬† over the past week. It was recently released and is an anthology of stories from white identified people who speak about how deeply hurtful racism and white supremacy has been to their own humanity. It has really helped me extend my compassion and understanding (don’t get me wrong, I’m still dealing with anger and disappointment) towards those white identified people who continue to define ‘racism’ in a way that completely distracts and deflects from its true meaning; distracts and deflects from the fact that racism, at least here in white settler nations like the USA, greatly influences most, if not all of the consciousnesses of those of us who were either raised here, or spent most of our lives here. From reading Combined Destinies so far,¬†I got to hear the confessions and testimonies of many whites who admitted that they know that racism exists and that they do benefit from systemic white supremacy…and they know that he consequence is that collectively, people of color in the USA have suffered greatly. However, many confess that they just lied to themselves, verbally punished people of color who wanted to share their racialized suffering, etc; they realized how violent and ‘pathological’ being part of whiteness could be to their consciousness. One reader recalls how her father reacted to the police beatings of black people in California who were protesting against institutionalized racism. The daughter was crying as she witnessed the brutality and her father didn’t react the way she thought he should: he yelled at her for feeling sorry for such lazy people who should stop complaining and just work hard like he did and maybe they wouldn’t be in the ghettoes without resources. They deserved the beatings from the police, after all, slavery had ended so they had only themselves to blame.

There are countless stories like that above, throughout the anthology: white parents explaining and apologizing for the violence of pathological whiteness to their children, masking it as ‘normal’ and that their children should not think that it is a moral problem. The children grew up to be adults of course, still confused about how racism and white supremacy REALLY function, versus the lies and misinformation their parents had taught them. So many confessed being almost just like their parent’s in response to witnessing later forms of racial violence against Indigenous, brown, and black people; they had learned to react violently (verbally and maybe physically) to people of color who sincerely expressed the pain and suffering they endured BECAUSE of the pathology of whiteness.

But, this anthology is also about how all the contributors changed; it took years, but they changed and are still in the process of transforming their consciousness and going through the pain of acknowledging how their own unconscious collusion with the pathology of whiteness– as children basically forced to accept this ‘normal’ USAmerican ethic– negatively affected their own self-love as well as their potential to love those who were not white during their adult lives. As I read Combined Destinies , I hold in my heart that those who continue to sound like a broken record titled White Post-Racial Utopian Fantasies will eventually go through similar transformations. Then again, there is no guarantee, as plenty of people KNOW racism is a problem but they admit that they just don’t care, or that they LOVE benefiting from it. There were quite a few voices in the book that admitted that they knew that acknowledging racism and then fighting to dismantle it would ultimately mean they would have to be comfortable with letting go of power, privileges, and resources that this racialized system of power afforded to them collectivity; that was scary and unsettling, as who would want to give that up? It was much easier to yell at people of color and tell them that they are creating divisions by simply wanting to share how being racialized as non-white put them in a completely different world; create a completely different consciousness and identity than the white mainstream middle to upper class norm.

My mother has confessed to me many times that she is very scared of the work I do. Tomorrow I will speak about how neoliberal whiteness shapes PETA’s marketing and campaign strategy. I sent my mother the flyer of the event, which will take place at Scripps College. It’s called “‘Never Be Silent': On Trayvon Martin, PETA, and the Packaging of Neoliberal Whiteness.” She emailed me immediately that she didn’t think I should be talking about this in public; that it is too controversial and that I could potentially be stabbed, shot, etc if I talk about this. I tried to explain to her that this was from my completed dissertation and that I’m not trying to get myself killed; this is what I do as a social-scientist trying to understand the cultural phenomenon of veganism; how it operates in the USA in a neo-liberal supposed ‘post-racial’ age. But, she didn’t hear that the first 6 times I emailed her, trying to explain my lecture. I know that all she saw was the reality that it is still not THAT safe to talk about racism and white supremacy as a black woman, “Even if you have a doctorate in it.” I know she probably saw the same little 12 year old girl who came home from her first day of junior high, in 1990, in an all white town, crying that someone had called her daughter a “nigger” and that no one said or did anything; that in a crowded hall of white teenagers who must have heard that boy loudly called me ‘skinny little nigger’, no one did or said anything. She couldn’t protect me when I was out there. And she still cannot protect me or my twin brother from the pathology of whiteness that has come to define and uphold the tenets of humanity in the USA.

ScrippsFlyer Breeze Harper