The Sistah Vegan Project

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[Video] Scars of Suffering and Healing: A Black Feminist Perspective on Intersections of Oppression

This is the talk I gave at the Activist’s Table Conference, which took place at UC Berkeley on March 15, 2014. It was sponsored by the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition. I talk about Sistah Vegan and also read from and analyze my newest book, Scars, a social fiction that intersects issues of racism, internalized homophobia, and speciesism to name a few. This is my first public presentation of my new book and reading excerpts from the much anticipated novel.

In addition, check out the graffiti on the wall of the bathroom stall that was right down the hall from where I gave my talk. Perfect timing!

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Artist Sarah Juanita Dorsey on Black Lesbian Experience, Class, and Race in Cover Art Inspiration for Scars

Scars_cover

Sarah Juanita Dorsey created the artwork (see above) that will grace the cover of my new book Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers, 2014). Below is a 5 minutes video that explains Dorsey’s inspiration behind the gorgeous and intricate work of art. I am psyched that the cover was designed by a like-minded woman of color and that her creative genius so well suits the protagonist of Scars, Savannah Penelope Sales.

More about Scars

I have signed a contract with Sense Publishers to publish the book Scars for 2014. Sense Publishers is the perfect press for Scars.  They embody exactly what I would like my novel to achieve. Below is a description of this publisher’s social fiction series of which Scars will be included:

“The Social Fictions series emerges out of the arts-based research movement. The series includes full-length fiction books that are informed by social research but written in a literary/artistic form (novels, plays, and short story collections). Believing there is much to learn through fiction, the series only includes works written entirely in the literary medium adapted. Each book includes an academic introduction that explains the research and teaching that informs the book as well as how the book can be used in college courses. The books are underscored with social science or other scholarly perspectives and intended to be relevant to the lives of college students—to tap into important issues in the unique ways that artistic or literary forms can.” 

-Patricia Leavy, PhD

Below is the full Preface for Scars. However, before you read the preface, I wanted to share this next tidbit withyou. The title of this blog piece, “The Black Queer Experience is Not ‘Our’ Experience”, was inspired by an email I received a few days ago from a Black identified Christian woman who had found out about Scars. Via a long email, she ultimately let me know that the premise of Scars alienated regular Black girls like her and that it was not ‘our’ story; ‘our’ being Black people’s story or authentic way of being. Even though she has not read the book, I found it incredibly interesting and as well as heartbreaking that she sent me an email that basically let me know she was disappointed in this new project. She sincerely thinks that the book’s main character (a Black teen lesbian) is too ‘controversial’ and ‘edgy.’ Hence, ‘regular’ Black girls like her (heterosexual) were being marginalized and she felt that I should be using my prominent voice to write about more pressing and important issues affecting the Black community. So, essentially, this book hasn’t even been published yet and I’m already receiving these types of messages. Anyway, I wanted to share that tidbit with you because I am constantly amazed by how “Blackness” and authenticity amongst Black folk is a complex and controversial issue; how we are monitored when we fall outside of being a ‘regular’ Black person (which I assume means hetero-normative and Christian identified). It is worrisome and disturbing to think that there are many Black folk who honestly feel that the queer experience is not part of our history; that we’re not part of the authentic community of Blackness in the USA. Even though this is her opinion, and the email she sent me was written respectfully and politely, it still hurt very deeply to read that. However, this is why I continue to write and do the work that I do. I feel like silence just creates more suffering and pain, so my writing becomes a platform to discuss these issues that are taboo for so many, including not just homosexuality, but also how white supremacy in the USA affects the emotional and physical health of everyone– not just people color. I welcome you read the preface to ScarsI am also hoping that if the preface strikes a chord with you would you have interest in inviting me to come and speak and create interactive discussion from Scars. Please email me at breezeharper (at) gmail (dot ) com to discuss my honorarium fees and travel requirements. Also, I am open to be interviewed for radio, tv, blogs, and other forms of media.

Preface for Scars

Scars is a novel about whiteness, racism, and breaking past the normative boundaries of heterosexuality, as experienced through eighteen year old Savannah Penelope Sales. Savannah is a Black girl, born and raised in a white, working class, and rural New England town. She is in denial of her lesbian sexuality, harbors internalized racism about her body, and is ashamed of being poor. She lives with her ailing mother whose Emphysema is a symptom of a mysterious past of suffering and sacrifice that Savannah is not privy to. When Savannah takes her first trip to a major metropolitan city for two days, she never imagines how it will affect her return back home to her mother… or her capacity to not only love herself, but also those who she thought were her enemies.  Scars is about the journey of friends and family who love Savannah and try to help her heal, all while they too battle their own wounds and scars of being part of multiple systems of oppression and power. Ultimately, Scars makes visible the psychological trauma and scarring that legacies of colonialism have caused to both the descendants of the colonized and the colonizer… and the potential for healing and reconciliation for everyone willing to embark on the journey.

As a work of social fiction born out of years of critical race, Black feminist, and critical whiteness studies scholarship, Scars engages the reader to think about USA culture through the lens of race, whiteness, working-class sensibilities, sexual orientation, and how rural geography influences identity consciousness. What makes this novel unique its emphasis on Black and lesbian teen experience of whiteness and racism within rural geographies. Often, interrogations of whiteness and socio-economic class are left out of fictional literature within popular LGBTQ literature. My intention with Scars is to fill this gap by creating emotionally intense dialogues among four primary characters: Savannah Penelope Sales, Davis Allen, Esperanza Perez, and Erick Roberts.

Davis Allen is one of Savannah’s best friends. A straight white male who grew up on a rural dairy farm in Savannah’s home town, Davis and Savannah have been close friends since they were toddlers. Davis is the only white friend Savannah has ever chosen to develop a close relationship with. When Davis and Savannah interact with each other, the intimacies of their conversations reveal an interesting dynamic: Davis’s perception of reality manifests from what Savannah has marked as “a privileged point of entry”: white, male, lower-middle class, and straight. Davis can never experience Savannah’s embodied experience as a Black lesbian. Growing up in a country that has institutionally legitimized whiteness and heterosexuality as ‘normal’, Davis’s white and straight identity limits him to superficially interpreting Savannah’s verbal hostility as nothing more than stereotypical “angry Black female” banter.

The second theme developed in Scars is the irreconcilable differences that Erick Roberts and Savannah endure in their rocky new platonic relationship. Erick and Savannah both identify as same gender loving, however, that is where similarities between them end. Their frequent antagonistic verbal intercourses deconstruct the common myth that being gay or lesbian means they will instantly connect emotionally to each other as comrades in the same battle against heterosexism. The exhaustive energy it takes for both to maintain their volatile relationship has it’s roots in Erick’s oblivion to the fusion of his upper-middle class status and his white male privilege when attempting to advise Savannah about being and coming out as a [Black, poor, and rural] lesbian.

The third and more subtle theme developed in Scars centers on how Savannah’s perception of oppression is positioned within a geopolitically global North perspective. Savannah never acknowledges her privilege as a USA national; only her lack of privileges as a non-white person. She considers herself revolutionary in thought in comparison to the people living in the provincial town she grew up in. Simultaneously, she has no awareness of her perpetuation of inequality outside of the USA; for example, Savannah is unaware of how many people of color outside of the USA are exploited so she buy cheap coffee, chocolate, and Coco-Cola. Esperanza Perez, a key character, is one of her best friends. Esperanza, a vegan and fair trade anti-globalization activist who originally grew up in Guatemala, visits Savannah from college. Through honest and heartfelt dialogues with Esperanza, Savannah’s oblivious understanding of her geopolitical Northern privilege is revealed. I hope to engage the reader to empathize with Savannah’s realistic struggles with “whiteness as the invisible norm in the USA,” while also addressing the need for Savannah to engage deeper into social injustice by encompassing and linking Black struggles and USA racism to a broader range of social and ecological inequalities throughout the world.

Born out of my Dartmouth College thesis social research in feminist geography, award winning Masters work at Harvard University, and my dissertation work at the University of California-Davis, Scars emphasizes how rural geographies of whiteness can impact the consciousness and young identity development of non-white youth who seemingly ‘don’t belong’ in rural settings of whiteness and hetero-normativity; yet, the reader sees during Savannah’s trip to her first major metropolitan city, she is very much out of place. Furthermore, Savannah contrasts the mainstream media stereotype that the “authentic Black experience” is from heterosexual Blacks raised in predominantly urban landscapes. Even though the critical theory in this novel has been translated into creative writing format, it is notable that Scars was significantly influenced by a strong canon of Black critical thinkers and writers stemming back to W.E.B. DuBois. My choice to title the book Scars reflects the legacy of Black anti-colonialist Frantz Fanon and his intense dedication to making visible, the psychological trauma and scarring that colonialism, white supremacy, and racism have caused to both the colonized and the colonizer. Furthermore, this book continues the traditions of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Octavia Butler who have written extensively about the ‘the problem of the color line.’ However unlike Fanon and DuBois’ more hetero-normative and masculinist analyses, hooks, Lorde, and Butler have complicated the ‘problem of the color line’ with intersectional analysis of gender and sexual orientation.

Scars can be used as a springboard for discussion, self-reflection and social reflection for students enrolled in American Studies, Sociology, Women’s Studies, Sexuality Studies, African American Studies, human geography, LGBTQ studies and critical whiteness studies courses, or it can be read entirely for pleasure.

-A. Breeze Harper, PhD

On Public Speaking about Black Lesbian Social Fiction, Alternative Black Masculinities and Vegan Hip Hop Culture

Book Project I

Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White NewEngland (Sense Publishers, 2014)

Scars is a novel about whiteness, racism, and breaking past the boundaries of normative heterosexuality, as experienced through eighteen year old Savannah Penelope Sales. Savannah is a Black girl, born and raised in a white, working class, and rural New England town. She is in denial of her lesbian sexuality, harbors internalized racism about her body, and is ashamed of being poor. She lives with her ailing mother whose Emphysema is a symptom of a mysterious past of suffering and sacrifice that Savannah is not privy to. When Savannah takes her first trip to a major metropolitan city for two days, she never imagines how it would affect her return back home to her mother…or her capacity to not only love herself, but also those who she thought were her enemies.  Scars is about the journey of friends and family who love Savannah and try to help her heal, all while they too battle their own wounds and scars of being part of multiple systems of oppression and power. Ultimately, Scars makes visible the psychological trauma and scarring that legacies of colonialism have caused to both the descendants of the colonized and the colonizer…and the potential for healing and reconciliation for everyone willing to embark on the journey.

Book Project II

“Living Bling, Going Green”: Redefining Black ‘Manhood’ Through Hip Hop and Veganism 

(I already have a an academic press taking this book. Once I receive the contract this or next week, sign it, and then mail it back, I will officially let you know their name.)

Introduction (draft)

            Meat eating in American society has been equated with being a true man for centuries; vegetarianism and veganism have been equated with femininity (Adams 1990; Potts 2010). However over the past five years, there has been a strong emergence of males promoting veganism and vegetarianism in the USA as a ‘better’ way of being masculine or a man. Though not part of the mainstream media depictions of veganism and vegetarianism, the Black vegan Hip Hop movement reflects such alternative masculinities. How does the Black vegan Hip Hop movement offer different ways of consuming, as well as being a ‘real’ man, from race-conscious, decolonial, and health activist points of view? How do prominent Black male Hip Hop vegans use Hip Hop to teach how food and health have been negatively shaped by corporate capitalism and a meat-centered industrialized food system?; both which are seen as detrimental to, and non-sustainable for, people of color?

This book will be about how veganism is being reshaped and reformulated through ‘race-conscious’ Black American men of the Hip Hop generation.  What makes this book project unique is that mainstream vegetarian/vegan philosophies are usually represented through a white and middle class ‘post-racial’ and animal-rights oriented framework (Harper 2013); missing from this mainstream framework is the significance of how racism, whiteness, and colonialism deeply impact everyone’s relationship to, and construction of, veganism. Alternatively, Black vegan Hip Hop activists collectively engage in consumption from a ‘race-conscious’ and human-health perspective first, educating and mobilizing people of color about health disparities caused by corporate capitalism and legacies of colonialism (i.e. environmental and institutional racisms).

Methods I will be employing are narrative research (i.e. personally narrated histories of the subjects) and discursive analysis of popular Hip Hop vegan media (i.e. books, music videos, and songs). Methodologies used will most likely be drawn from the canons of critical race and decolonial studies. These canons suggest that racism and colonialism have, and continue to organize, power, resources, as well as shape the collective consciousness of the global North, including how one consumes.

‘Authentic Blackness’ as Christian, Speciesist, and Heteronormative: Brief Thoughts on Being a Non-Christian Black Woman

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Dr. Amie Breeze Harper, 2013

Unlike most Black folk I know, I was not raised in a household that subscribed to any particular religious beliefs. My parents were basically agnostic, but my parents were always open to my twin and I exploring religious philosophies. Many members of my extended family are or were Jehovah’s Witnesses or Baptists. One of my aunts gave my brother and I the gift of Watchtower subscription, a magazine dedicated to Jehovah’s Witness faith, when we were children. I found the stories and lessons both entertaining and confusing. However, for me, it just didn’t feel like the right path.

I remember I was at a family event one year. I was in my early 20s. My father was talking to one of my male family members who is a Jehovah’s Witness. Somehow, they started talking about animals. “Paul” (I’m just calling my male family member that to protect his identity) told my dad his interpretation of the Bible when it came to non-human animals: “God says we have dominion over them, so that means we can eat them.” My dad just shook his head and laughed to himself that one could interpret ‘dominion’ as ‘domination’ so they didn’t have to acknowledge and/or admit that non-human animals feel and suffer. That they can lie to themselves that animal are not sentient and can used for any human desire. Suffice to say, “Paul” simply didn’t care, because that is what his Bible said, case closed.

I also have the feeling that when I tell most Black folk that I am not Christian, that my Blackness and loyalties are questioned. The other week, I received a private email from a ‘fan’ who seemed very disappointed that I did not even talk about the importance of Christianity and healing in Black communities during the Sistah Vegan conference…and she also suggested that my new social fiction novel Scars marginalized ‘regular’ Black Christian straight girls like her (since the main character is a Black lesbian). You can go here http://sistahvegan.com/2013/10/21/the-black-queer-experience-is-not-our-experience-breeze-harpers-new-social-fiction-novel/ to read the post about her reaction to Scars .

Even though I do know that blackness is not a monolith, Black folk in the USA are stereotyped to be all Christian and heteronormative. This fan’s email got me thinking about how much not being raised as Christian– or with any form of organized religion– has deeply impacted my interactions with those [Black] people who can’t fathom a type of authentic Blackness WITIHOUT it being connected to Christianity, speciesism, and heteronormativity. My practice of Zen Buddhism often confuses Black folk.

Do you have a religious faith or not? How has having a religious faith (or not) impacted your sense of animal compassion and/or vegan philosophy? Did you grow up in a household in which religion was used to justify/rationalize the eating of animals (as well as perhaps other oppressions, such as racism, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, or ableism)?

Breeze Harper’s new novel. Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England

Scars_cover

Sense Publishers will be publishing my latest book in 2014. I am very excited. The painting above will be used in the design of the cover. It was created by Sarah Dorsey after she read the novel.

Scars is a novel about whiteness, racism, and breaking past the boundaries of normative heterosexuality, as experienced through eighteen year old Savannah Penelope Sales. Savannah is a Black girl, born and raised in a white, working class, and rural New England town. She is in denial of her lesbian sexuality, harbors internalized racism about her body, and is ashamed of being poor. She lives with her ailing mother whose Emphysema is a symptom of a mysterious past of suffering and sacrifice that Savannah is not privy to. When Savannah takes her first trip to a major metropolitan city for two days, she never imagines how it would affect her return back home to her mother…or her capacity to not only love herself, but also those who she thought were her enemies.  Scars is about the journey of friends and family who love Savannah and try to help her heal, all while they too battle their own wounds and scars of being part of multiple systems of oppression and power. Ultimately, Scars makes visible the psychological trauma and scarring that legacies of colonialism have caused to both the descendants of the colonized and the colonizer…and the potential for healing and reconciliation for everyone willing to embark on the journey.

As a work of social fiction born out of years of critical race, Black feminist, and critical whiteness studies scholarship, Scars engages the reader to think about USA culture through the lens of race, whiteness, working-class sensibilities, sexual orientation, and how rural geography influences identity development. What makes this novel unique its emphasis on Black and lesbian teen experience of whiteness and racism within rural geographies. Often, interrogations of whiteness and socio-economic class are left out of fictional literature within popular lesbian and gay themed novels. My intention with Scars is to fill this gap by creating emotionally intense dialogues among four primary characters. Once I have a completed ‘back cover synopsis’ and received approval from the publisher, I’ll post more about the book.

Update on latest Breeze Harper book project: “Scars” that hetero-normativity and whiteness produce

UPDATE (OCTOBER 6, 2013). I received great news from a publisher. They want to seek out a contract for Scars.  I am very excited. I know this is a lot to ask, but would anyone be able to donate their copyediting services to me? The publisher would like me to have it professionally copyedited with other small additions (i.e. 2-5 page abstract to explain why the book is good for academic audiences) by around the 1st of February 2014. Please email me privately at sistahvegan (at) gmail (dot) com if you could do copy-editing pro-bono.

UPDATE (September 18, 2013): My book was supposed to be released on February 26, 2013. Unfortunately, without any warning, the press I signed the contract with decided to close the press and never communicated with me during the month of March, April, May, June, and July when I sent inquiries about why my novel had never been published. I am deeply disappointed and very upset about this. The publisher still has not answered my request to even take down the title from Amazon.com so I can pursue other publishing houses. You can read below about what I’m referring to and how I initially thought I finally had a press to publish a book that took me 8 years to write. If you know of a press that would love to consider this for publication, please let me know. I finished it in 2008 and it 5.5 years later, it is quite disappointing that I can’t secure a contract for this book that comes through! Those who have read the book have loved it and feel that it is a creative way to convey high end critical theories such as critical race theory and whiteness studies to a more lay audience.

(OLD NEWS IS BELOW. Just incase you you need to know what was up, last year….)

So excited! My new book is ready for pre-order.  The novel focuses on 18 year old Savannah Sales, an African American closeted lesbian who is growing up in rural white New England. Through her character and the relationships she has with others, I explore: internalized racism, normatie whiteness, internalized homophobia, racialized-sexualized violence, connections that food/consumption has to ‘liberation’, and the search for self-love. Her best friend is vegan and encourages Savannah to rethink her sense of justice by pointing out Savannah’s carnicentric and pro-corporate-capitalist consumption habits. This novel is based on my personal experiences growing up in New England and my award winning Dartmouth College thesis research (1998) that focused on black feminism, queer theory, and rural geographies.http://www.amazon.com/SCARS-Breeze-Harper/dp/0985476958/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1351228806&sr=1-1&keywords=%22breeze+harper%22 .

Black Coffee Press publishers took the project and I have a ‘real’ cover design for it and real editors…. it’s even going to be available on Kindle. Go me! The artwork was specially designed by the brilliant Sarah Dorsey whose art encapsulates pushing the boundaries when it comes to ‘mainstream’ ideas about gender and sexuality. Her art reminds me of  a fusion of bell hooks, Octavia Butler, and Donna Haraway on a canvas.

This novel good for all ages past 18, but in particular, 18-23 year olds. Could be great reading material for college courses focused on sexuality, rural geographies, queer theory, women and gender studies, and Black Studies. It is rare that I find novels exploring the ‘black experience’ that is not in an urban setting and not heteronormative. When I have read about the ‘black experience’ within a Northeast USA context, it always takes place in a city. Scars explores this in rural and white environment.

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