Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Would You Harbor Me? Challenging our Race, Gender, etc., Privileges. March 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Amie "Breeze" Harper @ 4:22 pm

Would you Harbor Me? Vegan Activism Beyond a Single Issue, Building Coalitions, and Challenging our Race, Gender, etc., Privileges.

In this video blog cast, I speak about building coalitions, reflecting on how lack of awareness around one’s identity/positional privileges could actually be fostering suffering, and how to confront the discomfort around “uncomfortable” transformative challenges one may face as not just a vegan activist, but human being attempting to do social justice work. I originally posted it on my own Sistah Vegan blog, but then thought maybe it’s useful for this blog.


4 Responses to “Would You Harbor Me? Challenging our Race, Gender, etc., Privileges.”

  1. Erica Says:

    Thank you so much for these videos. Something about hearing the soothing, compassionate tone in your voice is very comforting.

    Something you brought up was being afraid to bring up sensitive issues (issues of privilege) because you feel uncomfortable of unsafe. Often times, I feel unsafe bringing up veganism with in a larger context because I am afraid of being bombarded, viciously attacked, misunderstood, or somehow unheard. I get really nervous! Is this where your “unsafe” feeling comes from…when you feel outnumbered or unsupported?
    Over time, I have been trying to get better at overcoming this, and really putting myself out there. I have been trying not to care so much about what people think of me, because when something needs be be said, it must be said or else suffering will silently go on.
    However, when ever we speak out about any issue that we have a personal connection to, we put our own emotions on the line. Often times, after having a heated discussion about veganism, I will cry when I’m alone or feel viciously angry for some time. Sometimes I can not help but take opposition personally, when the issue at hand is of such personal significance. If I lose, then animals lose.

    With that said, do you ever over come this unsecured feeling when speaking out, or is it something that is always there, that you just have to work around? I’m hoping this emotional aspect will get better overtime, so that I don’t burn myself out!

    I apologize if my question is somewhat personal, but I am hoping that others will benefit from your response if they ever feel the same way.

    • Erica,

      I’m not offended by your questions at all. It’s an interesting personal experience: Never have I felt unsafe talking about sexism, homophobia, or veganism. It is when I specifically talk about white privilege/whiteness as the norm to white demographic that I feel incredibly unsafe and have anxiety attacks. I cannot provide an articulate answer right now to why this is the case. It may very well be that racist trauma has been far more cutting to my psyche than sexism trauma, or traumatic events involving homophobia or people being angry towards dialoguing around veganism. I just know that I feel really unsafe and have felt this way since I came to the realization, “Hey, I’m the only black girl in an all white school system (K-12), and dealt with a lot of racist crap.” I know trauma is unique for each person, but I’m really surprised how incapacitating my past experiences (and present I guess) with racism are, as well as how immobilizing it can be to received aggressively defensive reactions from white people when I tried to speak about race and whiteness (and in my mind, I swear I’m doing it in a non aggressive or judgmental way).

      So yeah, I’ve always felt insecure about speaking about whiteness with white demographic, but I do admit I am getting more comfortable, slowly but surely. But I do have times when I relapse and start getting scared. I remember being incredibly scared about presenting my project to my body theory class. Myself and one other woman were the only people of color in the class. My project was about how white racialized consciousness manifests within predominantly white vegan spaces (virtual and physical). Not only did it seem like more than half of the class not know why I was talking about this, I think quite a few just didn’t understand the point of how consciousness can even be racialized in the USA. I was also scared because I wasn’t sure how the professor (also white identified) would respond, simply because all the readings for the class were only by and about white authors on body theory. During the break for class, she spoke to me privately and actually told me that I was doing amazing work and that I was at an extremely high end level of body theory that blew her away, despite my peers not fully getting it. I ended up getting and A+ (yes, an A+! I had never gotten that ever in college or grad school) in her class and an A+ on the final paper and she wrote me a kick butt letter of recommendation for the fellowship I ended up getting this year to look at black women practicing veganism…

      …the point of my babble is that when I break through the fear and anxiety and speak my heart, sometimes some people don’t get it or are offended… and then there are times when I am surprised when I am told by a professor that she or he liked what I have written and gives me a high grade… Surprised because in K-12, I was punished for ever trying to bring in “race issues” in my early writing. I got punished by getting a lower grade or being told I was basically too stupid to understand the material.

      I am writing in stream of consciousness here and thinking out loud. I am probably too transparent for my own good, but I believe in honesty and transparency and especially not being ashamed of sharing my emotions and the challenges and struggles I go through doing my social justice literary based activism and lecturing. 🙂

  2. Erica Says:

    Thank-you Breeze. Your response reads clear as day. I too value honesty with ones emotions, and I think it is something that should be talked about more in the realm of activism. No wonder why people burn out? Well, I’m just getting started. : )

  3. Patricia Williams Says:

    Breeze, how refreshing your honesty and your insight! I understand perfectly your “insecurities” in talking about race. I still experience initial rapid heartbeats when I talk about race to predominately white audiences. But because I grew up in the segregated south I have never hesitated talking about it. I needed to talk about it, in fact. Something to do with anger, I think; at least initially. Funny, how putting a voice to the invisibility of blackness can heal the anger and fears experienced as a child in the mean and brutally dangerous south. Somewhere in the middle of speaking out, I became very clear about my own place in time and the sheer strength (mine and those of my parents and the beauty they created for me and my brothers and sisters in spite of Jim Crow) that got me to my place feeling whole and full of respect for all of humanity. That is the benefit of speaking out. It heals you and those around you. Makes me want to smile here, because sometimes I don’t know things until I can put them in words.

    I think some of the anxiety of speaking out comes from knowing that few will understand what you are talking about. The constant slights and bold (sometimes dangerous) injustices of racism are so insidious that, especially to people who don’t experience them, they are just “business as usual.” And they simply do not see them. Ask most white people if there is racism today and most would probably say no. And my question to them always is, how could you possibly know? I then suggest to them that they use the black people they know as barometers because they cannot measure what they don’t experience. Most racism is out of pubic view.

    But talk of race and how it affects our mental processes and activities are not comfortable conversations for many people of color either. I write a blog http://www.losingbeulah. It is about the caricatures (including men in drag playing big, bad-ass black women who can out-man a man any day with a gun or a frying pan) the media likes to use to portray us, and how dangerous these caricatures are to our psyches. I sent out an announcement to the many, many bright and wonderful sisters I know and only two have even acknowledged receipt of it, let alone followed it or posted a comment. One woman said to me in person she just doesn’t want to talk about “that stuff” and that talk of race and the image of black women is old.

    At first, I wondered if perhaps, my posts were too long. People don’t want to read that much, I thought. Perhaps it is the journalist in me that is writing these long articles. And so, I wrote shorter posts and each time I sent out an announcement that there was a new post. Nothing. Not a word from any of them.

    I think you have hit the nail on the head. Racism may have been so traumatic for some of us that we don’t want to look it in the eye. But it’s effects are still there as we allow caricatures of who we are to define us, sometimes even for ourselves.

    Thank you for your courage and transparency. I needed that. – Patricia

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