12 Women Who Helped Shape Me: A Black Feminist Pays Homage on International Women’s Day 2018
Here are some of the influential women that I would like to thank that helped me in various ways with having the confidence, resources, activist heart, etc that I needed to get me where I am today as Sistah Vegan, Dr. A. Breeze Harper, and Black Feminist Mama raising 4 babes while tackling a white supremacist racial caste system through scholarly inquiry, speaking, and book writing…
1. Patricia Harper (the woman who gave birth to me). She literally told my twin and I that if she ever heard us bullying or making fun of anyone due to race, class, sexual orientation, gender, religion she would “kick our a*s”. She also fought tooth and nail within a predominantly white rural school system in New England to make sure her Black children were not held back due to racist beliefs about Black folk.
2. bell hooks. I didn’t know what black feminism officially was until I read Black Looks: Race and Representation at Dartmouth College in the mid 1990s. It changed my life. Finally, I had language for the sh*t I had been dealing with since I could remember. I look forward to meeting you finally in real space/time in April 2018 at Berea College.
3. Frances Ufkes, PhD. The professor at Dartmouth College who believed in me and literally got me into this whole discipline of geography and food as well as critically thinking about commodities, space, and place. It was an interesting adventure for both of us as women in a predominantly white male dominated discipline of Geography. I took her “The Geography of Food and Hunger” class and I had no idea. I had no idea that that ethnographic trip for my research paper, back in 1994, to the town’s grocery store to analyze the ‘meaning’ of food objects would come back to me through my interest of the racial meaning applied to vegan food objects as a graduate student seeking PhD programs.
4. Katherine McKittrick, PhD. She wrote Demonic Grounds— the first groundbreaking black feminist approach to geographies of struggle focused on Black women. After reading her work in 2006, I was inspired to apply to PhD programs to interrogate the geographies of struggle and the vegan praxes it would produce amongst Black women vegans.
5. Luz Mena, PhD. She was one of my advisors at UC Davis and believed in my ability to do innovative scholarship around veganism and critical studies of race.
6. Psyche Williams-Forson, PhD. My remote advisor for my PhD program at UC Davis. She also wrote the book “Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power” and it was that book that articulates a critical race and black feminist approach to materialism and food that I would use for my analysis of vegan food objects in vegan food guides.
7. Patricia Leavy, PhD. After nearly giving up to find a publisher for my 2nd book “Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England“, she read my manuscript within one week. With passion and enthusiasm told, she me how innovative and amazing my book was (despite me being told by a plethora of potential publishers the opposite because they didn’t think anyone would be interested in critical race engagements with rural geographies, Black life, and sexual orientation unless it was ‘urban erotica’). She put her confidence in me and supported the publishing of my first social fiction book.
8. Elise Aymer. One of my bestest friends (yes, I said “bestest”) and amazing business partner and confidant. Her raw and compassionate honesty and acute sharp mind has helped me develop self-care practices and learning to become more assertive with what I want in life.
9. Zenju Earthlyn Marselean Pierre-Manuel. You wonder where I get my engaged buddhism framing of anti-racism and Black feminism? I read Zenju’s first book Seeking Enchantment about a decade ago; finally, someone who was mindful, compassionate, seeking ways to understand intersections of spirituality, self-love, mindfulness, and healing within a racist, sexist, and homophobic society. She really inspired me (and still does) to think about one’s role in social justice and anti-racism within the Sangha and beyond. She and Konda Mason organized a women of African Diaspora Buddhist retreat about five years ago and it changed my world.
10. pattrice jones. I wrote her shortly after her book Aftershock was published. She emailed me back saying she saw I had a new book coming out (Sistah Vegan) and asked who the publisher was. I admitted that I actually didn’t have a publisher yet. She said she would see what she could do…and introduced me and my project to Lantern Books. They read it took it as one of their first engagements with race and veganism. She wrote the brilliant afterword. Her book The Oxen at the Intersection is my ‘go to book’ for explaining to mostly white vegans, the intersections of ableism, whiteness, non-human animal rights issues, and ‘nostalgic’ narratives around [white people] getting back to traditional farming. She helps run Vine Sanctuary in Vermont.
11. Queen Afua. Sacred Woman, by Queen Afua, is the reason why I transitioned into veganism. Hers was the first afrocentric approach to veganism I had ever heard and read about. When I read her articulations of the Black womb space and the consequences of colonialism, racism, white supremacy on our wombs (at the spiritual, nutritional, and health levels), I was blown away by that perspective. Finally, a vegan ‘dietary’ practice that came from a black racialized consciousness unapologetically. Even though it is my own story, it was her Kemetic vegan whole foods womb health regimen that helped me shrink my ‘incurable’ fibroid tumors and fade away years of painful menstrual cycles. She inspired me to seek out more decolonial methods of food, healing, and consciousness. (Her work is in the 3rd chapter of my dissertation.)
12. Lauren Ornelas . Why does Breeze talk so much about “cruelty-free” vegan commodities being suspect if human exploitation is involved (despite there being no non-human animal exploitation?)? Lauren founded Food Empowerment Project. Her work taught me to question the neoliberal capitalist approach to veganism and to turn the lens onto the consequences of modernity (i.e., coloniality: to be a ‘modern’ vegan consumer there is the underbelly of modernity which are tens of thousands of exploited mostly non-white racialized laborers harvesting ‘vegan’ commodities like cacao , strawberries, kale). Food Empowerment Project is the 4th chapter of my dissertation work.
I’m only at 12 women… but I cannot write anymore (quite tired). The list would be much longer if I had infinite amount of time and I wasn’t nursing a baby while one hand typing…. I just want to acknowledge that there are far more women who have greatly influenced me and I am honored to have had them in my life.
Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutions, a seasoned speaker, and author of books and articles related to critical race feminism, intersectional anti-racism, and ethical consumption. As a writer, she is best know for as the creator and editor of the groundbreaking anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society (Lantern Books 2010). Dr. Harper has been invited to deliver many keynote addresses and lectures at universities and conferences throughout North America. In 2015, her lecture circuit focused on the analysis of food and whiteness in her book Scars and on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix)which explored how key Black vegan men use hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies. In 2016, she collaborated with Oakland’s FoodFirst’s Executive Director Dr. Eric Holt-Gimenez to write the backgrounder Dismantling Racism in the Food System, which kicked off FoodFirst’s series on systemic racism within the food system.
Dr. Harper is the founder of the Sistah Vegan Project which has put on several ground-breaking conferences with emphasis on intersection of racialized consciousness, anti-racism, and ethical consumption (i.e., veganism, animal rights, Fair Trade). Last year she organized the highly successful conference The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter which can be downloaded.
Dr. Harper’s most recently published book, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014) interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town. Her current 2016 lecture circuit focuses on excerpts from her latest book in progress, Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical Foodscape which will be released in 2017, along with the second Sistah Vegan project anthology The Praxis of Justice in an Era of Black Lives Matter. In tandem with these book projects, she is well-known for her talks and workshops about “Uprooting White Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape” and “Intersectional Anti-Racism Activism.”
In the spring of 2016, Dr. Harper was nominated as the Vice Presidential nominee for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.
BECOME A MONTHLY DONOR. THE SISTAH VEGAN PROJECT ALREADY HAS SEVERAL THOUSAND FOLLOWERS. JUST IMAGINE WHAT COULD BE ACCOMPLISHED IF HALF OR MORE FOLLOWERS PLEDGED $5-$15 PER MONTH.