"I'm not a feminist either": Ruminations on shying away from the 'f' word a

This morning I worked diligently on promoting the upcoming Sistah Vegan Conference, scheduled for September 14, 2013. I started locating pro-vegan organizations that would be interested in getting the word out about the event. I became excited when I saw a particular black vegan Facebook page with over 10,000 likes. I sent the owner of the page a message about posting the conference to her site. Their response was amazingly snarky:

Her response: We basically do this once a month for free My response: Ok, then you don’t have to post this. Was just searching for folk interested in critical race, black feminist, critical queer studies applications to veganism in the US academy. Thanks for considering it anyway. Her response: I’m not a feminist either My response: Thanks for letting me know that you have no interest in circulating this message and I’ll be sure not to reach out to you or your organization about any other future events and books that the Sistah Vegan Project is doing.

I thought that even though she may not identify as a feminist, that perhaps one of her many followers would find the content of the conference interesting. After looking at a lot of the ‘health conscious’ awesome health activism she was doing, I noticed that the topics covered in my conference were absent from her take on Black ‘conscious’ veganism. I wasn’t really sure then, what she meant that “We basically do this once a month for free.” What was ‘this’ exactly, since her content did not engage the critical topics the conference will look at? Perhaps her fans would benefit from both of what we are doing. I also wondered how she defined feminism and wondered if she thought about how black feminist activists made it possible for us black women to be at the point in which Jim Crow was eradicated and The Civil Rights Act passed. I wonder how many people do not know there are all types of feminisms; and that many that are in contradiction of each other: Mormon Housewife feminists, decolonial feminists, Chicana feminists, Marxist feminist, Black feminists, Vegan feminists, Catholic feminists, etc.

I found her response confusing, as she claims they do this once a month for free, yet I don’t see any perspectives about black feminism, critical queer studies, sizeism, or disability studies as part of her health conscious activism for Black people. I’m wondering how or why my conference topics illicit what I can only read as a ‘snarky’ and an ‘irritated’ response from her. It is notable that while I get ‘irritated’ comments from white vegans about my critical race and critical whiteness analysis of mainstream veganism, I get a fair number of Black ‘conscious’ vegans who seem irritated that I take a black feminist, pro-lgbtq, and anti-ableist approach to understanding vegan food culture in the USA.

I actually think that this is why the Sistah Vegan Conference is quite important, because we ‘dare’ go where both mainstream white vegans and a significant number of black ‘conscious’ vegans dare not go: questioning not just normative whiteness as an organizing principle in the USA, but also questioning how anti-feminism, heteronormativity, fat-phobia, transphobia, heterosexism, and ableism are upheld by even health ‘conscious’ communities of color (as well as white). After all, people of color may collectively be recipients of structural racism, but many of us must also be aware of how we benefit from our other privileged social locations at the expense of ‘other’ marginalized people [of color]. Does your health, food, and vegan activism or ‘conscious’ approach also build solidarity with those who are LGBTQ identified? Those who are living with disability? Who do not fit into the ‘thin’ bodied fat-phobic health rhetoric? Does it consider what feminist (and there are a plethora of different types of feminisms, not just ‘one’) or anti-neoliberalist capitalist perspectives can offer? Does it consider how not to replicate sexist stereotypes or normative whiteness?

And of course, we are all not going to agree. But that is not the point. The point is to be open to new ideas and to go into the ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘unfamiliar’ territory that could yield positive transformations in ourselves that we could have never fathomed. Remember, opening yourself up to transformation is supposed to be a little hard, a little scary, and a little bit uncomfortable. What we have always known as ‘safe’, ‘secure’, our ‘stable identity’ starts getting questioned, but that doesn’t mean this is a bad thing. I remember feeling this way when my black feminism was questioned by critical animal and anti-speciest scholars and activists. And, now years later, I realized how much integrating the ‘scary’ concept of veganism has enhanced my understanding of how to achieve mindfulness, justice, and harmlessness as a black feminist scholar, writer, and activist.

I welcome you to join us for the upcoming web conference. You need NOT to identify as a Black female vegan, a feminist, or even a vegan! All we ask is for the participation of people who are open to other perspectives and worldviews about health, food, justice, and animal compassion that often are silenced by a USA society that takes structural ‘isms’ for granted. We are seeking allies to build a type of veganism, food ethics, social justice paradigm, and animal compassion movement that acknowledges what it means to be racialized-sexualized as Black females or NOT (i.e. Chicana lesbian or white middle class man living with disability) ; to be part of a way of thinking that gets us to question the external as well as our own internal challenges, privileges, and ignorances.

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