Not Authentically Black: Black Card Rejected
A moment of honesty and reflection on self-struggle over Black identity or feeling authentically “Black enough”…
I love European and USAmerican classical music from 18th to early 20th century. I’d say 99% of the composers of Classical music I have enjoyed are by white men. I feel incredibly joyful and amazed when I listen to this genre of music. Right now I’m listening to Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland and all I can think of is its pure genius. This is one of my all time favorites. Most of my childhood and adult life I kept my love for this a secret, often ashamed that I am well versed as a listener and as a musician (at least early on in my life as a violinist, pianist, and clarinetist who dreamed of becoming an opera singer) when it comes to classical music over rap and hip hop/soul. I kept this secret because I thought it somehow revoked my Blackness. I know intellectually that Black identities are not monolithic, but I tended to have shame around revealing this love depending on what circles I was in– especially when I was in college.
Most recently, I have been written by a fan who displayed disappointment that the Black women she read about in Sistah Vegan didn’t seem “Black enough” because they didn’t display the stereotypical “Black vernacular” and were “articulate”. Even though this is just one fan (who is a woman of color but not Black identified), it reminds me of the complexities of identity in the USA (and beyond) when it comes to how we are read racially, what is expected by others, but also what is often falsely expected of ourselves. I was disappointed by her assessment of my book– particularly because there is no monolithic Black experience and that all Black experiences and the way they are communicated (whether the King’s English or Arabic) are “valid” depictions of singular Black lives…
What does it mean to be “authentically” Black? What does it mean that I have no problem increasing the volume to The Roots or Lauryn Hill in my car with the windows down, but would not dare do the same with Aaron Copland’s music if I were driving around in a predominantly Black area? Or vice versa, what does it mean that if I want to make it through a white gated community, driving while Black, that I probably should roll down the windows while listening to Beethoven’s Eroica so I can seem “less threatening”?
I have obviously internalized the stereotype that Black people are a monolith. I want to decolonize my mind around this. I know and understand it intellectually, but I am challenged by kicking out this internalized stereotype and wonder if I’m in alone in this…
What’s your story about “authenticity and does this resonate with you?
Dr. A. Breeze Harper
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 known 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 offFoodFirst’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 candidate for the Humane Party— the only vegan political party in the USA with focus on human and non-human animals.