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On Being an Exhausted Black Mom, Expected “Free Labor”, and Heroes

{The original post had ‘heros’ and I immediately edited it to ‘heroes’ within 5 seconds}

I am not a hero. Please don’t refer to me as a hero. Hero worship is dangerous (read Marti Kheel’s essay here).

I am not a guru or an “all knowing” expert. Yes, I have a PhD in my field of expertise, but I repeat, it does not make me an infallible “all-knowing” expert. I am on a continuum of constant learning, re-learning, and un-learning.

People often imply or refer to me as “hero”, “expert”, etc… but I am far from those and don’t identify as such. What I do is simply engage in my activism and scholarship because it is a passion of mine. I feel that it is a better path for me to alleviate pain and suffering— and that this path is constantly forking, veering, changing as I learn how my own ignorances and biases (from still decolonizing my brain from within the ‘normalcy’ of a white supremacist racial caste-capitalist system USA) put me far from being some perfect or ideal hero.

Heroes and gurus are social constructs— mythic narratives that will almost always disappoint the people who subscribe to them. Gurus and Heroes are fairytales.

Objects of hero worship give meaning to the frequently unfocused or direction-deprived lives of society’s many emotional casualties. Yet mixed with this idealization is an urge to degrade the object of one’s admiration, sparked when the “hero” ultimately disappoints. This desperate need, intensified by the machinery of mass promotion, can turn even assassination, political or physical, into a form of spectacle. (Source is here)

I appreciate people who appreciate my work and I kindly ask that you do not construct me as some type of super-hero , infallible, etc being. In addition, what I write and speak of (in my videos) is always within that specific time period. For example, if you heard something I said in 2014 or read something I wrote in 2010, it doesn’t mean that is how I have always thought or will think, or am thinking now in the present moment. Please be mindful of not doing this.

Also, please don’t tag me and bring me into fights and disagreements you are having with the hopes that I will join a side. I am getting this a lot amongst vegans of color who are disagreeing with other vegans of color (and white allies) about how “intersectional” they are and how the other person is not “radical” enough. There are folk who enjoy being tagged and enjoy engaging in these debates, but I do not and cannot; I’m not interested in “winning” or “proving” anything to anyone, within these social media spaces, for the most part. For me, most of the time, these debates I’m tagged in are not an easy binary and are complex with a rich history that I am not privy to. In addition, I’m working a lot (doing my consulting work, writing my talks, writing my book, and taking care of 4 kids), so I’m not always available to engage in an hours long debate about whether someone is or isn’t “ethically vegan enough”, or whether a white ally is or isn’t a “true” ally, etc. I literally don’t have a budget to afford child-care from what I make, so I’m doing freelance work and giving talks to barely cover childcare, pay off $70,000 of student loans, children’s medical bills (Eva Luna’s broken arm was pricey this past spring while my oldest son’s ambulance bill that the insurance didn’t cover, has take me 2 years to pay off monthly). It’s stressful and exhausting.

On a similar note: I have mostly white social justice non-vegans, foodies, and or vegans and animal rights people who are better resourced, asking me for free labor— whether it’s to “pick my brain” for my “expert” knowledge or to interview me for a book they have with a major press or interview me for their documentary because they want an “intersectional” social justice/vegan represented. In case you didn’t realize this: you are asking me to consult for free. Please don’t paint it any other way or use manipulative language to make it appear that my free labor is something I should be thankful you asked me to give. If you don’t have upfront money, give me the option of equity in your project or company the way data scientists or full stack developers get when they initially help startups (eventually worth millions) in Silicon Valley.

A significant number of you either consciously or unconsciously don’t realize how little time I have or monetary compensation I get as a Black woman professional PhD doing anti-racism and social justice consulting, speaking, training, and writing. You realize that if I am in your project, it is major cultural capital for a majority of you to bank on within the trend of “intersectionality”– and without actually divesting in possessive investment in neoliberal capitalist whiteness system.  I only become visible and valuable if it fits into your plan to be more successful and carry a badge of being “progressive”, or “pro-intersectional” , or even a “feminist” and “anti-racist” advocate.

Thus far, within the context of the last paragraph, the majority of people asking me for this free labor are white— usually men (and please don’t start with me supposedly ‘attacking’ white men). There is a whole history behind this collective demographic who are generally constructed as “saviors” and “heroes” doing the ‘real work’ (White Savior Industrial Complex.  I think you may not realize that I am a BLACK WOMAN with CHILDREN and my labor and your labor , historically, have never been the same (Read here, here, here... and here). Please don’t ask me for free labor with the assumption that I have the same history as you. I literally work a triple work day as a [Black] mom, working for myself at the Sistah Vegan Project and Critical Diversity Solutions, nursing nonstop for 10 years, doing activism, etc. Few of you have any idea how damn hard it is to keep yourself alive, generate income, take care of domestic tasks and be the primary person who is supposed to keep young human children alive and as safe and happy as possible; Black women collectively work harder and get paid less. It’s labor and an embodied experience that most [white] men simply do not have (we’re talking facts here, not ‘attacking’ white men. Please, I ask again, don’t go there. No one says you don’t work hard, but historically, your ‘hard’ and my ‘hard’– and I speak collectively of Black women raising kids and working– are not the same, do not yield the same results, and are not valued the same way).

I am not a hero. I am not a guru. I am not an “all-knowing” expert. I am not “free labor”.

(P.S. It took me 2 hours to complete this post, trying nurse the baby, work on client projects in between, put out some fires trying to get the other 3 kids ready for school, etc, all while my 1.5 year old is sucking on my boob half the time because without childcare today, it’s the best way I can keep him calm and in my view while trying to work because it seems like he is cranky and probably coming down with a cold that the other 3 kids were fighting and getting over).


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.

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