Oregon Adventures: Talking about scars and whiteness, racial micro-aggressions from a Sarah Palin su
I had a fantastic time during my book talk tour in Oregon this past week (May 6-10 2015). I read from and analyzed my new novel Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England . I read the food object in my novel and explained how they can tell us about current racial power dynamics in the USA. Highlights to share include ending my University of Oregon-Eugene talk at the podium while nursing my 1 year old, Kira Satya, on my right boob while answering questions. Kira Satya came with me on my 5 day trip throughout Oregon. The adventure included 2 talks, 1 workshop I led, and 1 panel discussion. If you’ve been following my work for awhile, you know that I think it’s ridiculous that I have to ‘hide’ nursing my baby– or even argue that I can take her with me since I nurse on demand (like every other mammal on the planet). I am glad that PSU and UO Eugene supported me. And duh, I’m a food justice activist and scholar. Being able to nurse on demand (if one can) is a food justice issue; a social justice issue; a reproductive rights issue; a public health issue. If you watch the end of the video, you can see Kira’s arm wiggling above the podium as I nurse her and answer questions. After I placed her down, she even made a big loud poop in her diaper and the audience heard since she was next to the mic. Plenty of folk laughed (while I’m sure plenty were disgusted, but hey, better than being constipated!) LOL. Below is the UO Eugene talk.
On Saturday at the Eugene Public Library, I was on a panel with Novella Carpenter, Diane Abu-Jaber, and Donna Henderson for the 4th annual Women’s Writers Symposium and the theme for this year was food and women’s stories of resilience. During the panel, us authors answered questions thrown at us by the moderator and we were also asked to read passages from our work. I selected excerpts from an interview I gave about the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter. Also, I centered anti-racism and critical race feminism whenever I’d answer most of the questions or give a comment, making it clear that I don’t think ‘post-racial’ response makes any sense and to remember that for many (especially since it’s largely white Eugene OR where the mainstream may not think about race), ‘whiteness’ is NOT the norm for everyone and can be very violent (discursively, overtly, and systemically). The audience was 90+% white. Each panelist was supposed to read something, so I read my interview from my most recent The Feminist Wire interview about the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter. The first person who rushed up to me after us panelists were done was a white person whose answer to my critical race vegan oriented scholarship was that Sarah Palin is the only person that they will listen to. They said something like, “Sarah Palin goes out and shoots animals and eats them and would be the best president for the USA. I believe anything she says over anyone else.” It was an obvious reactive racial-microaggressive response to how I had explained to the audience that my writing and critical food studies inquiries interrogate neoliberal whiteness, speciesism, as ways to dismantle systemic racism and support Black Lives Matter. I didn’t feel like taking the bait and simply responded, “Well, thank you for sharing your opinion.” They promptly turned around and walked away. However, plenty of white folk did some up and thanked me for providing introductory knowledge to this timely issue of systemic racism and how to be allies to Black Lives Matter movement. After participating on that panel, I learned that 6 extra people who attended that panel discussion signed up for my workshop in the afternoon. Several told me that they had originally signed up for another one but then wanted to challenge themselves as white people to take the plunge and learn about whiteness and Black Lives Matter. So, I gave my a workshop called “Narrating Racial [In]Justice Through Critical Food Writing” that afternoon. It went quite well I think since it was my first time doing it.
Before Kira and I arrived in Eugene, I had given a talk in Portland at Portland State University. Kira and I ate our way through vegan cafes and restaurants of the area and ended in Eugene, after we took the bus there, at Cornbread Cafe. Here are some lovely picts after the written portion below. The first photo is a doll given to my baby on the plane from SFO to PDX. Kira wasn’t feeling well and vomited, so the woman next to us gave her a doll from a conference she had gone to. It was an OB/GYN conference and she got ‘the clap’ in the form of a doll. I learned that ‘the clap’ was short for the French ‘clapier’ where people contracted the ‘the clap’. So, she gave the doll to Kira.
I gave my talk on May 8 2015 in Portland at the Walk of Heroines event. Kira and I had been sick for the past 36 hours with non-stop stomach issues which resulted in the baby vomiting a billion times and giving me the same disease. I couldn’t hold anything down and was wondering how I’d have the strength to give a talk– especially since the baby just wanted to nurse non-stop (which is hard to do when mama can’t hold anything down and the body eats itself to make breastmilk). Kira finally passed out and took a long nap in the afternoon (about 4 hours) and woke up as if she had never had the stomach virus. I somehow made it through the talk (see below) despite me feeling very weak throughout the talk. I think the energy probably came from the audience’s energy and enthusiasm to have me there 🙂
On Friday in Portland, we tasted many vegan treats including a vegan bratwurst made from chickpeas (yummy!) as well, a strawberry sorbet popsicle, vegan gluten free cupcake, and a green smoothie. Kira seemed happy. On our way back to the airport from Eugene, I was on a shuttle service. A white guy going to the airport also asked what I did, once he found out I was going to SFO and that I lived in Berkeley. I said critical food studies looking at race and whiteness . 9/10 times, this is the response I’ll get “Oh, so you must know Michael Pollan’s work. He teaches in Berkeley. Have you ever take any of his classes?” And yes, I got this response from this guy as well….
Ok, I’m just going to say it: I’m so amazed by the gazillion white people I meet whenever they find out what my field of studies and then they talk about Michael Pollan. Why is Michael Pollan the [white] face of food studies all the time!? Even after I’ll tell people that I am looking at how race and whiteness shape ethical food consumption culture, I’ll get, “Oh, so you must like Michael Pollan’s work?” My internal monologue is screaming inside, “When did Michael Pollan ever critically engage with systemic racism or even question his own neoliberal whiteness and male privilege? Oh yea, that was in his latest bestselling book that came out in the fall of—NEVER!!!!” (Breeze falls off her soap box). Ok y’all, enjoy the photos below.