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Racialized Consciousness and Impact on Food Philosophies

If there are people involved in progressive social justice movements who fail to deeply engage with what their racialized consciousness means, and if they do not understand how they potentially can and/or do embody racialized ontological beliefs even though they may not practice overt racism, prejudice or domination (especially domination that involves coercive control), can they (and I speak collectively and not so much as individually) fully recognize the ways in which their actions may support and affirm the very structures of racist domination and oppression that they presumably want to see eradicated? How can this question be understood within the context of whiteness and the USA?

, writes:

My attempt to make whiteness visible will be developed through what I call racialized consciousness. This term… will replace racism as the traditional operative term in discourses on race. The concept of racialized consciousness will help us examine the ways in which consciousness is shaped in terms of racist social structures. I will avoid the term racism because it tends to imply that one has a conscious commitment to race-based discrimination and acts of hate. (Farr 2004, 144)

Arnold Farr’s work on and experience with racialized consciousness is interesting. He continues with:

SEVERAL YEARS AGO A colleague approached me and asked: “What do people mean when they say that there are two Americas, one white and the other black?” I tried to explain to my colleague that there is a color line separating whites from blacks in America. This separation is not merely physical or geographical, but is manifest in terms of the distribution of social and economic resources, cultural capital, respect, and opportunities for self-development. My colleague refused to believe that there is such a color line producing radically different experiences of American society. On another occasion the same colleague inquired about my schedule on that day. I explained that I was busy hosting Professor Charles Mills, who was visiting our institution to give a talk on race. My colleague was not familiar with philosophy of race or Africana philosophy. After I explained to him in more detail what philosophy of race was, he proceeded to warn me that we should be careful because “this sounds like what the Nazis were doing.” Needless to say, I was quite puzzled by this comment. My colleague’s comment was the result of his assumption that because race is a myth, any attempt to explore racial difference could only lead to further conflict between the races. As I tried to explain further that what we are doing is in no way similar to Nazi racist science it became clear that he was simply not hearing me…It became clear to me that this colleague had a thoroughly white way of seeing the world. This colleague was not a mean-spirited racist, but just a white male whose entire epistemic grid for deciphering social data was too white to empathize with and comprehend the African-American experience. By “too white” I mean that my colleague’s experience of the world as a white male produced a barrier between himself and those who experience the world in black bodies. Such a person tends to speak to and not hear from those whose different bodies have forced them to experience the world differently. (Farr 2004, 145-146).

It is this question that drives my research interests in investigating white racialized consciousness within alternative food movements, animal rights, and eco-sustainabe movement in the USA. My goal is not to attack or prove that white racialized consciousness is invalid or that only people of color are the bearers of truth; my aim, however, is to point out: what happens if philosophies around ethics, “proper eating”, etc., are assumed to be “objective” and “neutral” and we do not look further into how one’s race, class, religions, gender, etc., have shaped their perceptions of the world, then one may falsely believe that their way is the “right and only way all should live by”? Though this applies to everyone, my focus on white racialized consciousness stems from the very real fact that in the USA, the fabric of American ideology and the status quo are centralized around the values, experiences, and morals of the white class-privileged demographic- but it is masked as “colorblind,” “normative” and “universal.”

My other interests are focused on the concept of the black racialized consciousness and how a people’s collective experience with slavery, Jim Crow, racism, classism have shaped their relationships  with and consciousness around food and health. For example, I find it fascinating (and disturbing, as I abhor gynephobia and homophobia) that certain Afrikan Holistic health “gurus”, such a Dr. Llaila Afrika, are convinced that homosexuality and menstruation are “dis-eases of the white man, due to the colonizer’s ‘nutritionally destructive diet’(Afrika 1994; Afrika 1998). In my observations, I see that while a majority of white people in the USA may collectively conceptualize that whole foods vegan philosophy should be rooted in the liberation of non-human animals, veganism for a black man like Afrika, who has conceptualized the USA through a black nationalist male and racialized consciousness, is perceived as a way to “decolonize the black body from the legacies of the ‘white man’s’ diet.”  Animal rights and PeTA are not central to his reasons behind veganism; fighting what he perceives as the legacies of “white racism” are. I also find it curious that many in the Afrikan holistic community have constructed an “imagined community” built around a dietary regiment of plant-based foods that are believed to have been part of the “African way of life”, before colonialism. The collective difference between this demographic (the Afrikan holistic community members who follow Dr. Afrika and Dr. Valentine’s philosophies) and U.S.A. white racialized vegan/vegetarian consciousness is that the former do not hide that their vegan/vegetarian consciousness is influenced by being black/Afrikan bodied in the USA. On the flip side, I see that the latter collectively cannot  (or perhaps do not want to ) see that their vegan/vegetarian consciousness is also racialized and that their bodily experiences with white racialization (privilege and power) has literally influenced WHY they collectively feel that animals rights should be the central rationale for practicing veganism (as opposed to  “decolonizing their bodies, resisting racist based health disparities, and constructing a plant-based dietary utopian community of pre-colonial imaginations and possibilities as the reason for veganism/vegetarianism/raw foodism.”).

I would also like to make the distinction that not all of those who are black-identified raw foodists/vegans/vegetarians are necessarily affiliated with the Afrikan Holistic health community; the Afrikan holistic community is a sub-group within the demographic of black/African diasporic veg folk in the USA. There are many black-identified people in the USA who do practice plant-based diets but do not believe that this dietary philosophy can “cure” homosexuality or menstruation (or that either are a disease); and of course, there are many black identified veg folk who embrace menstruation as “natural”. Furthermore, there are many who do not identify as heterosexual and contest the rationale of the those in the Afrikan Holistic community that think certain “eurocentric food habits” creates “homosexuality”.

In conclusion, this is why I believe, through extensive and rigorous research, we must understand how the human-made constructions and institutionalizations of racialization, racism, and race have produced varying epistemologies from varying groups of people with strikingly different philosophies of veganism and “health”; one collectively stems from a people in the USA who have had hundreds of years of racial privilege (white vegans/vegetarians/raw foodists); another comes from a collectivity of a people (black vegans/vegetarians/raw foodists) in the USA who have survived through several hundreds of of years of racism (environmental, nutritional, medical, institutional, covert,  and overt) and are combating food-related health disparities and environmental racism.

Works Cited

Afrika, Llaila O. African Holistic Health. Rev. 6th ed. Brooklyn, NY: A&B Publishers Group, 1998.

Afrika, Llaila O. Nutricide : The Nutritional Destruction of the Black Race. 1st ed. Beauford, SC: L.O. Afrika, 1994.

Farr, Arnold. “6 Whiteness Visible.” In What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question, edited by Yancy, George, 143-158. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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