When Talking About Racism is “Insulting”: Thoughts on My Animal Care Expo Keynote Talk
May 14, 2018 I gave the opening session keynote talk for the Animal Care Expo event in Kansas City MO, hosted by Humane Society of the United States. There were about 1400 in attendance. This was hosted by Humane Society of U.S. . I was told that I had been the first keynote lecturer who was non-white and the first to tackle the “taboo” subject of diversity, inclusivity, and equity. I also came at it from the black radical tradition . That means I presented how to think about animal advocacy within workplace culture and how it can (or cannot) be “inclusive” when we think about how anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and and consequences of ante-bellum slavery inform and influence consciousness/praxis— even in animal advocacy related sectors, such as dog rescue, vegan food companies, and being a Black veterinarian.
It was a challenging talk to give because these topics never really entered that space (so I was told). I ended up inspiring a lot but I also ended up angering quite a few people who walked out before I finished, upset that I was even talking about animal care and advocacy within the context of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and living in a white settler nation (USA). A person who attended the talk, Tweeted me that they had walked out of the talk and said my “program” was “insulting.” I asked her to explain, but she never replied. This is not the first time, as during my last 15 years of doing this specific type of Black feminist engagement within animal rights, veganism, and similar, I have been constantly told by mostly white people that I am “divisive”, “white-hating”, “race-baiting”, or “angry Black woman” for engaging in the type of social justice and animal rights work that I do.
Also, when I talk about these subjects, I usually have at least several hours to convey the information. For the first time, I needed to compact it into 1 hour– and for a professional audience that was not necessarily used to these type of topics in the way that my primary audience is (which are usually institutions of higher learning or folk who are used to concepts like intersectionality or really seek solutions to addressing racial inequities within their work place, scholarship, etc).
I wrote/performed a new story I had specifically written for this talk in order to link that narrative to the concepts I introduced people to. Sometimes it is hard to understand critical theory or definitions around diversity, equity, inequity, exclusion, and inclusion when there are no tangible examples of how those concepts operate. This is “Lucy’s Family” and I will develop it into a novel and/or develop it into a longer piece that will be integrated into my latest book Black. Mama. Scholar.
I got a lot of positive responses, after the talk, indicating that this was a much needed conversation. I also heard that there were negative comments, ranging from the talk being “too academic” to “the story was too long”, to having “nothing to do with animal care”; not directly towards me, but I had heard it through the grapevine. So, I’ll see what I can do to make my message even better… However, I’m not sure how to address those who were simply angry that I was talking about white supremacy, racism, and anti-blackness within animal advocacy. I don’t think there is a solution for that, no matter how “gentle” I talk about it, present it, etc.
**CORRECTION** In the talk I say that Petaluma is in Marin county but this is incorrect. It is in Sonoma County. My apologies.
**I had Power Points with quotes and other info, which makes the presentation easier to follow. The video recorders weren’t able to show that. I quoted from Edward Hubbard PhD and other folk when defining things and you can’t tell by seeing the video.
If you enjoyed Dr. Harper’s lecture and would like to invite her to speak at your event, school, or organization, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. A. Breeze Harper (Photo Credit: Sun Harper-Zahn)
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 b