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Lions Roar : September 2018
aware of my historically and socially constructed position in the United States through the unique fusion of Black/girl.” Harper remembers how her parents always advocated for her and her twin whenever racism or gender stereotyping came into play and taught them to defend themselves. “My parents were role models,” Harper says. “They were like, ‘You’re going to work really hard, and the truth is that you have to be two to three times better than white people at the same thing for you to make it in life. It’s not a meritocracy, and it may not work out for you, but at least you’re going to do your best, because that’s what we do.’” When Harper and her twin got accepted to Dartmouth College, someone made a crack that it was because they were Black. “No,” their mother said firmly, “it’s because they’re straight-A students.” Harper now finds herself advocating for her own children. Recently, her daughter was being picked on for having an afro. Some girls said it wasn’t as pretty as straight hair; one kid said it looked like poop. A whole generation later and the words of racialized bullying have hardly changed. Harper’s parenting is informed by Buddhism. She feels it’s delusional and unmindful not to teach children about issues such as racism, sexism, and transphobia, and she always emphasizes compassion and keeping one’s heart open, even to bullies. “When my husband and I talk to the kids about people who are bullying them, it’s not just an easy binary of bad person versus good per- son,” she says. And the children get it. “My oldest sees that a lot of kids bully because they’re projecting their fears, or they might have problems at home and they don’t know how to express themselves. So, he’s compassionate with people who bully him.” Harper and her family live in the Bay Area, a “progressive” place full of liberals. Yet even in progressive places—even in vegan and Buddhist communities—racism, rooted in ignorance, continues. ONE SUMMER EVENING in 2005, Breeze Harper was checking out the discussion boards on BlackPlanet.com when she learned that the animal rights organization PETA had an ad comparing cruelty to animals with racialized cruelty. “The NAACP was upset that they used the images of lynched Black people to push their campaign for non-human animals and saying that cruelty to animals and atrocities against people of color are basically the same thing,” says Harper. “The pres- ident of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, responded to the NAACP by saying that we’re all animals, so get over it. But a white woman saying that is highly problematic. As much as we are all from the animal kingdom, Ingrid Newkirk, a white woman, has always had full human rights as a white human being, while Black people were animalized in a negative way to promote the logic of why they should be enslaved.” In Harper’s words, PETA, with their ad, “appropriated the racialized suffering of Black people, without being real allies of anti-racists and without realizing that formal lynching has ended, but systemically and institutionally, it’s still there.” This ad was not an isolated incident. Over the years, PETA has had a number of similar ad campaigns and in general, Harper asserts, “It has a very white framing of animal rights and veganism.” Indeed, most American organizations dedicated to animal rights have a decidedly white point of view and the result is that people of color tend to feel that animal activism and veganism are not for them. Harper herself first turned to veganism for health reasons. In 2002, she had painful fibroid tumors, so a coworker suggested she read Queen Afua’s Sacred Woman, which presents an Afro-centric approach to womb health through a vegan diet. Harper embraced Queen Afua’s recommendations and when Harper’s fibroid tumors disappeared, her gynecologist said, “I don’t know what it is you’re doing, but keep doing it, because it’s very rare that this can happen.” To this day, the tumors have not come back. Harper wondered why other Black women decided to embrace veganism and if any of them were, like PETA, “post-racial.” To explore these questions, Harper collected essays, which she compiled in her anthology Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society. “None of the women were post-racial,” explains Harper. “They were all very much aware of what it means to be racial- ized, and how their relationship to food, which is primarily the way veganism is enacted, was greatly shaped by their own racial, gender, and class experiences.” PHOTOBYSHARONFLETCHER Breeze Harper is a critical race feminist scholar, vegan activist, and diversity strategist.