On Earth Day, several clubs came together to sponsor a lecture and micro-workshop by A. “Breeze” Harper, Ph.D., entitled “Uprooting White Fragility: Intersectional Anti-Racism within the Ethical Foodscape.” This came in response to recent racial tensions on campus that caused several predominantly white clubs, namely Sustainable Lawrence University Gardens (SLUG) and Greenfire, to consider how they could promote inclusivity.
Harper, the social scientist and author behind the anthology and blog Sistah Vegan Project, identifies herself as a critical race feminist concerned primarily with the ethical foodscape. By ethical foodscape, Harper means the cultural and physical spaces in which people interact with and discuss food. Harper’s lecture emphasized how privileged social positions may have a negative impact on how society envisions what it means to promote food justice in these spaces.
Harper also focused on how white fragility plays a role in maintaining this status quo by framing discussions of racial oppression around white people’s feelings about anti-racist confrontation. “A lot of people display white fragility because they think they’re being accused of being bad white people,” said Harper, “when in fact, we’re saying this is probably unintentional.”
However, Harper frequently stressed that despite good intentions, “If you are raised in a system with multiple levels of oppression and you uphold privileged social locations, the impact of your ignorance will be negative by default.”
As a cis-gendered woman, Harper admits she has framed her own work in a cis-sexist way. When gathering the stories of black vegan women when editing her anthology, “Sistah Vegan: Food, Identity, Health and Society—Black Female Vegans Speak,” Harper unintentionally excluded black trans women from the project.
“I’m not critiquing individuals […] I’m not saying anyone is bad,” said Harper, “I’m trying to get you to think about how being socialized a certain way […] affects what you think is objective or is universal ethics.”
Harper “incorporates feminism and racial inequality into critiques of mainstream veganism,” explained senior and president of Greenfire Liz Landes. “Tying them all together puts emphasis on each in a way you wouldn’t have thought,” she said.
After the lecture was an hour-long workshop in which there were small and large group discussions and exercises. Throughout the workshop, Harper pushed participants to think of how their social locations affect their own perception and framing of food ethics.
Harper’s Earth Day lecture reflects efforts of Greenfire and SLUG to consider the role diversity plays in student organizations. “Since the racial tension on campus this fall, we started thinking a lot about SLUG as a white space, a non-inclusive space,” explained senior and garden manager of SLUG Abigail Hindson.
Landes agreed that Greenfire is also a predominately white club. “We are not sure how to expand our goals of sustainable living to other people or how to have a more diverse group,” she explains.
The idea of bringin Harper to Lawrence was sparked during SLUG’s annual trip to Björklunden this past Winter Term. “We ended up having a three-hour discussion about SLUG as a historically white space, why that could be, and how we can be more inclusive,” explained Hindson. “We decided that this was a first step we could take to keep the conversation going.”
The event was only made possible with the support of multiple clubs and student organizations, including Greenfire, Downer Feminist Council (DFC), Sankofa and the Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA), each of which helped to fund Harper’s lecture.
According to Landes, Harper’s lecture did indeed help further the conversation. “I think it was very striking,” she noted, “I think people were left with a lot to think about.”