In 2003, I was a graduate student at Harvard University, integrating critical race and black feminist analysis into the world of educational technologies. Being the only Black female in most of my classes, and the only one of my peers to ever bring up critical race issues, I was constantly defending my framework to white peers. They simply didn’t want to interrogate how race and “taken for granted whiteness” configures and colonizes most folks’ mind in the USA. I remember one day, after presenting my project about how to integrate cyberspace technology into black women’s anti-racist activism, a white male student stood up and declared with annoyance.
He said, “I thought we are equals now, so why are you talking about this?”
Translation: Shut up little black girl. You’re allowed into our prestigious school now, so why don’t you appreciate what Civil Rights Act has done? You are no longer allowed to talk about race and whiteness and how it negatively affects the self-esteem of young black girls while [in]directly making white men like me feel superior. Racism is illegal now and the subject should not be brought into this classroom.
Two years later, while still at Harvard University, I decided to do a call for papers to put together an edited volume of black female vegan voices called Sistah Vegan. My call for papers ended up on a plethora of vegan sites. Most notable was Veganporn.com (not dedicated to porn, just all things vegans). The moderator had posted the call for papers and that was when all hell broke loose.
Self identified white vegans made it clear that they believed that race had nothing to do with veganism and that I should not be doing such a project. Having used “sistah” in my title, I observed rants such as, “people who don’t speak proper English should not be given a job,” to “if one wants to sound like they were born from a crack addicted mother, then they can continue speaking black English” to “people should not be banning together around the color of skin.” Instead of going online to defend myself, I used the discussion thread as empirical evidence to convey how covert racism operates amongst “I’m not a racist but…” whites. The empirical evidence became the bulk of my 2007 master thesis.
Several years later, I would find myself as a PhD candidate at University of California-Davis, continuing my research interests in critical race and vegan food studies. In 2010, the Journal of Critical Animal Studies published my essay, an excerpt from my dissertation-in-progress, about post-racial whiteness within the vegan mainstream. In 2011, the article ended up being referenced on a vegetarian discussion. In response to the reference, a white male vegan posted, “[Harper] sounds like an angry asshole with a chip on her shoulder.” Despite my article being part of my social sciences based dissertation work and having been through a peer review process, I was reduced to an emotional “angry black woman” who should not be turning the mirror onto whiteness within vegan consumption studies.
These responses I have received over the years, are what critical race scholars such as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Tukufu Zuberi call a “white framing” or “white logic” of how white America engages with the social fact of race and whiteness:
“White logic, then, refers to a context in which White supremacy has defined the techniques and processes of reasoning about social facts. White logic assumes a historical posture that grants eternal objectivity to the views of the elite Whites and condemns the views of non-Whites to perpetual subjectivity” (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva 2008, 17).
Such “social facts” include the power to define what is racist and what is not.