A roller coaster of emotions. This isn’t a new experience for me, but one that’s becoming an every-day, every-week norm. I swing from moments of real hope and sweetness to moments of real hate and sourness. This roller coaster can motivate resistance, and it can send me back into the cave to confront both personal and collective shadows.
This sweetness then turns to sour as I am newly confronted by the cost of racism in Milwaukee, the most segregated city in the United States. I live downtown—in a problematically gentrified and expensive area—and I’m moving only 3 blocks away. This move takes me from east of the river (an area historically white) to west of the river (historically black). When my partner calls to update our auto insurance, we learn it’s going to be $10 more per month, which represents almost a 50% increase from $23 to $33. When pressed for an explanation, the insurance agent says “location is the only factor.” The location is still downtown, still in this area that necessitates class privilege to afford the rent, and still predominantly white. From what we can see, historical racial divisions are the defining features of “location.”
There’s lots written about the costs of being poor and the costs of being a person of color experiencing the racial wealth divide. Similarly, it’s legally allowed and well-documented that people pay more for insurance based on who they are or where they live. Though none of this is new, it is grossly unfair. I see again first-hand the everyday cost—as in concrete, material cost—of being a person who’s devalued in the United States. It says volumes that my insurance was $23 (what I imagine to be much less than what many others pay) and that my privileged “locations” have been those not additionally taxed.
As a white woman with racial, class, and other privileges, I experience not the consistent experience of being beaten-down, but the ups and downs of the roller coaster. And so I experience the swing from upbeat, energetic moving energy into the visible sourness of systemic racism. A sour stench that lingers.
* * * * *
I learned about the Philando Castile verdict in the bathroom pictured above. I went from a surge of hope, as I snapped that photo and stepped into that bathroom, to feeling flattened when looking at my phone.
And as I sat down to my computer, I had a similar slap, learning that a former Milwaukee officer was found not guilty in the shooting of Sylville Smith. In August, Smith’s death set off volatile protests, a city curfew, and arrests. The pain is real and raw, and my heart hurts thinking about families (like the Smith family) for whom the denial of life is not sour, but stolen. As in life stolen, money stolen, land stolen, history stolen, rights stolen, stories stolen.
My desire for sweetness is not to run, look away, or deny the ever-present injustice. But it is to cultivate and share the motivation, resilience, healing, self-love, and community to carry on the work—the work for justice. And the work itself is so so sweet. The work is joy from connectedness, hope for the ought to be, and possibilities of summer solstice.
May the sweet bolster and sustain us, for the sour is all-too-real.
I’ve been holding myself up, preventing myself from writing about why I’m vegan and how central food is to my understanding of justice. I’ve been holding myself up because this writing feels especially important, like it needs to be good, and, therefore, is triggering my need to counter perfectionism.
I’ve also been holding myself up because it’s so damn hard to write about being vegan without re-inscribing notions of whiteness and privilege. Especially from my positionality as a privileged white woman. For example, check out the commentary “Here’s Why Black People Don’t Go Vegan” or the edited collection Sistah Vegan.
Against this backdrop, I still want/need to explain why I’m vegan, and a sense of urgency is becoming clear. In just one week, I’ve had three different people ask me the familiar question: “Why are you vegan?” I’ve been invited to a vegan potluck, asked to provide vegan snacks for a campus event, and asked to support a student’s vegan activism. It’s clear I need to claim and explain why veganism means so much to me.
These and other answers have emerged over decades of thinking about and reframing many relationships, including with what I eat and why. I’ve been vegan for more than three years, since December 2013. Before that, I’d been vegetarian since 2000. Though the transition from vegetarian to vegan was surprisingly smooth, I still end up at restaurants and in gatherings where options are scarce and where people look at me with tilted heads in total disbelief.
I’m frequently asked the question at the center of this series: “Why are you vegan?”
Related questions include:
Was is hard to give up ______ (fill in a popular food)?
How do you get enough ______ (fill in any vitamin, mineral, or protein)?
Aren’t you still doing harm by eating ______ (e.g., quinoa, grapes, almond milk)?
Aren’t you still killing plants?
As a recovering perfectionist, I recognize in these questions all-or-nothing thinking—or the idea that only a perfect/complete solution is a solution worth seeking.
Clearly, I was vegetarian long before vegan, and my reasons for being vegetarian are largely the same for being vegan. This is why I start with my “origin story” of learning about and wanting to strive toward ecofeminism.
Perhaps the trickiest and yet most true answer to why I’m vegan is that I believe in ecofeminism, which is a feminist belief in the equity and rights of all beings. I believe in countering all instances of exploitation, oppression, and injustice. And in affirming all forms of justice, including social, racial, gender, and economic justice. Relatedly, I see instances of injustice/justice as intimately woven together. To begin unweaving the tapestry, I take a thread that’s possible to pull. This thread is my relationship with food.
In one of my first women’s studies courses, I remember studying a pyramid like this one:
This hierarchical structure places god over men, men over women, women over children, children over animals, and animals over the earth. It represents domination and helps with visualizing the interconnected nature of –isms. The closer to the god, the more godly, good, worthy, and worthwhile. The further from god, the more exploited, demeaned, undermined, and devalued.
The goal of ecofeminism, then, is flattening hierarchies. This means seeing all beings—god, men, women, children, animals, and the earth—as worthy and worthwhile, as all having innate value and rights. This means not prioritizing men over women or humans over animals, but asking tough and sticky ethical questions that imagine relations of equity and justice.
It was studying this pyramid and imagining flattened, interconnected relations that led me to become vegetarian while still in college. From this starting point, I have continued to learn, and the more I learn, the more I see the need for everyday practices—like eating vegan—that lead to more questioning, more learning, and more desire to make change.
Dismantling systems of oppression involves, I believe, dismantling the hierarchies that are both internalized and normalized. And dismantling this pyramid is about not only countering sexism, ageism, and speciesism, but also countering white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and other forms of oppression. This is similarly what intersectional veganism seeks to address.
Ecofeminism is why I embrace animal rights, while emphasizing and affirming human rights. People have historically been dehumanized by being associated with animals (e.g., “dogs” or “monkeys”). As a strategy to deny human, civil, linguistic, and other rights, the association of humans with animals assumes that animals are lesser-than and unworthy of having rights. If we affirm animals as beings who also have rights, then we can disrupt dehumanization and the related stripping of human rights. Black vegan feminist theorist Aph Ko has an AWESOME video about how animal oppression relates to human oppression.
There’s a LOT more I want to write about why I’m vegan, which is why this is just one post in an ongoing series. What I can say simply is that my commitments to feminism and racial justice relate to environmental justice and veganism. So, one answer—and the one that defines my origin story and shares my philosophy—is ecofeminism. I’m certainly on a path to live and learn more, and I look forward to following where this philosophy might lead.
How do we work to align feelings, thoughts, and actions (heart, head, hands) with the world we’d like to see? How do we go about our everyday lives for the “ought to be,” for justice?
I’m thankful for Jardana Peacock (of the Liberatory Leadership Project) for modeling a contemplative writing practice that I’ve been using to think through these questions. At the end of each day, I’ve been filling in the answer to her prompt:
“Today resistance looks like …”
I immediately connected with this practice and the way I see Jardana enacting it in her life—situating self-care alongside community care and direct action. I see a connection to my focus on the everydayness of living a life for justice. I see how variable answers help us see resistance as many different things, including writing, reading, work, play, connection, friendship, reflection, practice, art, awareness. I see the potential for self-reflection—for noticing and questioning my habits and the privileges associated with these habits. And I see how this writing prompt makes daily resistance seem both possible and sustainable, especially in a time of chaos and uproar.
So, this past week I’ve been recording my own daily (and horribly incomplete and messy) responses. I’ve debated whether to share these responses, engaging in self-doubt, vulnerability, and fear. My inner judging voice has spoken up, lodging concerns that I’m not doing enough, that I’m doing more harm than good, that I’m doing only the sorts of “resistance” I find fun or comfortable, that I’m showing my privilege, that my ego is acting out … and the list goes on. Let me tell you!
Against this backdrop, I’m sharing my responses because I believe we must act, however imperfectly. I really struggle with perfectionism and with all-or-nothing thinking, but I see how both shut down the very real work we need in the world. Instead of listening to my inner judging voice, I want to listen to the still-small-and-quieter-but-brave voice that says, “Share. This might give others ideas or inspiration.”
I’ll always be writing from my position as a white woman with layers of privilege shaping my perspective. Still, I’m coming to believe that my voice is needed, too, if only to get other white folks to think about privilege, to act with the responsibility that comes with privilege, and to develop the readiness and resiliency needed for a lifelong commitment to justice.
So, I’m sharing my responses to Jardana’s writing prompt because daily writing can bring mindfulness and intention (in addition to reflection and recording) toward daily acts of resistance. I’m also sharing some of the stickiness—like my ego getting in the way and my privilege stepping out—that’s come up through this list-making exercise.
Here goes. Deep breath.
What resistance has looked like for me this past week—followed by some observations:
Today resistance looks like …
sleeping in (so greatly needed after a LATE night following nationwide bans, detainments, legal actions, and airport protests);
rewriting an article abstract (arguing for cross-campus collaborations for community-based learning);
enjoying my dad’s first-ever visit to Milwaukee—with brunch at the local café and the afternoon attending a friend’s concert (an activity my dad dearly loves that gave me time to really think and feel with the music);
drafting an initial publicity plan for an upcoming racial justice workshop; and
working to observe and affirm my boundaries by repeating my now-nightly mantra: “I release and bless the energy of the day.”
Monday Today resistance looks like …
taking time for a LONG processing conversation with a best friend;
affirming self-care (sustenance and sustainability for the “long haul”) through emails and phone calls with friends, family, and colleagues;
teaching and conferencing—and then writing about these relational acts through an advising philosophy statement;
starting a new e-course with guided meditation to call back energy by Chani Nicolas;
appreciating a network of campus and community partners who are teaching me about WordPress, Medium, and other important-for-the-work tech stuff;
signing a few more online petitions and continuing to post via social media; and
wearing snow pants to/from school to honor my desire for warmth, especially on a very cold day!
Friday Today resistance looks like …
finding my way back to the gym after almost a week away (it’s been a wild week!);
designing a new course I’ll teach in the fall—focused on writers’ rights and asking, “Who has a right to speak? To write? When, where, and under what conditions? How does our social positioning (i.e., race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and other intersectional identities) impact our rights as writers?”
nourishing my soul with friends and colleagues over lunch and dinner meetings focused on firing things up in writing, teaching, and community engagement;
processing with my mom some hurt through social media and thinking about our own participation (and how to stay in the work and be true to ourselves);
continuing to heal longstanding back pain through acupuncture and cupping;
gathering groceries and pre-cooked meals for the weekend from a local coop;
responding to plans to hold a teach-in on February 17th (in alignment with plans for a nationwide general strike);
curling with my spouse, while sending Reiki for collective healing; and
getting back up after only an hour or so in bed when my heART desired writing more than sleep.
Saturday Today resistance looks like …
reading the first of three graphic novels in the series by/about John Lewis, March;
following up on a campus climate issue involving racial microaggressions;
sending activist love letters and thank you notes and other handwritten mail J;
getting organized for the week ahead, checking in with students, planning classes, and completing service responsibilities;
taking an afternoon walk along Lake Michigan in deep conversation and connection with my spouse (thanks, Jonathan!);
refueling via time soaking in an Epsom salt bath, talking with a good friend, and moving on my yoga mat; and
reflecting and setting goals while drafting this blog post and feeling my way through vulnerability.
Now I’m imagining Jardana asking, “What have you noticed through this writing exercise?”
Centering Resistance Around Education and Healing (My Work and Spiritual Life)
As soon as I began record-keeping, I noticed that my daily forms of “resistance” center around (1) my work as an educator (writer-researcher-teacher) or (2) my self-care and spiritual practices (e.g., yoga, meditation, Reiki, acupuncture, walking, and eating vegan). This surprised me, though it likely shouldn’t have. I’m an educator and a healer, so it follows that my resistance would center around these activities.
First, these observations help me feel especially appreciative for a job that allows me to engage in social justice work daily—with and alongside others and in ways that encourage both my own learning and my community engagement. I often grumble about injustices I witness at work, so it’s refreshing to feel appreciation. Through my work, I clarify and make actionable my deepest commitments. It’s a privilege to have a job that matters in the world. May I act on the responsibility that comes with this privilege. May I use it well.
Second, these observations help me value healing and spiritual practices as part of (not just the precursor to or the result of) activist/resistance work. Truly, self-work matters, as Jardana argues in “Winning Our Movements Inside and Out: Shifting the Social Justice Back into our Work.” I’ve had a number of conversations with white folks recently about how to be in social justice work for “the long haul,” for the lifetime. If we understand justice as both the end and the means (an idea I hope to address in a future blog post), then we need to enact now the lives we’d like to see. After all, we cannot get to justice down a road of injustice. Such work means healing ourselves and our inherited ways of being in the world (e.g., inherited and internalized white supremacy). Such work means rethinking how we take up, use, and exist within space. Rethinking our ways of being in the world. Rethinking our very being, which has been assaulted through racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of injustice that create deep hurts—trauma—for us all.
This trauma is NOT THE SAME for each of us, as we positioned differently across privilege and power, facing differences in degree and in kind. Yet, this trauma results from/in shared inequities that undermine humanity. For those of us conditioned by and positioned within white supremacy, this supremacy denies human connection, equal rights, and equality. Further, the trauma of supremacy underlies the dysfunctional ways we continue to relate with self, with others, and within institutions.
Together, these observations bring me back to the problem of white folks colonizing the spaces and practices of others. My resistance lists read clearly as the product of a white, well-educated, upper-/middle-class, able-bodied woman in the United States—someone fairly close to Lorde’s “mythical norm.” This means that my resistance involves a lot of un-learning, destabilizing, and upturning of what is assumed to be normative. It also means a lot of stepping in and smelling my own shit (and, interestingly enough, using frequent poop emoticons and metaphors, it seems) … It means getting good with the reality that I’ll always be doing harm, even as I’m trying to do good. It means living in paradox and mess.
Still, here’s the question I’m still not sure about, still wrestling with, still feeling shitty about, even as I press “publish” on this post: Does sharing lists of actions that are clearly “normative” uphold “the norm” that I’m working to de-normalize?
The Problem of Normalizing Particular Notions of “Resistance”
By raising this question, I hope to acknowledge that we not only show up for resistance differently, but these differences also represent inequitable material conditions. My privileged position enables me to participate in resistance more readily and to navigate to, from, and within resistive spaces/acts with relative ease.
To illustrate, this week I read a powerful Facebook post by Sagashus Levingston (of Infamous Mothers). Sagashus addresses how people (especially people with privilege) express a desire for more diverse leadership in social justice movements, yet at the same time, fail to recognize, value, or organize around these diverse experiences. Sagashus provides this insight into how we differently show up for the work:
“But we get uncomfortable when it comes to addressing or even talking about the REALITY of difference—the reality that they walked and you drove to the stage or that they stood in the food pantry line before you all’s meeting. You’re both there—the hero and the antihero—but the pathways to showing up this morning were different. For one, the road was smooth and clear, for the other, it was filled with hurdles and thorns. And while you’re glad they showed up, you’d rather not talk about how they showed up and what they had to go through to get there—even when, for them, their path was as normal as your morning coffee from Starbucks. Why is that?”
To echo Sagashus: why is that?
Because it means that those of us who experience privilege and power within resistance (and I’m thinking of white folks, though there are many interlocking forms of privilege at play) need to do serious self-reflection about our own lived experiences, assumptions, worldviews, and complicity.
Because resistance needs to be more variable. It would need to address and confront different sorts of lived experiences, assumptions, worldviews, and complicity.
Because resistance means rethinking everyday ways of doing things (like choosing meeting locations accessible bus or foot instead of car OR rethinking systems of public transportation and the inequities that stack up around car ownership and the racialization of space).
Because resistance invites some serious self-work—personal and collective healing that goes layers and generations deep.
Because … the reasons continue, on and on …
As I end this week of tracking my acts of resistance, I’m thinking about how much needs to change, especially in how we conceptualize this word: resistance. Jardana writes about the need for change, asking:
“We need to honestly ask ourselves and consider: what does it means to build towards love and liberation for the long haul? What needs attention individually, in our internal structures, interpersonally, and collectively in order to realize more balance? What does wellness really look like for folks across race, class, sexuality, gender, and ability? How can we expand our definitions and imaginations to create a more dynamic and expansive understanding of healing? What needs to shift, change or be enhanced within ourselves, our communities, and in our movements in order for social change to be actualized inside of ourselves and outside in the world?”
Jardana’s writing prompt “Today resistance looks like …” has invited me to explore these questions and to take notice of my habits. I’m encouraged to see that I’m getting stuff done, despite feeling especially distracted, ungrounded, and emotionally roller-coasting through this chaotic time. I’m also encouraged to see the centrality of my work and spiritual life in resistance.
At the same time, I’m going forward with serious questions about how to upset normalized notions of resistance. I’m looking for broader definitions and depictions of resistance. I’m questioning how to write about resistance—how to encourage other privileged folks to act without taking over or taking up too much space. I’m thinking about how to shift from the stance of power over into stances of power to and power with. And I’m questioning the links between resistance (critique against) and vision (critique for).
Perhaps you’ll join me in these inquiries. Perhaps you’ll join me through contemplative writing. Perhaps you’ll join me by filling in the prompt: “Today resistance looks like …”