When All the Angels Are White

 By David J. Leonard

Originally Published at Gawker 

When All the Angels Are White

I am an angel in this nation.

And I suspect the New York Times or Fox News would remember me as an angel if I am murdered in the middle of the road by a police officer in California, Florida, Missouri or Washington. Of course, I don’t worry much about being shot by a police officer. I have the ultimate get-out-jail-free card, the most powerful form of protection: whiteness.

I have no reason to believe that I will be written off as a disrespectful punk, a “thug,” a “troubled kid” looking for fights. I will be seen as just another white boy figuring out the world.

I stole a lot as a kid. That will not matter. I fought a lot. That will not matter. I punched holes in doors, and drank throughout high school. On the football field, I was known as “an enforcer,” a term reserved for the white athletes in my division who bullied and wreaked havoc. None of that will ever be counted against me.

I’d like to challenge the national racial logic that contributes to all too deaths, that sanctions and rationalizes the almost daily killing of black youth. I’d like to really question how this nation constructs and ultimately forgives its angels. Why are we angels always white?

In what has become a predicable playbook, Michael Brown’s death resulted in a public trial and conviction of the victim. The police and much of the media and the public engaged at what has become the ultimate two-step: first denying racism, only to quickly deny Brown’s innocence but implicate and convict him in his own death. In the words of John Eligon of The New York Times, Brown was “no angel.”

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

Not done, Eligon painted Brown as a “handful,” a child who spent a lifetime wreaking havoc, defying authority, and otherwise getting into trouble. “When his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it. When they left out pens and pencils, he would use them to write on the wall. He used to tap on the ground, so his parents got him a drum set; his father played the drums.”

If Brown were white, and his murderer black, would his experimentation with drugs and alcohol, his love of rap music, and any other mistakes be been dismissed as youthful indiscretions? If he’d been white, would the story have been that he was curious because he wanted to explore beyond the security gate, that he was a budding artist who expressed himself through his drawings and his music?

Like me, Mike Brown might have smoked marijuana and even sagged his pants prior to being gunned down in the streets. In response to Times piece, and the persistent criminalization and demonization of black victims, people took to Twitter to express their outrage, questioning why Darren Wilson, the Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, or James Holmes were provided more sympathetic narratives than Brown, Martin, McBride, or countless others.

African Americans took to social media to challenge the double standards and societal stereotypes that govern black entry into public discourse. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown juxtaposed images that mirrored dominant stereotypes with the others defying expectations of white America: a young black male puffing smoke and wearing a hoodie; the same young man in his Navy uniform.

The question was, if the time came, which photo the media would use, and which person white America would see: a thug, a criminal, a pot-smoking threat, or a soldier, a student, a professor, a doctor, a son, daughter, father, mother and loved one?

Why are all the angels white? Out with my teenage friends one Saturday night, we found ourselves, loitering, seemingly looking for trouble on the Santa Monica Promenade. Standing around, we were talking shit, mad-dogging and scowling every dude the block. We were teenage boys, entitled, white, and without a worry in our minds. That didn’t change when a group of bicycle cops rode up

Continue reading at Gawker 

Explaining the Underwhelming Reaction When Black Women’s Nude Pics Are Stolen

Posted: Sept. 8 2014 10:38 AM
Originally Published at The Root

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Jill Scott performing in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 11, 2011ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The following is a sampling of headlines about the recent theft and illegal release of alleged nude photos of celebrities:

In them, and the hundreds of headlines like them, a theme emerges: white female victimhood. It’s in the choice of subjects, the words themselves and photos that accompany the various online reports. Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton are presented as the faces and bodies of these types of violations.

The flip side of these headlines and the less obvious theme is this: that black women are undeserving of protection; that when their privacy is criminally violated, it isn’t such a scandal. After all, Lawrence and Upton aren’t the only ones who have been violated in this way. Jill Scott andRihanna have, too.

If you didn’t know, that’s because the “leaks” and “hacks” related to black female victims were scarcely covered in comparison with those of their white counterparts.  A Google News search for celebrities’ names combined with “leaked,” while an informal measure, further confirms the spotlight on white female victims. Lawrence and Upton have, by far, the most results (22,700,000 and 126,000, respectively); Rihanna and Scott trail behind with 39,100 and 8,760, respectively.

There’s a disparity not just in the amount of news but in the amount of analysis and outrage when the victims are black. As the Washington Post’s Justin Moyer put it in his analysis of the leaks of recent weeks (Lawrence, Upton and Scott), “White feminists ignore Jill Scott.”

Continue reading at The Root

Hey, White College Kids: Can the Ferguson Police Get Some of That Kony 2012 Outrage?

Posted: Aug. 22 2014 2:56 PM
Originally Published at The Root

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A woman gestures during a peaceful protest Aug. 19, 2014, along a street in Ferguson, Mo., regarding the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Remember #Kony2012? Of course you do. The social media campaign by Invisible Children against the war criminal leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army is impossible to forget because of the way so many Americans—including many white Americans—came together and amplified the cause in the name of justice and human rights.

Invisible Children’s video was viewed 100 million times within six days. In a showing bigger even than the one for the ongoing “ice bucket challenge” for Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, 3.7 million people committed to joining the Kony 2012 struggle. While ultimately unsuccessful in its stated goals of “ending war,” or “stopping the LRA and their leader,” #Kony2012 was effective in galvanizing deep support from white youth throughout the nation.

So, why not #FergusonPD2014?

In other words, why aren’t the same people who called out Joseph Kony demanding accountability from the Ferguson Police Department for its killing of Michael Brown when he was unarmed, and for its violation of peaceful protesters’ constitutional rights to assemble? Yes, it’s true that people of all backgrounds, including some young white activists, are actively involved in the protests in Ferguson. But why aren’t white college students latching on to this and revealing the same overwhelming “commitment” they did to the Kony “cause”?

As a college professor, I remember clearly that during the #Kony2012 campaign, they wanted the world to know that they were outraged by the atrocities going on in Uganda, or at least the atrocities said to be going on at some point in recent history. Why not a similar response to the atrocities going on outside St. Louis?

Because, sadly, this American tragedy doesn’t seem to have the right ingredients.

Besides using social media wisely, Invisible Children deployed a narrative of good versus evil and created enthusiasm around the power of young people in stopping a man intent on turning young men into soldiers and young women into sex slaves. With a click of a button that led the video to be shared on social media, a donation, or putting on some Kony apparel, one could seemingly purchase penance for past inaction and buy peace.

Second, the video and the campaign played upon the long-standing concept of the “white man’s burden” —the idea that white America has a responsibility and a duty to help oppressed elsewhere.

Third, the primary platform of the campaign limited the chance of cross-racial challenges. Facebook, marked by its insular communities, segregation and siloed realities, was the central engine for Kony 2012. This, and the nascent status of “black Twitter,” created conditions under which the “white savior” mentality thrived. While white Americans who participated in Kony 2012 were purchasing a tool kit or contributing to “justice” with their clicks and dollars, they didn’t have to inconvenience or challenge their privilege or identity.

Movements to address injustice when the victims are African American don’t have the same formula. So it’s no wonder that since 2012, there has not been a #Trayvon2013, a movement for #Renisha2013 or a #Ferguson2014. It’s no wonder there have been no viral videos on #Every28HoursABlackManIsKilled, or mainstream efforts to galvanize national attention for Eric Garner or Marissa Alexander or countless others.

Continue reading at The Root

Dear Tiger Mom: The 1920s Called and They Want Their Racial Theories Back

Dear Tiger Mom: The 1920s Called and They Want Their Racial Theories Back
David J. Leonard
January 13, 2014
Image via Wiki Commons.

Tiger Mom: Some Cultural groups are superior” – this headline from the New York Post prompted me to tweet the following:

While partly a snarky reaction to a book that invariably will deliver all-too familiar themes, it was equally a comment on the continuity of American racial ideologies across multiple generations, and multiple centuries.

Amy Chua and her antiquated ideologies are back.

The author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which celebrated the superiority of Chinese American parenting styles, is set to publish a follow-up book in February. Co-authored with her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America appears to be more of the same, expanding her cultural determinist argument, which imagined Chinese parenting as both superior and a pathway to inevitable success, to now include seven more groups (Jewish, Indian, Chinese, Iranian, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerian, Cuban exiles, and Mormons), whose success is attributable to their possessing the requisite values and cultural attributes. The selected groups, all of whom are immigrant groups, the selective grouping (only Cuban exiles; Lebanese-American but Nigerians), the lack of intersectional analysis, not too mention the dehistoricizing, reveals a flawed premise at its face.

As reported in the Post, Chua and Rubenfeld argue that “success” is attributable to three distinct cultural traits: superiority complex, inferiority complex, and impulse control. Simply put, Chua and Rubenfeld seem to argue that a sense of superiority — confidence, purpose, and a belief in excellence — alongside a sense of inferiority — humility, modesty, and determination — are two essential ingredients to success. For the sake of brevity, and my focus on historic continuity between Chua and a larger history of scientific racism, it is important to reflect on their understanding of “impulse control” and how it fits within a larger history of white supremacy, notions of civilization, and arguments about fitness, self-control, and self-governance. “As we’ll use the term,” write Chua and Rubenfeld, “impulse control refers to the ability to resist temptation, especially the temptation to give up in the face of hardship or quit instead of persevering at a difficult task.”

This argument is not new. Central to white supremacist discourses and practices, from the representations of minstrelsy and Jim Crow, to Native American bordering schools and contemporary mascots, is the idea that “racial others have impulses that demand a civilizing force in order to rein them in.” The inability to exert control over the “impulses” of racial others has also been cited throughout history as evidence of inferiority, reason for inequality, and the justification of state violence. For example, Anglos rationalized the conquest of California by citing the “lack of self-discipline” and “cultural backwardness” of the Californios. In their minds, Mexicans were “indolent people, whose backwardness reflected their having poor personal habits and collective deficiencies such as laziness or a penchant for extravagances.”

Irrespective of intent, The Triple Package builds on a long history of American racism, faux science, and racial discourses that have sought to normalize and naturalize inequalities. It’s a remix of Herbert Spencer, Charles Davenport, The Bell Curve, and countless other theories that have normalized white supremacy and socially produced injustices. Whereas past theories focused on biological differences that located the physical, psychological, and cultural differences within inheritable traits, Chua and Rubenfeld explain away differences and inequalities, arguing that individual values and cultural traits push certain groups to the top of “success mountain” and others into the pits of failure.

The book’s argument recycles longstanding arguments that governed systems of slavery, imperialism, and colonization. On the eve of the Spanish-American War, Alfred Mahan described Asia as “rich in possibilities,” but seemingly in waste because of “negligence and incompetence of its inhabitants.” The irony of Chua and Rubenfeld identifying Chinese or Indians as having the requisite cultural values, given this history, should give us pause. The cultural deficiencies and the lack of “political fitness” meant that the land and resources were underdeveloped and therefore no one had “natural right to land.” As with the indigenous communities, the lack of development within in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Philippines, and throughout Asia necessitated action and intervention. “Will anyone seriously content that the North American continent should have been left forever in the hands of tribes,” Mahan asked, in justifying U.S. expansion overseas as part of a history of the civilized, anointed by God, conquering “savages who waste land and resources.” Success and failure, civilization and the lack thereof, were tied to culture.

Continue reading at  http://hnn.us/article/154434#sthash.5Lrf6lvt.dpuf

My Life in the Classroom, Where Race Always Matters

My Life in the Classroom, Where Race Always Matters

By David J. Leonard

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May 20, 2014

When you walk into a classroom, what’s your demeanor? Are you approachable, even casual? Or do you favor authority and formality?

Ever since Katrina Gulliver, a professor at University of New South Wales, lamented a “culture of familiarity” in the lecture hall, I’ve been reading professors’ reflections on these questions. Reflections from professors like Will Miller, who pushed back against Gulliver: “I have been known to occasionally teach in clothes that I could mow the lawn in,” he wrote, “and apparently a student or two have at some point said I was cool. That’s not my goal, however.”

I’m a casual dresser, too, but that’s not what struck me about Miller’s essay. What stood out was this line: I may be a white male, but this has nothing to do with why I am comfortable in a classroom.

There’s a lot to digest here. But let me start with this: I am a white male, and that has everything to do with why I am comfortable in a classroom, why I am respected, and how I’m read by students and others. That is my story, and the story of my career within academe.

Berkeley: Summer 1998

I still remember the excitement I felt when I taught my first class solo. No discussion sections, no grading demands from other professors: This was my syllabus, my approach, my opportunity to develop relationships with students. The course covered the civil-rights movement, and I was thrilled by the opportunity to share my passion for the untold stories of the movement.

As a white, male graduate student, I worried: Would my knowledge and academic background be enough to make students respect me as an authority on civil-rights history? But back then, I figured that my extensive reading list and my preparation were enough. Beyond that initial burst of anxiety, I gave little thought to what my whiteness meant inside the classroom.

About halfway through the class, we prepared to watch Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls, a powerful documentary that chronicles the trauma and terror of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. Wanting the students to sit with the film, to reflect, and to emotionally connect with it, I encouraged them to bypass the standard practice of detached, academic note-taking. “Sit back,” I said, “and enjoy the film.”

Looking back, I cannot believe I said these words. But I’m not entirely surprised: My privilege needed to be checked. In my mind, I was simply reminding them to watch, listen, learn, and feel. Yet that’s not what came out of my mouth. What I said seemed like an attempt to turn a film about terror into a moment of pleasure and enjoyment.

A few weeks later, two African-American students approached me separately. They each challenged me to think about what I had said, why it was significant, and how my whiteness mattered. They were right. I was blinded by privilege and the belief that “it’s all about the material,” not even questioning how I presented that material. My distance from the history shaped how I talked about the civil-rights movements and white-supremacist violence. When I reached into my pedagogical toolbox, steeped in whiteness and my middle-class Los Angeles upbringing, I grabbed hold of “enjoy the film” with little forethought about how such an insensitive phrase might trigger emotions and anger. It was the first of many lessons on how race always matters in the classroom.

Berkeley: Spring 2002

As I approached the completion of my Ph.D., I was afforded the opportunity to teach an upper-level undergraduate ethnic-studies class with over 200 students. It was daunting. Between wrangling eight teaching assistants (many of whom were my friends), and lecturing to all those undergrads, I was apprehensive—if not scared—for much of the semester.

Over the years, I have been asked over and over again: Did the students—either the legendarily political Berkeley crew or the less-progressive students who just were taking the course for a general-education requirement—ever challenge me, question why I was teaching the class, or simply resist my pedagogical approach? Never. Happened. Even though I lectured about genocide, enslavement, mass incarceration, and persistent white supremacy, students offered little resistance.

This all changed, though, when a fellow graduate student—an African-American man—delivered a couple of guest lectures about the prison-industrial complex. After two mind-blowing and brilliant talks, I was excited to continue the conversation with the class. My students? Not so much. They lamented the guest lecturer’s “attitude.” They described him as “angry,” as “biased” and “sarcastic,” and as “different from me.” Several students seemed more interested in litigating his pedagogical choices than discussing the injustices of the American judicial system.

We (I’m indebted to one of my TA’s for her work here) refused to hold this conversation in his absence, so we brought him back into the classroom. And we pushed the class to reflect on why I was seen as an objective, fair-minded, truth-telling, and lovable “teddy bear,” whereas he was angry, biased, and more interested in a political agenda than the truths of history. The conversations that resulted from these interventions were powerful, spotlighting that race, racism, and privilege didn’t just operate outside the classroom, in history and in culture. They played a role within our learning space as well.

The wages of whiteness were paid inside and outside the classroom. I was seen as an objective authority, I realized, in part because I was a white male.

Continue reading at https://chroniclevitae.com/news/504-my-life-in-the-classroom-where-race-always-matters#sthash.YBDWVF1d.dpuf

Food Matters: The Work of Alison Hope Alkon and Bryant Terry

 

Food matters – it mattes because it is the sustenance of life; it matters because it a source of pleasure, and nostalgia, a building block of identity, family, and community; it matters because of obesity and starvation, food insecurity, because it is central to global economies – it is a source of profits and profits for some, and despair and anguish for others; it matters because it is local and global. It also matters because it represents a window into broader themes and social realities, to systemic inequalities and persistent violence.   With Black, White, and Green Farmers Markets, Race, and the Green Economy, Alison Hope Alkon makes this clear, illustrating the material and symbolic importance of food. Examining two farmer’s markets in the Bay Area (North Berkeley and West Oakland), Dr. Alkon demonstrates the many ways that race, class, and inequality operate in these spaces, demonstrating how each embodies an distinct intervention against the environmental status quo; they are overlapping poles of a broader food movement.

According to book’s description, “Farmers markets are much more than places to buy produce. According to advocates for sustainable food systems, they are also places to “vote with your fork” for environmental protection, vibrant communities, and strong local economies. Farmers markets have become essential to the movement for food-system reform and are a shining example of a growing green economy where consumers can shop their way to social change.” Situating farmer’s markets in a broader history of the “slow food movement,” Berkeley People’s Park, the Black Panther Party, and countless others challenges to our corporate food hegemony, Dr. Alkon pushes the conversation beyond food as nourishment, and markets as places of commerce to emphasize the ways that these public spaces function in terms of identity, resistance, community, and struggles for change.

Focusing on farmer’s markets as a “cornerstone of food activism,” Dr. Alkon brings to life two spaces that work to challenge everything from food deserts and constrained food choices, to GMOs and the corporate takeover of contemporary foodways. Like other movements, social location and identity impact the goals, methods, and framing mechanism used to galvanize support for the markets and the broader movement of food activism. Racism and differential levels of privilege are visible in these spaces.

The power of the book rests with its ethnographic intervention, with its documentation and how food matters, and its elucidation of food activism; it equally emanates for its willingness to explore and expose the endless contradictions within the food movement. “This contradiction – between farmers markets’ broad, radical aims and individually oriented economic strategies” is at the core of the book. Yet, in focusing on race and class, in examining inequities, Dr. Alkon further reveals the contradictions evidence in those who privilege sustainability and the environment over justice and people.

There is so much richness within this book, as it reveals the ways that “hipster racism” operates alongside of systemic racism; it spotlights the entrenched yet invisible (to some) privileges even among the most progressive people. Dr. Alkon summarizes the markets and the people who inhabit in a profound way:

Many participants envision the North Berkeley Farmer’s Market as a way to improve both environmental and social conditions through green economic exchange. However, environmental themes are prioritized and are thickly interwoven with the farmer’s markets institutional policies…. In West Oakland, the reverse is true. Issues of social and more specifically racial are most prominent, as the West Oakland represents an environmental justice approach to the politics of food. Environmental sustainability underlies the market’s work – the creation of a local organic alternative food system – but is discussed only occasionally (75-76).

Food matters . . . it masks and reveals the persistent inequalities, the contradictions, and the different levels of power and privilege; Dr. Alkon makes this clear over and over again, providing a language for thinking about how foodways and food activism offers spaces of change yet also has workers to maintain the very systems that are supposedly being challenged in a myriad of ways. An important work!

A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Bryant Terry (this was before the publication of his most recent book Afro-Vegan). The interview was never published. As I read Black, White and Green, I thought it was important to return to this interview, to digest the important analysis and profound insights that Terry delivered in the interview.   Each spotlights the importance of not only talking about and understanding food, but food as change, as power, privilege, identity, and both a window into a shade concealing persistent inequalities in American

 

 

 

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A couple years ago, my friend and colleague Lisa Guerrero bought me Bryant Terry’s cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen. Living in a SMALL town, Lisa searched high and low to secure a copy for my birthday, a fact that not only illustrates the kind of a person Lisa is and what a great friend I have, but the power of Bryant Terry’s work. Having now had the opportunity to engage with Bryant on Twitter/Facebook, to learn from him by way of his web show, to read about his newest book, and understand his work as part of longer tradition of activism and social justice work, it is clear that he offers not only food the feeds the body but knowledge that feeds the mind. Terry, a chef, an author, and an activist, teaches the world not only how to cook and do so in a healthy way, but to do so in a way that reflects and reaffirms important values. Like his food, this interview is simply delicious

David Leonard (DJL): Talk to us about your new book

Bryant Terry (BT): The new book – The Inspired Vegan – is a snap shot of where I was at as I was writing it. I thought a lot about my daughter, what type of book I wanted to write, that 40 years from now she would get a sense of the person that I am, what my values are, who my heroes and sheroes are; it is a snap shot of the food justice movement that I am so active in.

I realized that people have a low food IQ. People are so disconnected from growing and cooking wholesome fresh food. So giving people basic skills to prepare a home cooked meal is important. I wanted to give them basic tips and tools so they can make fresh meals for themselves and their families. I also wanted to empower people to put together entire meals devoid of animal of products. One of the critiques of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks is that it is often a bunch of side dishes. People don’t know how to move from a diet where meat is at the center of the plate to a plant-based diet. I wanted to show people that you can have meals that are vegan and also sumptuous and complex, and most importantly delicious.

DJL: You also have a new web show; is the show an extension of your book?

BT: My books are an extension of my politics. I started this work as an activist in New York City. I founded this project called Be Healthy, politicizing young people, understanding that if this food justice movement is going to be successful young people must be at the forefront. The last thing these kids wanted to do was come in for a lecture on structural inequality and food insecurity, especially because in additional to lacking access to wholesome food, they also came from neighborhoods with horrible schools and race issues. One of the creative ways to engage young people was to teach them how to select fresh foods, how to prepare it, which is so important because if they help prepare it they are more likely to try and become accustomed to other types of food. My cookbooks are an extension of this work. I wanted to use the same approach on a national scale. The show is a similar concept, using popular culture to shift people’s hearts and minds.

DJL: What are your goals beyond your work?

BT: My goal is not to convert people to be vegans. While I don’t consume any animal products, I don’t even describe myself as a vegan. I do that very intentionally because I know that for many of the communities I am trying to reach, the term vegan brings up certain images, ideas, and triggers. I want to avoid that.

I also want to avoid the latest fads to seek out remedies. There is no one-size-fits all diets. I really encourage people rather than choosing the label, to think about what your body needs. Rather than just choosing a diet, think about cultural food ways; think about ethics, values, politics, what kind of world do I want to see, what sort of environment do I want leave for my children, how do I want to see animals treated – these are the questions that should guide our food choices rather than a label

DJL: What advice would you give parents about teaching food lessons to their kids?

BT: While I only have 9 months of experiences as a parent, one of the most important lessons I would convey is modeling. You can talk about eating well, but need to model healthy eating habits. Simple things: eating mindfully, not overeating, and taking your time while eating. The basic fundamentals of living are so important. We have to model that for our children. We want to lay down a foundation for her so that when she gets out into the world she can make empowered choices to think about advertisements and peer pressures. At that point, it is about letting them to make decisions based on that knowledge.

Even before our daughter was born, my wife was very conscious of exposing her to a range of taste and flavors while in utero. Now as a child, we are constantly introducing to her to married foods. One of the foundations for our diet crafting an Afro-Asian diet that builds upon African and Asian foodways, so that she appreciates and understands her own foodways. She eats everything from mung beans, to blacked eyed peas, from bok choy to collared greens already.

DJL: How does your work challenge the ways in which healthy eating, organic, and vegan is often imagined in connection to white middle-class identities?

BT: So much of work is response to narrative that concludes that African American cuisine contributes to poor African American health. It is a simplistic way of looking at the public health crisis. It is important to understand that most of the communities with high rates of obesity, diet related illness – cancer, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension – are saturated with processed and fast foods. Focusing on soul food completely erases the issue of people over consuming fast foods, processed foods, package foods, and those high sugar, salt and fat, and low in the nutrients we need. It complete ignores the ranges of oppression and environmental stressors people are enduring that leads to stress, that might lead to overeating. People need to understand the complex reasons why African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans are dealing with these health crises. When we revisit the traditional foodways of African Americans, it is extremely healthy. Sweet potatoes, squashes, dandelion greens, collared greens. These are the types of foods my grandpa was growing and these are the foods that most of people in our communities were eating. These foods are as authentic and traditional as the comfort foods and survival foods so often associated with African American cuisine.

DJL: In recent years there has been an increased awareness and public consciousness about food deserts; what are your thoughts about this trend?

BT: I think so often the focus on food deserts leads to a focus on corporate food interventions. Every community should have a full-service market, but that is not the solution. Food security and increasing food health will come from producing economically empowered communities.   We need to have solutions owned and driven by those living with these communities. Lack of access to food is one indicator of poverty. It has to be about more than food. I also think talking about food deserts erases the ways that people are already combating the lack of choices. We need to recognize there is a lot of knowledge and movements taking place and not imagining these places as deserts that need help.

DJL: We also don’t think about how the term deserts naturalizes inequality; we don’t talk about the production of deserts.

BT: Indeed

DJL: Where do you come down on the term of Soul Food?

BT: When people think about soul food, people are thinking about red velvet cake, fried chicken, and chitterlings.   They are not thinking about sautéed butter beans or dandelion greens or even baked chicken; they are thinking about the heaviest, most indulgent foods. Soul food doesn’t evoke the diversity of the cuisine. I prefer to talk about African American cuisine and to think about how colonization, industrialization, and modernization have impacted our cuisine. Lets talk about that rather than pathologizing our food ways as part of this bigger racist game.

DJL: How does your work recognize the constraints on choice while giving voice, power, and agency in determining diet?

BT: It’s tricky.   When we talk about these issues and only focus on personal responsibility, we don’t understand the larger picture of what’s wrong with our food system. That being said, I will be first to admit it is about personal choice; we all are responsible for how we live our lives, what we chose to consume. But when we think about the reality that people are limited by their choices. People are limited by their understanding of those choices; this complicates our discussion. Don’t tell me it is all about choice when there isn’t safe green spaces, when there isn’t food co-ops, farmer markets, or full-service supermarkets within their communities. There are corner stones that only have processed foods, cigarettes, alcohol, and if they have fresh foods they are 50% more expensive. Understanding the options that are providing in working poor neighborhoods are not there even though people want healthy food options.

 

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