Photo Source: Eduardo Muñoz Alvarez/Getty
Over the weekend, I got a response to my last blog post that was upsetting and triggering on multiple levels. It took me a long time to build up the courage to start blogging, and when I did I knew that it would be inevitable that I would receive comments that would piss me off. However, this comment wasn't the type that I was expecting, mainly because I don't believe that the comment came from a place of malicious intent. It came from a place of pure, unadulterated ignorance. But that's the thing about racism. It's so deeply ingrained in our culture that even the most well-meaning of people can perpetuate it without realizing. The comment, in the form of a tweet, went something like this:
"You're an endangered species. Blacks have so much power if only they'd get up off their pity-pot and Go Vegan #empathy #god"
I was quite upset to receive this comment, for so many reasons. For starters, to be referred to as an "endangered species" in a way that was meant to be a compliment was terribly shortsighted in a time where Black people of all ages are disproportionately victimized by police. I know that this woman meant that it was rare to see someone like me, Black, educated, and vegan, writing about my triumph over my own personal health struggles, but on this, she was also terribly wrong. It might be rare for anyone living under a rock, but anyone paying attention would realize that Black people like me are everywhere.
To be called an "endangered species" was patronizing and dehumanizing all at once, even if the realities of police violence, poverty, poor healthcare and overall institutionalized racism lend a kernel of truth to the statement. If we are "endangered", it is due to a system that consistently devalues human life, especially when that human is Black, or Native, or an immigrant, or Muslim, or disabled. The saddest part about this statement is that it fails to realize that in spite of all our socioeconomic and religious differences, we are of the same species.
But it was the pity-pot portion of the comment that really got under my skin. It was a complete minimization of the very real struggles that Black people have faced and continue to face every single day. It was an infantile version of the bootstrap theory, basically insinuating that Black people could achieve equality if only we'd pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get to work. It reinforces the notion that Black people are inherently lazy, that we want handouts when really all we want is to be treated as equals and left the hell alone.
Her entire comment was couched in stereotypes. She meant that I was "different" from "those other" Black people, like the ones she probably only ever comes across on television. Her idea of our "power" is probably influenced by the ever-circulating idea that if Barack Obama can do it, then so can the rest of us. What gets me though, is the "#empathy" at the end of her statement, because it might be the most ironic part of all. How amazing it is that people can find enough empathy to relate to the pain and suffering of all other creatures on this planet while blatantly refusing to recognize the pain and suffering of their fellow humans. I can hardly say I'm surprised though, as Black pain is constantly being minimized and ignored.
I was ready. I was getting all my research together to write a kick-ass blog post about the pervasive persistence of systemic racism, to rail about the limitations of empathy among certain fellow vegans, etc. But then I was reminded of this gem of a quote from the wise Toni Morrison:
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
I did not create The Black Vegan Diaries to teach people about racism. I did not start this blog to go toe-to-toe with people who refuse to acknowledge the suffering that stares them right in their face. The internet is awash in information for anyone who actually cares enough to understand. People aren't marching in the streets, working day in and day out in their communities, lobbying their elected officials, and doing all kinds of anti-racism work just because they're looking for pity.
I'm doing this because I have first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be Black while trying to be and do so many other things in this life. I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of racism, implicit and explicit alike. I know my struggles and I know the struggles of my people, especially when it comes to our health and well-being. I know that our pain is real and my goal is to address it, regardless of whether or not people think that our grievances are valid. There are a whole lot of problems that I truly believe can be improved by going vegan, but systemic racism is not one of them.
Call me Niv.