I’m Done Fragmenting My Identity to Protect White Supremacy.

For anyone new here, I’m Liz. I’m a 31 year old Mexican American vegan. I’m a small business owner in rural northern California. I’m married to Kanan, the only man on this earth I believe I could’ve happily married. Esthetics and Makeup Artistry is my trade, and I’ve been practicing it in some capacity my entire adult life. I work with my sister, and that has proven to be one of my best business decisions. I’ve been vegetarian since I was about sixteen years old, and while animal liberation used to be my only reason for changing my lifestyle- health, environment, and social justice now influence my daily consumer choices as well. I have a journalism degree, but most of my self learning has expanded from my emphasis in Women’s Studies and intersectional feminism. I started this blog in December of 2018 and simply write to discuss topics I find interesting or important. I enjoy eating vegan food, listening to podcasts, lifting weights, doing Pilates, reading, and hanging out with my two Border Collies, Moose and Orca.

I’m on a new journey to use this blog as a way to make the connections between all the social justice movements that influence my life. If the fact that I will be centering myself within some of these difficult or uncomfortable conversations makes you uneasy, I understand that. But this is my blog, and I will continue to write much of it from my perspective. However, I welcome conversation, debate and criticism. I don’t plan to be perfect, but I do plan to use my voice.

I hope the topics I discuss moving forward, and the effort I will make to share important resources, businesses, creators, and community organizations interest you and help us to all make the connections necessary to move us closer to justice.

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“The personal is political” is not something I’ve always understood.

I raised my hand in an Intro to Women’s Studies class. I was eighteen years old and confident in my whiteness. Back then, being constantly called a “Christina Aguilera Mexican” every time someone found out I wasn’t simply white, didn’t bother me. I hid behind blonde hair and blue eyes, however unintentional, because it provides a certain ease in motion. A path of least resistance that I enjoyed, even if at that point I was unsure of exactly how it benefited me. Invisibility leads to denial, denial leads to invisibility. You don’t have to actively exploit your position to benefit from it. Unpacking the relationship I’ve made with my option for browness in a society that values whiteness will take a lifetime.

I argued with my professor. It was unfair that this was the only elective that fit into my schedule between classes more suited for my capability and superior intellect, like Media History or Ethics in Mass Communication. I purposefully chose the front, center seat every day because I was entitled to it. When she moved us into a circle to challenge the hierarchy, I laughed audibly. Nothing she could teach me could change my mind. I had three semesters of a journalism degree under my belt and “facts” were my language. Empirical research. Sources. All the basics. Socially lived theorizing wasn’t real. Respectability and credentials are. You can’t just make something up and expect the rest of us to take you seriously. Write you into history.

Never mind that journalism was quickly transitioning into a 24-hour news cycle in which no one (even the journalist with the best intentions) could verify much of anything. Also, who are you “verifying” the truth from? Who owns your “objectivity?”

Socially. Lived. Theorizing. The idea that all knowledge is socially constructed – any person can theorize about something based on their own experiences. The thought that someone could be excluded from academia and popular discourse, or their experiences marginalized and omitted from history, and therefore, truth did not add up. Everyone had the same access. Everyone could tell their story. If it’s true, someone will tell it for you. That’s the exact job I was training to do. The one responsible for writing the first draft of history – the gatekeeper. Their story must not be verifiable, or maybe it’s just not that interesting.

I thank whatever entity exists out in this expansive universe for that class, but more practically, for my teachers (both in Women’s Studies and Journalism) over the next several years, and their patience. I thank my stubborn insistence to voraciously consume every reading assigned, even though I did so just to refute it. I recognize the comfortable privilege I enjoyed discovering oppression in a classroom, on my own schedule.

For anyone genuinely willing to learn how to temporarily look at your small world through an intersectional feminist lens, even just for a second, you will quickly realize how blind you were before. And how unlearning is a life long process. For me, Angela Davis and bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins and Betsy Hartmann, Audre Lorde, Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy Roberts, Octavia Butler and Alice Walker became the storytellers and theorizers that shaped my new reality. Just a few of the many guides to lead me whenever the world seems broken, or hopeful, or changing – which is often. And which is always.

I’ve never been someone to dive in half way. So I reached in as far as I could, to that murky and uncomfortable point when nothing seems real at all because we’ve accepted that reality is created and curated for our white comfort. Nothing helps me feel more like myself (even more than a decade later) than being surrounded by words capable of shifting consciousness, powerful enough to change the world.

Too often in life survival takes the place of learning and business takes the place of social justice for those of us that have that option. And while I was busy “building a life” I spent years taking for granted what I had the privilege to discover in a formal setting so early on: the personal is political. Nothing is separate or excluded from the reality that what we think we know at this moment is largely constructed with specific interests in mind. I let myself remove that lens to simplify the amount of work on my table. However, removing the lens is a privilege, and living without it (even just for a little while) is damaging. And to be clear, the knowledge, theory, history and unlearning never left me, but my practice became lazy and less intentional. I stopped seeking out the spaces. The thing about living intersectional feminism and anti-racism is it’s a 24/7 practice. 365. Forever. The alternative, if you are light skinned, is to comfortably do nothing to protect the simplicity of your own life. I quite literally chose pilates, vegan recipes, and The Bachelorette as band aids for my white guilt, recognizing I was afforded my daily silence only at the expense of the lives of others. Complacency disguised as “self-care” or allowance to “enjoy life” simply invisibilizes white supremacy, and maintains it’s power.

So I’m here to discuss that. I’m here to examine and challenge it and move forward intentionally because my position as a business owner, community member, beauty professional, and an anti racist intersectional, plant-based feminist demands it. I don’t think I’ve been asleep. But I definitely haven’t been awake either. I don’t think we’re ever fully awake. I’m grateful to have healed myself enough to continue the journey with a whole new collection of experiences. The privilege and opportunity now lie in discovering my identities where they meet inside the matrix, acknowledging that through fragmentation and separation, I’ve allowed white supremacy to prevail, and have also damaged myself in the process. But to pull from Beverly Tatum’s ideas, I can turn myself around on that moving walkway any time I choose. That is also a privilege – that is again, me working on my own schedule to dismantle the systems that benefit me, while simultaneously benefiting from them.

What I’m realizing now is that the default action I chose in order to remain “professional” or to keep my multiple projects “on-topic” was to separate portions of my identity into different personas. In doing so, I was unintentionally reproducing status-quo power structures. I spent painstaking amounts of time separating, untangling and creating imaginary categories for parts of my life, my interests, and moral frameworks to protect my business identity, and ultimately, white comfort. Ironically, this attempt just made every part of my life more complicated and confusing. The fact that I even believed that a separation of the personal from political was possible, in the name of simplicity, upholds white supremacy by denying its pervasiveness, and the intersectionality of all things.

I am not going to try to make this less complicated – it is extraordinarily confusing and multifaceted, but it is very real. I separated my business from my anti-racist, intersectional feminist ideologies, and I did much of the same thing with my plant based, animal advocacy. Even my book club covered an intentionally distant topic, and my “personal” life was excluded from almost all of it. The part that makes this attempt to delineate these topics from one another, as if they could be separate and therefore less complex, even more complicated and confusing is that in doing so, I weakened myself and analysis of each by intentionally removing them from the matrix, as if they could exist untouched by other power structures. That is not only impossible, but naive – the audacity to believe that separating beauty or food or academia or my “personal” life from politics is possible, is shocking to me now. The illusion of simplicity or the capability of anything to exist with any sort of neutrality is a convenient, whitewashed idea that prevents us from seeing the whole picture and therefore, maintains the status quo. The ability to pull race and work apart, for example, is an option only afforded to white people.

The idea that “professionalism” relies on the denial and failure to explore, and call out the power structures that professional environments exist within also protects and maintains white supremacy. And I protected my business in similar ways. I was always genuine in the moment, taking the time for conversations as they arose, but took care that each one of my carefully curated boxes did not spend much time overlapping.

I’m only now realizing that my attempt to “keep things separate, simple, and professional” was a mistake. That the idea that discussing racism, or patriarchy or speciesim is somehow “unprofessional” is simply an idea perpetuated by dominant culture to maintain itself. I’ve decided it’s not serving me, or my community in any valuable way to continue to deny reality, so I’ve chosen to name the privilege that comes with silence and passivity and pursue the messy search for truth and justice. I’m just me, reflected in my business, and everything I do. I’m on a path to unlearn the lie that separation is possible, so that I can make space for the connections – for myself and others. But selfishly, this is also a way for me to discover pieces of my identity that must be put back together. Since I’ve worked so hard to needlessly separate them.

My Day With Oprah

I spent this week researching and writing about the blatant connections between large-scale animal agriculture and disease in humans. And until last night, I had planned on today’s post being about that specific cycle of speciesism and the commodification of life producing dire consequences for human health and safety. Because to a vegan (and a whole lot of scientists) the writing is on the wall, and it’s time to hold ourselves accountable.

After leaving my small business yesterday where I spent about ten hours talking to many women I consider friends, I decided that now isn’t the right time for that content. I’m not suggesting that “fluff,” or timely distractions are the answer to panic, uncertainty and fear. But I am suggesting that a good writer knows when to steer the audience to something positive until the true reality of a situation can be assessed and absorbed. We’re in the speculation phase of COVID-19, and the last thing anyone needs right now (myself included) is more uncertainty or stress about the unknown. My goal in helping others make a connection between eating animals and sickness can wait for another day when introspection is an option, and the initial reaction has ceased.

So today, I’m talkin’ about Oprah!

Yes, the one and only, Oprah Winfrey and her Your Life in Focus tour. I snagged my mom, sister, and myself tickets to go last month in Los Angeles, and now I can officially mark “seeing Oprah live” off of my bucket list.

First of all, let me explain that as a latchkey kid with limited access to television, it quickly became my after-school ritual to watch The Oprah Show with my sister. Later, as an aspiring news and editorial writer in my high school and early college years I idolized Oprah for her humble beginnings in broadcast journalism. Her ability to consistently ask the right questions provoking a spectacular interview and a deeper look into what it truly means to be human were skills any writer hoped to hone even half as well as she does. Fast forward to present-day – I listen to both of her podcasts: Supersoul Conversations and Oprah’s Masterclass on a regular basis. As a woman and an entrepreneur I look up to her even more now for her unapologetic attitude toward her fantastic success – she is truly a force. But I believe her true talent is in balancing that incredible power and energy elegantly with a genuine empathy and an unbelievable presence that draws truth from people coming from every center and walk of life. She is one talented lady.

We spent roughly seven hours at the event. It began with a full-on dance party of around 13,000 people followed by an extensive talk Oprah gave about her health and wellness journey. Throughout the day several experts took the stage to lead us through dances, guided meditations, and breathing exercises. Then to wrap up the show Oprah gave another in-depth talk about her background which led us into an interview with Jennifer Lopez. It was amazing, and I am so glad that I took the time to go.

Throughout the day, Oprah would instruct us to open our workbooks (which she provided in our gift bags at the start of the show) and she guided us through them, step by step to hone in on what our wellness focus and intentions will be moving forward, and how we will accomplish real change in our lives through commitment to these specific goals.

One of the first things you see in the workbook are the words

“You are here. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Then Oprah’s definition of wellness:

“Wellness for me is simply all things in balance. We long for a life without constraint, free from conflict, fear, or judgment– where our health, relationships, career, and finances coexist in perfect flow with our spiritual center. This is the highest form of well-being.”

I thought the most useful way for you to see what we spent much of our day with Oprah doing would be for you to participate, and for me to candidly share my results with you from my own workbook. These are the answers I wrote on the spot, and they have not been edited. I know they may be a little hard to read, but I did the best I could to brighten up the photos for you.

The first step was to figure out our “wellness quotient” through a series of questions, because it is hard to know where you want to go if you have no idea where you actually are.

“Knowing where you are on your journey is a gift. It grounds you in the moment and guides you to a hopeful future. Knowing why you’re on this path creates intention, which gives you the motivation to take the next right step.”

113 was my total. “Purpose” and “relationships” were tied. And the phone number is one you can text if you want help with your goals!

After we finished this section, she walked us through setting our wellness intention, because she, like me, believes that

“You don’t get what you want; you get what you intend.”

We did this by first, writing down and examining a time where we set a goal that we didn’t accomplish. More often than not, we did not accomplish this goal because our intentions did not align with the truth of who we really are. For example, I listed “Opening a business with a partner” as my goal that ultimately failed. I wanted to achieve this goal to “combine our talents and provide them to the community, to make money, to move forward in my career, and to employ more people in my town.” Those all seem like good intentions, but when you turn the page there are a list of underlying motives for accomplishing these goals. I read them through, and ultimately decided that underneath those reasons for opening that particular business with that particular partner I also wanted to: “prove something to someone. I wanted to win and to live up to someone else’s expectations. I felt obligated, and I felt like I was supposed to want it.” The goal failed because the “why” did not match up with the true person I am.

The next step was setting our intentions, because when they are not clear it is hard to accomplish specific things, and it is impossible to see if those goals line up with what is truly right for ourselves. I decided to set a general mind, body, and spirit intention with an understanding of how this intention will bring me more meaning and fulfillment.

Then Oprah says:

“The commitment to do well and be well is a lifetime of choices that you make daily. The space to live in is not ‘I’ll try.’ Not ‘I want to.’ Not ‘I really want to.’ It’s ‘I have decided.’”

Which leads us to the last part of the workbook where we commit by setting three healthy habits based on the areas of focus we determined from our “wellness quotient.” I didn’t include “nutrition” because for me, that’s not something I want to actively work on at this time. And then we conclude with a contract to ourselves that will hold us accountable.

Honestly, I have to admit that most of this introspection I’ve done before. Countless times. It’s in my nature to plan goals, explain them, and execute them through planning. If you follow this blog regularly, or you know me in person, you know this to be more than true. But what it did do for me was something unexpected and interesting. It challenged me to level up, and to expand my goals beyond myself and my own wellness and to really think about what that truly means. The bigger picture. There is always room for improvement and self-growth, and I have made my mental and physical health a serious priority that I work on daily. But what I realized is that I’ve been thinking too small. I’ve outgrown many of these goals because thankfully they’ve evolved from goals into my daily practices. Lately I’ve been feeling lost searching for new things to strive for. I think the key is to keep searching.

“Nourish what makes you feel confident, connected, contented. Opportunity will rise to meet you.”

-Oprah Winfrey

Give Yourself Permission to be Vegan – My 4 Year Veganniversary Post

When my vegan lifestyle comes up in conversation, more often than not, by husband and his dietary habits become the immediate object of curiosity. The center of the interaction. Everyone wants to know if he’s vegan. Since he isn’t, everyone wants to know how we cohabitate. How we grocery shop, cook our meals, agree to disagree. Everyone wants to know how two people can be happily married and hold two completely different ideological viewpoints when it comes to food. And for us specifically, when it comes to animals and morality.

Let’s back up. When I was dating I had three (yes, only three) requirements for my future boyfriend. At that time I did not think that I wanted to be married, ever, so they looked something like this: He needs to have a job, a car, and his own place to live. Like I said, they were simple requirements, but shockingly hard to find. I had decided that I didn’t want to muddle things up with extraneous requirements like what kind of job, or car or dwelling. Or make it even more impossible with specifications pertaining to diet and lifestyle… like vegetarianism. At that time, I still had a few years to go before making the switch from veg to full on vegan. I don’t want to say that my standards were low – in my opinion, they were just realistic. I was only in my mid-twenties, wasn’t looking for a husband, and had so many amazing people in my life from diverse backgrounds, so I didn’t want to limit my possibilities based on assumptions like: If I date a vegetarian we will be more compatible. Because honestly, that might make eating easier, but that’s about it.

Then I met Kanan. For those of you that don’t know the story, he moved into the apartment next door to me and we noticed each other from afar before I finally took the plunge and slipped a note under his door asking him to go grab a beer with me. He called me back TWO WEEKS later… so much later in fact that I had assumed he had a girlfriend, or wasn’t into me, so I went about my life and honestly kinda forgot about it. Over the months (and then years) we lived next door to each other, I had made several observations about Kanan’s habits: He wasn’t home a lot; when he was home he never had any visitors and almost never left, and sometimes his car would remain parked in the spot next to mine for long stretches without moving. So basically, I had concluded exactly what any logical person would: If he had a job and wasn’t just sitting in his apartment playing video games all day, it must be some nefarious illegal activity that kept him away for weeks at a time, or he was a firefighter. One day I took a little gander into the back seat of his car and noticed a pile of ropes. After that, I added potential serial killer to the list, but was happy to learn that serial killers almost never murder their neighbors.

Being from Kern County (near Bakersfield), where everything is dry, and hot, and dusty it never occurred to me that some people actually could make a living fishing. Fishing was something my dad made us hike upriver at 3am on the weekends to do. Something I was more than happy to leave behind after I declared vegetarianism as my new world view somewhere around junior year of high school. So when we finally went on a date and Kanan explained that the ropes were for crabbing and not for some sort of mass strangulation scheme, I was relieved. But I was also a little sad and confused. I liked him instantly, and after only a few dates I was ready to marry the guy. Seriously. I was used to most people eating animals, but had never even considered dating someone who made their entire living by killing them. I was from Kern County but clearly I had never dated a meat or dairy farmer…

So this brings us back to the topic at hand. How did I reconcile dating and then MARRYING a man who had basically the complete opposite viewpoints and values when it came to the treatment of animals? Although he has since then changed careers and no longer kills animals for a living, we still hold different views. He enjoys recreational fishing, and on occasion eats animal products. I decided to go full-blown vegan. But now we enjoy a mostly compatible lifestyle based on generally healthy whole food eating habits and a shared philosophy of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. While I completely omit all animal products and refined sugar, Kanan allows himself the occasional splurge but has grown to have very strong viewpoints on health and whole foods. He balances me out when I’m going crazy for vegan fast food because hey, I went vegan for animal rights, not for health! And I feel like I can sometimes act as his moral mirror, and the conduit for new enlightening vegan nutritional information.

A lot has evolved and changed in our relationship because of two factors, which I believe are the key to making any relationship between a vegan and a non-vegan work. I can give you all the “tips and tricks” you want for day to day living, but until you get these two concepts dialed in, none of them will actually work for you.

#1: Give yourself the emotional permission to embrace what you know to be right for you. If you’re considering going vegetarian or vegan, chances are you’ve already done the hard work of unlearning societal programming regarding food consumption. Your husband (or partner) has already done that for themselves as well by accepting that the way they choose to eat is normal, and everything outside of that worldview is “other” or delinquent from the way people are essentially “supposed to eat.”

This is a simple concept once you wrap your head around it. There is always something that dominant society has deemed “normal.” Someone (or in this case, several powerful “someones,” like large, corporate agribusiness, big pharma, and our for-profit medical system) has a stake in maintaining the status quo, therefore a lot of effort and energy is put into poking holes in other ways of thinking, trying to prove them “wrong,” “unhealthy,” or “worse for our planet.” But here’s the thing – our planet is dying, we’re dying, and animals are dying using the old framework, so maybe let’s just test out this new way and see what happens? Everything is normal, until it’s not.

I’m here to tell you that if you know that for you, veganism or vegetarianism… or just eating one plant-based meal a week is better, then give yourself the permission to shift your consciousness, moving your new held ideas or ideals from the margin (or what is unusual, weird, or not normal) to the center, which is usual, normal, and good. Making yourself the center in this way will ironically produce a series of completely unselfish and empathetic consequences, like caring more for the health of humans, animals, and the earth.

Instead of feeling guilt and assuming that you and your new moral and/or dietary choices are the burden, flip that on it’s head and ask yourself why your partner’s choices aren’t the burden?

To challenge these deeply ingrained ideas of normativity even further, ask yourself why anti-speciesest beliefs are thought to be inferior to those socially constructed speciesist beliefs that we are the inherently superior beings atop the animal and nature hierarchy.

#2: After you’ve got #1 down, then just lead by example. But be tactful.

Once you start viewing the world through this more critical lens, a lot changes internally, and it can be difficult to not judge and criticize other people, or proclaim your new lifestyle as better. Trust me, I still do it often because I choose to be vocal, and believe in making social change. Everything is seen as a deviation from the norm, until it’s not.

People who aren’t vegan or vegetarian navigate their lives as “normal” simply by living in a country that accommodates them, facilitates their behaviors, and rewards their dietary choices with limitless options, advertising that aligns with dominant culture and a convenient separation between our individual choices and policy. Because of these reasons, vegans are criticized for speaking up. We’re casting a bright light on something that needs to be seen, something that doesn’t look good under that light.

If being in a relationship with a non-vegan for almost seven years has taught me anything, it’s that that voice that I choose to use in a political sense only drives Kanan away if directed at him in a more personal sense. For a lot of people, unlearning what they think they know about nutrition and veganism is painful because food is so closely woven into every fabric of our society and life. It also calls on people to look inwardly at their choices, forcing moral introspection. This can be extremely difficult for most people to do- it challenges us to level up and be accountable for our choices, which also requires an acceptance that our choices matter. Veganism calls people to look at how we treat the planet, other beings, and ourselves. That is simply overwhelming. Every vegetarian or vegan, including myself, went through that period of difficult growth. Every vegan or vegetarian you’ve ever met had to go through intense changes in realizing their accountability, unless they happen to be one of the very few vegans who’s parents raised them that way since birth. We understand what you may be going through.

I will tell you with 100% certainty that the longer I am vegan, the simpler the concept becomes for me. I try to do as little harm as possible, and all that can possibly do is ripple kindness out into the world. That’s all it’s about. All food, human rights, animal rights, and global arguments aside.

So just lead by example. Share positive things about being vegan, cook good plant-based food and share it, shop from vegan vendors who also value the planet and other humans, incorporate more whole foods, watch veg documentaries, read books about animals. And learn, because I’m finding that the more I learn, the more I realize that we’re all so interconnected that each choice you make really has a positive impact elsewhere. Only good can come from a lifestyle based on love and kindness. And others (including your husband/partner) will see this over time.

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Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com

Vegan Tattoo: Seven Stars Tattoo, Eureka CA