Hey White People, How Do We Do Something?

White people, it’s time to stop letting our uncertainty, confusion, and spineless good intentions trump action. For the sake of this conversation, I am including non-Black people of color in this group. In regards to the Black Lives Matter Movement, we seem to be easily paralyzed into silence or frozen when it comes to doing something meaningful outside of posting to social media, even when we believe racism is a problem that takes action to fix.

I get it. It’s confusing. Should we strive to be allies or accomplices? Should we use our platform to amplify marginalized voices? Or should we use it to speak out with our own voice? Should we publicly share the actions we’re taking to encourage others to do the same, or is this considered to be “performative” or reeking of “white savior” complex? Should we donate to Black organizations and shop Black business? Or is that just an easy way to relieve our own conscience by throwing money at a complex problem? Is self-education enough?

This post isn’t going to address white fragility and the many reasons why, as a group, we are seemingly incapable of talking about race without either becoming defensive, silent, or fumbling over ourselves like embarrassed children, looking for approval. Surely this isn’t every person. But I do think that if you’re engaged in a conversation about race in any meaningful way, especially as a white person, you will misstep. Which is okay. The point is to educate yourself, learn from that misstep and continue to act. Do the work. Rather, this particular post is meant to share with you the “aha” moment I had regarding my own anti racist activism, and how I realized the answer to all those confusing questions is more simple than you think.

I think the first step to unfreezing yourself is understanding why you’ve done little to nothing in the past to change the injustices you see – even if you were previously aware there was a problem. In Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness she explores an interesting phenomenon in human behavior that criminologist Stanley Cohen describes in great detail in his book States of Denial.

“The book examines how individuals and institutions – victims, perpetrators, and bystanders- know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts. They only see what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest. This has been true about slavery, genocide, torture, and every form of systemic oppression… Cohen emphasizes that denial, though deplorable, is complicated. It is not simply a matter of refusing to acknowledge an obvious, though uncomfortable, truth. Many people ‘know” and “not know” the truth about human suffering at the same time.”

She goes on to say that “the widespread and mistaken belief that racial animus is necessary for the creation and maintenance of racialized systems of social control is the most important reason that we, as a nation, have remained in deep denial.”

These points resonated with me because I see similar actions taking place in regards to animal rights and veganism. Many people recognize that animal abuse is wrong – in some states it is even considered a felony to abuse your pet. I encounter many people I would consider completely rational in other circumstances be made “sick” by the overt and obvious abuse of an animal on television, go on to eat an animal that same day, sometimes more than once. We know and not know the truth. We remain in denial because on the surface level we believe outright abuse is wrong, but somehow our daily actions to pay for and support a system which abuses and kills animals on our behalf is not.

As a group, we misunderstand racism as obvious individual acts of outright bigotry – without these in our sights we can remain in denial. We can know racism is a problem and not know it’s a problem. We are unwilling to see the part we all play in racist systems through our complicit or outright purposeful actions maintaining systems that are racist because “we aren’t racist” people. I would like to emphasize that the parallels I am drawing here are simply to help you think about your own rationale and actions, not to in any way suggest that racism and animal exploitation are the same.

I think the other key to moving out of inaction is to move past your fear of being wrong. You may be afraid to act because there are so many mixed messages and differing opinions on what white people should do, and you may wonder why Black people can’t just tell you what’s right. Recognize that this thinking is problematic for many reasons, but for two big ones. One: Black people are not one homogenous entity with one cohesive thought. To expect all Black people to agree on one methodology or theory for activism (or anything) is absurd. To read the thoughts of one, two, or even a handful of Black people and expect their ideas to represent all Black people’s ideas is racist, and not something we would ever expect of a white person. Two: It is not the job of Black people to educate you on your own racism and teach you how to fix it. If this is literally their actual job then by all means pay them for their content and let them help educate you. There are many Black educators and authors out there doing just that. But expecting every Black person to lead you through your unlearning journey, take on your white guilt and emotions, and help guide you to the mythical land of the “woke” white person is a not so subtle form of manipulation and exploitation. Black people have no obligation to work for free, and it is simply not their job to fix our problems for us. It’s our job to do the work inside ourselves and within our institutions.

Okay, so now that we’ve examined our thought patterns critically and read some books about how to be an anti racist, how do we do that?

Once these big conversations about race started happening on such a widespread scale I was fortunate enough to have had a lot of the theory and education pieces at least somewhat in place to prepare myself for what comes next. In other words, I was confident enough to have these conversations and share my thoughts on racism publicly because I had been doing the inner work for a long time. I had settled into that uncomfortable feeling of being wrong a lot. However, I felt that beyond reading books, sharing resources on Instagram and talking with my circle of family, friends, and clients (many of which share similar opinions), I was at a loss on how to be effective – how to take action. Then something just clicked.

Activism is activism.

The parallels I’m about to make aren’t meant to be exacting, so just take a moment to let me explain. I decided that the best way to be an anti racist advocate are much of the same actions that I take on a daily basis to be an effective animal rights advocate. Am I saying the movements are the same? No. Am I comparing people to animals? No. Do I understand that there are many reasons why comparing the two movements is problematic? Yes. BUT what I understand even more clearly is that I am not comparing the movements themselves, I am simply identifying that the few principles of activism that I use in my vegan life can easily be translated into actions that support anti racism in my everyday life as well. So let’s break those down.

Over the last sixteen years, I’ve come to the conclusion that when working within a capitalist framework, the most effective way to enact change is to pay for it. When enough people make consistent small changes in their routine spending this will alter what products companies offer, what advertisements we see, who gets hired and makes more money, and the list goes on. When I first became vegetarian, tofu was the only “protein” option anywhere. It’s amazing what over a decade of plant based buying did to change our options, help small business, the planet, animals, and our own health. I find that once you change your spending habits, discussing your choices with everyone (and anyone) gets easier. Until you’re comfortable simply engaging in conversation about veganism or anti racism, you now have a simple way to show support, and lead by example. Your choices matter. Every single one.

Because being anti racist or plant based aren’t things you can win at, or “finish” then it can be logically concluded that participating in these movements should constitute a lifestyle – a way of living. A journey that will evolve forever. Once we’ve decided to know, instead of claiming to know, then it is our duty to intentionally allow these frameworks to guide us as we move through the world. It should influence our moral compass, our daily purchases, and our daily actions.

Here is the example I sketched out to help you visualize how easy these changes are, and how much of an impact they can have. This may seem repetitive, but that is my intention.

As a vegan (or a non-vegan) what can I do in my routine life that is sustainable to enact long term change in regards to animal rights, my health, and/or the health of the planet?

Shop at grocery stores that carry vegan options and tell people about it.

Buy cruelty free cosmetics and talk about them.

Shop from vegan specific brands and share them.

Follow vegan creators.

Subscribe to vegan publications and tell people about them.

Watch vegan documentaries and talk about them.

Read books about veganism and share them.

Cook vegan food and tell people about it.

Share it.

Talk about it.

Do you see a pattern forming here?

When I was having a difficult time understanding my role in anti racism, I sat down and wrote out all the ways I think we can enact positive long term change as regular citizens, other than voting on a ballad and keeping ourselves informed.

Shop at Black owned businesses and tell people about them.

Buy cosmetics created by Black makeup artists and talk about them.

Shop from Black brands and share them.

Follow Black creators.

Subscribe to Black publications and tell people about them.

Watch documentaries about anti racism and talk about them.

Read books written by Black authors and share them.

Weave these choices into your daily lifestyle.

Share them.

Talk about them.

This may seem like an overwhelming amount of work in the beginning, however, if you are truly committed to producing real change, you’ll do it. Over time your small actions will add up and just translate into you living your life. It will become routine and normal. I also want to make it clear that by sharing and talking about your new discoveries and purchases, I mean in whatever way big or small you feel is natural to you. Though, I will say that this may feel uncomfortable in the beginning. I remember the first time I distributed PETA pamphlets and stickers at my high school it felt scary, like I would be judged or ostracized. And while some people may have made fun of me or talked behind my back, I instantly stopped caring because I knew in my heart that what I was doing was right. That feeling has guided me through every awkward situation or challenging conversation during the last sixteen years. That is what I love about making real, tangible changes in your daily lifestyle. Just by leading by example, you will change those around you in some way.

Sometimes I wear a vegan t shirt to work just to get someone to think; sometimes I write entire blog posts about a topic. Some days I speak out on social media – but most days I just live my life normalizing veganism, which in turn normalizes it for others. I think that the most effective way to live an anti racist life is similar – change your daily habits to truly reflect your values, believe the world you see is possible to create, and normalize that behavior so others will feel empowered to follow.

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