This webinar was recorded on Wednesday, August 25, 2021. The webinar focused on how white dominant cultural narratives play out in food insecurity and food access in the United States? The webinar framed ways in which whiteness impacts the food system, based in an historical context of structural racism. We also presented examples of how whiteness fuels power, decision-making, and investment in food systems.
- Reports and materials referenced during presentation
- Speaker and discussant information
- Transcript of webinar
- Research Brief: Identifying and Countering White Supremacy Culture in Food Systems
- Report: Power & Benefit on the Plate - a Food History of Durham, North Carolina
- Strategy Report: North Carolina Food System Resilience Strategy
Communities in Partnership
Jen Zuckerman manages all WFPC work rooted in North Carolina. She comes to the WFPC after eleven years at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. Jen joined the BCBSNC Foundation in June 2006, where for ten years she served as the Senior Program Officer for Healthy Living, focusing on increasing access to safe active environments and on providing sources for healthy, locally sourced food, with a commitment to early childhood development and food systems. In her most recent role with the Foundation, she served as the Director of Strategic Partnerships, which focused on spread and scale of best practice in healthy living initiated in North Carolina as well as bringing resources outside of North Carolina into the state for the benefit of improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians. Prior to the Foundation, she administered federal and state grants at NC State University’s Recreation Resources Service where she worked with parks and recreation agencies across the state to help develop partnerships for the benefit of community health. Jen has also worked in a cross section of North Carolina nonprofits.
A-dae Romero-Briones (Kiowa/Cochiti) was born and raised in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico and comes from the Toyekoyah/Komalty Family from Hog Creek, Oklahoma on the Kiowa side. Mrs. Romero-Briones works as Director of Programs-Native food and Agricultural Program for First Nations Development Institute and Co-founder/director of the California Tribal Fund. She is formerly the Director of Community Development for Pulama Lana’i. She is also the co-founder and former Executive Director of non-profit for Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. Mrs. Romero-Briones worked for the University of Arkansas’ Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative while she was getting her LLM in Food and Agricultural Law. She wrote extensively about Food Safety, the Produce Safety rule and tribes, and the protection of tribal traditional foods. A U.S. Fulbright Scholar, Ms. Romero-Briones received her Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy from Princeton University, and received a Juris Doctorate from Arizona State University’s College of Law, and LLM in Food and Agricultural Law from the University of Arkansas. President Obama recognized Adae as a White House Champion of Change in Agriculture. She formerly sat on the National Organic Standards Board (2016-2021) and the Sustainable Ag and Food Systems Funders Policy Committee and a steering committee member for the Funders for Regenerative Agriculture. She is a member of the California Foodshed Funders group. And board member at the California Institute for Rural Studies.
Camryn Smith is a proud resident of Old East Durham and a community activist & organizer. She has been serving in place-based development work for over 18 years both stateside and abroad. She is a founding member of Communities In Partnership (CIP), a grassroots community organizing and education group based in Old East Durham and serves as the Executive Director. CIP focuses on addressing policy and systemic inequity for communities of color and materially poor people within Durham focusing on social determinants of health, economic development, gentrification, and housing. She currently serves as co-chair for Organizing Against Racism- Durham and was the former Co-Chair of Forward Cities Durham- a multi-city two-year collaborative focusing on business development & entrepreneurship for communities of color. Camryn was the 2017 Recipient of Woman of the Year by Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Durham Chapter and is a current RWJF Culture of Health Leader, and was a 2018 Durham Rotary Innovation Fellow as well as a current member of the Racial Equity Taskforce for the City of Durham.
I'm Kelly Brownell. I'm a Professor of Public Policy at Duke University and Director of the World Food Policy Center. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to kick this event off. The context for this work is thinking fundamentally differently about addressing food security and food insecurity and moving from models of food charity to food justice. If one looks back in our country's history and the world, the predominant approach to hungry people has been models of charity where powerful institutions, mainly led by white people, give either food itself or funds to people in need to address the food insecurity issues. Built into this are our deep opinions about race and power and how these charity-based models can lock in power structures rather than challenge them.
So we've been thinking a lot as an institution, thanks in large part to our community partners to think differently about this. Some of them will be on the call today. And to think about models of food justice. And so, this webinar is fundamentally about that particular issue. For my colleagues and me at the World Food Policy Center this journey for us has been pretty amazing. I think I've learned more in the past years doing this work than I probably learned during any equivalent period of time in my career. And it's been wonderful professionally, but it's also been very important for me personally, and I'm grateful to the people who will be speaking today for the trusting relationships that we developed and the important education that we receive from them. All this work of course, begins with people, and we have three amazing people on this call today. I'm going to quickly introduce my colleague, Jennifer Zuckerman, who in turn will introduce the two discussions today. But before Jen talks about how wonderful they are, I just like to say that both Camryn and A'dae are remarkable people doing, I think, pathbreaking work informing the nation about how some of these issues can be addressed. So we're grateful for those partnerships and grateful that we can learn from others. So my colleague, Jennifer Zuckerman, who's Director of Strategic Initiatives at the World Food Policy Center has been involved in this work for many years, and she and a colleague of ours, Alison Conrad, who now is working with the USDA, did some important work and published the document on the issues that will be discussed today. And so Jen will be making a presentation on these issues and then we'll turn over to our discussing. So Jen, without any further delay, why don't I introduce you and thank you so much for doing this.
Overview of the White Narratives Research
So as Kelly mentioned, I'm Jen Zuckerman and the Director of Strategic Initiatives here at the Duke University World Food Policy Center. I'm so honored and grateful to be here today with two key friends, partners, and leaders in this work: A'dae Briones with First Nations Development Institute and then Camryn Smith with Communities in Partnership here in Durham, North Carolina. And there are a few critical acknowledgments I want to make before we begin. First, we need to acknowledge the land we're on here in Durham and at Duke University. So in Durham, North Carolina, I want to knowledge that we're on the unceded land of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. And that Duke University itself sits on Occaneechi's ancestral hunting grounds. Second, I want to acknowledge the intellectual capital and relational capital that went into making all of this work possible. So all of this work builds on the leadership of our community partners. Those include Camryn Smith here in Durham with Communities and Partnership, Vivette Jeffries-Logan, a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and the co-founder of Biwa Emergent Equity, and Justin Robinson with the Earthseed Collective and Kamall Bell with Sankofa Farms. And finally, as Kelly mentioned, the author of the 'White Narratives Research' is Alison Conrad. She is a 2020 Master's of Public Policy grad from here at the Sanford School of Public Policy. So before we jump into the presentation itself, I want to share the flow of how the presentation because I won't immediately jump into the narratives. Also, I'm not going through all of the narratives during this presentation. We did put a link or are putting a link in the chat to the research brief. And I encourage everyone to use this as a resource so that you can interrogate these different narratives. So there were over 2,600 people who signed up for this webinar. So clearly, there's a lot of interest. We hope to offer more opportunities to pull folks together to continue to learn together in this space.
So in this presentation, I'll first share a framing for our research both the WHAT of our research and, more importantly, the WHY of this research. Then I'll provide some key definitions and what that will do is help us establish a baseline of shared language. Then I will provide just a few examples of the history of racialized policy and practice that have created the inequities we're seeking to address today. And that's going to lead us into the discussion of the white narratives. I'll do a brief overview of all eight, but then go deeper into two of those and then touch on what you and your organizations can do to start or deepen your learning in this space. And then I'm going to open it up to a discussion with my partners A'dae and Camryn.
So the way this research began was the result of a project that we were leading at the World Food Policy Center to see what was needed to make Durham what we called a model food community. And when I stepped into this work, my initial thoughts to the framing of, how do you get all the policies and practices right around food and one city though it felt good. It felt beneficial. It felt replicable. It felt to me innocuous, and it felt objective. It was also in line with the work that I'd been doing in food systems for over 20 years. But as soon as I stepped foot into community and started asking about how do we make Durham a model food community, the response was, "Whose model and for whom?"
At that time, we were lucky to already be in relationship with community and food justice leaders in Durham, including Camryn, who helped us frame the work to ask different questions. So instead of how do we make Durham a model food community, we started to ask, how do we decolonize food in Durham? And that question was both the impetus for this research, but also has refocused the role of our whole organization as Kelly already made reference to.
So we began unpacking our own whiteness as individuals and the whiteness of the World Food Policy Center at Duke University. I want to add a few notes to the research. First, this was done in a US context. So we did not contextualize this work outside of the United States. Also, it was done specifically through the lens of race. So this work does not have an intersectional analysis around issues such as class or gender. And as you'll experience this presentation, you will feel some things, and that is normal. And I just want to note that this is a calling into this work. This is not a calling out, and this is not identifying how folks we should be pointing fingers at. The goal of naming these narratives is so that we can see them. So that we can understand the history that's created this dynamic of power and privilege. And, to be able to reckon with that so that we can choose to move differently. This work and this presentation are about examining and understanding ourselves and the difference between our intent and impact.
Policy Question Driving the Research
So the policy question we sought to ask is: how do white supremacy culture narratives show up, particularly in food insecurity and food access work. And to answer this question, Ali Conrad conducted a comprehensive literature review. Then she interviewed food justice organizational leaders across the US. Her work identified eight themes, two of which I'll discuss in-depth today, but all of which are outlined in the research brief. So critical to this process of decolonizing food is unpacking whiteness, and whiteness is this ideology. It is based on beliefs, values, behaviors, habits, and attitudes and what results is this unequal distribution of power and privilege based on skin color. And so, I as a white woman, have benefited from whiteness for my entire life at the expense of other people, but it's only by naming it as an act of social construct and acknowledging that it's there. Am I able to start seeing it? And once you start to see it, it's not just seeing that it's there. It takes this unlearning to recognize how we've been socialized into white supremacy culture. And this is irrespective of race. And then also relearning about the history of systemic racism so that we can operate differently. And operating differently is the key here because it's not just what you know. It's about how you show up differently as a result of what you know, and my friend and our partner in this work Vivette Jeffries-Logan, always phrases it as: it's how you be. And there are really specific ways in which whiteness shows up in the food system and particularly in the work of food insecurity. And this is a quote from Rachel Slocum, and she's a preeminent researcher on whiteness and food. And she names how whiteness permeates the food system and how it specifically articulates these white ideals of health and nutrition, which shows up in the good versus bad food narrative. It also offers these whitened dreams of farming and gardening. What that does is it erases the past and present of race and agriculture. What whiteness also does is mobilizes funding to predominantly white organizations who then direct programming at nonwhite beneficiaries. And we'll talk about that a little bit more when we talk about communities can't take care of themselves. Also, what this does is it creates inviting spaces for white people. Then program directors or farmer's market directors are scrambling because they're trying to add diversity to a white space. So what whiteness does is center whiteness.
Key Terms and Concepts
So I want to establish a shared language as we move forward and touch on some key terms and definitions. So the term BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. I want to acknowledge first that this is not a perfect term, and it is the term that we're using for very specific reasons. One, it places Black and Indigenous people first to acknowledge that not all people of color face equal levels of injustice. Here in the United States, Black and Indigenous people face the worst consequences of systemic white supremacy, classism, and settler colonialism. The other point of using this term is to address that People of Color are not a monolithic group. So as we step into the conversation about white supremacy culture, I want to recommend everyone taking some time to do some deep learning about what supremacy culture is and how white supremacy culture shows up. Because often when the term white supremacy is either written or said, and it brings to mind the clan or white nationalists. White supremacy culture is something that we have all been socialized into. It's the idea that white people and their thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and actions are inherently superior to the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of People of Color. And it's reproduced by all the institutions of our society. And what happens as a result of white supremacy culture can be found in any individual, group, or organization. Everyone in the United States is impacted by white supremacy culture.
So building on this concept that white supremacy culture is reproduced in all of our institutions is the concept of structural racism. And structural racism is this normalization and legitimization of this array of dynamics. And what happens from those dynamics is it routinely advantages whites while producing cumulative. So we're talking generational and chronic adverse outcomes for People of Color. And if you think about the racial wealth and health gaps, that's what we're talking about when we say cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes. And structural racism is the most pervasive form of racism, and it's the basis for all other forms of racism. And what structural racism also does is continually reproduce old and produce new forms of racism. Structural racism is adaptive. So there's no endpoint of understanding it as it's constantly going to be shifting. And the reason we wanted to share these definitions and share this framing before we step into any of the history or any of the narratives is that we need to move beyond the idea that racism is something that only bad people do. White supremacy culture and structural racism affect all of us, and they affect the work that we do. So again, this is a calling in so that we can see how we got here and so that we can learn how to move differently together.
So an example of how white supremacy culture and structural racism show up in our work on food insecurity. I want to specifically mention these terms, food desert and food apartheid and food desert is a term that was coined by the USDA, and it's one that I have used often in my career. But food desert is a misnomer of what's really going on because it implies that food deserts are a natural phenomenon and that there's no life or resilience within a food desert. Conversely, food apartheid is a term that was coined by activist Karen Washington, and it looks at the food system as part of this larger culture. It looks specifically at social and racial inequalities, recognizing that policies, practices, and systems created those inequalities. So then it's only by de-centering whiteness, and you do that by shifting and sharing power, shifting and sharing decision-making. And then unwinding these policies and practices that created these inequities. Can we get to the outcomes that we're seeking?
Our Policy History Created Today's Food System
So our first step at the World Food Policy Center to understand how to decolonize food in Durham was to understand the history of policy and practice that created the inequities that existed specifically in Durham today and in any community. We worked with now retired Dr. Bob Korstad, who was a historian here at the Sanford School of Public Policy, and Mel Norton with the Samuel Dubois Cook Center for Social Equity to produce a food history of Durham entitled Power and Benefit on the Plate. And we'll be dropping a link to that into the chat so that you can have that as a resource.
So today's racially stratified food system is a direct result of a history of public policy decisions. Understanding this racialized history and the impacts of those policies is not something that most of us learned in our formal education. And this slide alone is probably multiple presentations in its own right. So I do encourage you to do a deep dive into the food history of Durham Power and Benefit on a Plate. But I also recommend 'Stamped from the Beginning' by Ibram X Kendi and the 'Color of Law' by Richard Rothstein. These are going to provide a deep analysis of racialized policy and the impact on people and the impact on communities.
But for our purposes today, I want to mention just three policies around land and homeownership that are the basis for building generational wealth in this country. So to start in 1483, Pope Alexander the 11th issued the Doctrine of Discovery. This was a unilateral decree of international law. It categorized indigenous people as sub-human because they weren't Christian, and then it treated their land as unoccupied and available for the taking. So this policy opened the flood gates for colonizing, for genocide, for enslavement, and for the destruction of cultures and communities globally. It also provided the scaffolding for the founding of the United States rooted in stolen land.
So building on stolen land in 1862, the Homestead Act granted 160 acres of indigenous nations land to any predominantly white American who applied and worked it for six years. As a result of the Homestead Act, 246 million acres of Western native lands became privately owned. Moving to housing, after the great depression, the US government sought to stabilize the economy through homeownership. And to help the federal government enter the housing market from 1935 to 1940, the Homeowners Loan Corporation created neighborhood risk maps that most of you probably already know is where the term redlining originated. And what these maps did were color red as unsuitable for loans and unsuitable for public investment Black neighborhoods, mixed-race neighborhoods, and neighborhoods that might invade white neighborhoods. As a result, between 1935 and 1968, less than 2%, less than 2% of federally insured home loans went to Black people. And in many cities, you can look directly at redlining maps and overlay the USDA termed food desert maps, and they're the same.
And so these are just three examples of policy and practice that created a racial wealth gap, a racial health gap, and an inequitable food system. To build to more equitable food policy, we need to first understand history and then reckon with how whiteness shows up in our work today.
That brings us to our white supremacy culture narratives. So the white supremacy culture narratives outlined in the research brief, all stem from specific aspects of white supremacy culture. So when I spoke earlier about doing the deep dive into white supremacy culture, all of these: individualism, paternalism, and neo-liberalism, are aspects of white supremacy culture. And I'll just do a quick definition of each of those.
So individualism stresses the needs of the individual over the needs of the group as a whole and it emphasizes that people should be able to solve their own problems or accomplish goals on their own, but then it pathologizes people who are unable to solve those problems or accomplish those goals.
Paternalism involves interfering with either an individual or a community's ability to choose and make decisions. And while it might have the objective of improving the welfare of either individuals or communities it involves making decisions without the consent of the individuals or the communities concerned.
Neo-liberalism is this ideology and policy model that emphasizes replacing entitlements with market-based solutions and then values free-market competition. Neo-liberalism emphasizes personal responsibility and emphasizes hard work.
And so, the narratives that evolved in the research all reflect different aspects of white supremacy culture. And to list out the eight narratives that showed up as a result of the research:
- If they only knew focuses on education from the outside.
- Vote with your fork which implies that your consumption signals your values.
- Communities can't take care of themselves. We'll be going into a deeper dive on that in just a moment.
- Failure to listen is about bringing in experts with expert solutions.
- Next, build it and they'll come assumes community needs and assumes community desires.
- Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, which asserts that people should take personal responsibility and just work harder
- Focus on food charity is also a narrative that we'll be going into more deeply in just a moment, and
- Good versus bad foods, which ignores the genetic nutritional needs across cultures.
So all of these narratives focus on programs or initiatives or actions that emphasize individual actions and behaviors instead of fixing the systems and the structural issues that are causing the impacts to begin with. They also reveal this unequal distribution of power, unequal distribution of ownership and unequal distribution of decision-making in food policy and programming.
And so we're going to dive into specific examples of two of the narratives, communities can't take care of themselves and focus on food charity and then I'll open up a discussion with our partners.
So communities can't take care of themselves is this belief that low income and or BIPOC communities and individuals (and that's not necessarily one in the same) cannot provide or make decisions for themselves. What this does is it pathologizes people and makes the assumption that they need to be helped. And these assumptions are based on negative racial and class stereotypes. They dictate who's given power and decision-making in food policy and programming. And then what happens, as a result, is that organizations prescribe solutions to the community without consulting them, assuming that they know better. And there's so much in our systems that reinforce this narrative that communities can't take care of themselves.
So I want you to just think about terms that you have heard often in your work. Think about the terms subject matter experts and target audiences, and be honest about what comes to mind when you think about each of those. Who are the experts that come to mind for you, and why are they the experts? And then who's being targeted, and why are they being targeted? And in this scenario, who has the power to make decisions? Whose ideas and ideals are being centered? Where are resources being allocated, and therefore who holds power?
So we'll give just a specific example, and this is something that when I was in philanthropy, I spent 12 years working in philanthropy, and I made investments in this work multiple times, a mobile produce market. I made these investments because it was a best practice, which is another reinforcing term and structure we need to continue unwind. And basically, what happened? I'll give my example is giving grants to white-led organizations to do a mobile produce market. That means their salaries get paid. They get a van, purchase produce; and then that van drives into a community of color. Folks might get access to some fresh produce, and then that van drives away, parks at a predominantly white institution, and what happens is capacity and assets are built within that white-led institution. Salaries are paid. People get benefits, health insurance, instead of investing directly in the community, and nothing is fundamentally different in that neighborhood outside of a few zucchinis.
So this ignores community-led solutions to food issues as ineffective and lacking credentialed expertise.
So moving to our next narrative of focus on food charity, particularly in food insecurity. The focus on charity is an overwhelming response of food distribution as the solution to hunger rather than providing economic assistance, increasing wages, or providing direct capital for BIPOC owned food and agriculture businesses. And this reinforces the idea that communities can't take care of themselves. It's rooted in this idea that hunger and poverty are only issues of individual responsibility and work ethic, and it portrays hunger as a problem that can be solved by individuals doing good. So it's a savior mentality over mutual aid, and it also does not focus on structural factors that have created a system where hunger is so prevalent.
I want just to state, first and foremost, is there a need for charity in an emergency? And the answer is absolutely yes. We've all been living through it and are still living in it because as a result of COVID-19, millions of Americans lost their jobs or had hours reduced. And we all saw the demand for food assistance spike and food banks. Thank goodness for food banks. It was an emergency, and more than 50% distributed more than 50% food, 50% more food in 2020 than in 2019. This was a global emergency, and we needed the emergency food system. But I can't reiterate enough that the emergency food system was designed for emergencies. And what it has become is a secondary food system for the poor.
And so want to think about how we get the answers to the questions that we ask. So if we ask questions about how do we feed people, we're going to get solutions that are based on honing the logistics of an already inequitable system. But if we asked why people are hungry? We can direct our attention away from hunger and to the more fundamental problems of poverty and the root of that inequality. And trying to move from charity to justice is something that we're all struggling with.
And so over the last year, the World Food Policy Center in partnership with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and a North Carolina Food System Resilience team worked to create a resilient strategy for the North Carolina food system. We built out seven recommendations that were all community-led, community accountable, and build on the work that's been happening in communities for generations.
And so two examples of these recommendations are a tribal food sovereignty fund and an equitable food-oriented development fund, which are all about putting resources and decision-making in the hands of those most affected by the issues to build community health and collective wealth through food. So we can do this, we can do this differently, but to do that, we need to de-center whiteness. We need to shift power. We need to work in support of as opposed to on behalf of and we need to step into humanity. We need to step into humility, and we need to step into relationship.
So what's next. As I mentioned previously, there is a whole system of unlearning and relearning, and it's understanding how racism and white supremacy are built into the food system. And then recognizing that we don't exist in race-neutral spaces, the food system is not race neutral. Then ask yourself, how has whiteness influenced your experience personally and professionally? What led you to your work today? And then unpack who holds decision-making power in the food system and how that impacts what policies and programs are heralded.
So you can learn more in our research brief, but right now it's my pleasure to shift the conversation to A'dae Briones and I want to welcome A'dae.
Commentary by A'dae Romero-Briones
Jennifer - A'dae thank you so much for being here with us. A'dae, I wanted to ask you, one of the characteristics of white supremacy culture is individualism. So I wanted to see if you could speak to how individualism exacerbates issues of food insecurity and how indigenous food systems center alternative values.
A'dae - Great, thank you for that question. And before I get started, there's a couple things that must be said. One, is when we're talking about white supremacy in this context, I'm an indigenous person who comes from both the tribe in Oklahoma and the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico. They are 100% native communities, and so when we're talking about white narratives, it's important to hear the alternative. And Professor Penya, Devonne Penya says that alter native, like alternative, are rooted in indigenous food systems. So we're not necessarily reacting to white narratives. We're rooted in an entirely different way of thinking that's outside of that. And it's important for those narratives to be expressed because we see that when you don't express them, history tends to erode them to a set of values that play out in white supremacy.
And I'll give you an example. My grandmother's was born in the late 1800s, one of the first generations to be born on the Kiowa Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. The treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek, which the Kiowa signed in 1867 was a treaty that was forced on Kiowa people but was signed due to the intensive over hunting of Buffalo, the intense settlement of our homelands, the increase railroad. It became increasingly harder and harder to access our hunting grounds. And so when our headsmen signed this treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek, in this treaty was a section that talked about food, rations, annuities, and the ability to hunt buffalo. When that happened, of course, this is an agreement between one nation and another. My grandmother was born in 1890. And when you look at the congressional discussion of this provision, you will see the language change from one of an agreement that was actualized in a treaty, to one where congressmen (this is congressional record) are asking why are we taking care of Indians? Why are we offering them charity? Why are we paying this amount of money for food to feed them? Why are they sitting around the treaty waiting for food payments? It turned from one of a nation-to-nation relationship to a narrative of food insecurity.
And we still see those narratives playing out food charity, one from nation to nation, to food charity. And we see these same dynamics playing out today. And so that story tells us that if we don't hear alternative narratives if we don't hear indigenous perspectives that white narratives, white supremacy tends to erode those narratives into one that suits white supremacy.
So this is why history is critically important and why history from the words of indigenous perspectives, Black perspectives is even more so important because it kind of stops the erosion in a sense. And so when we're talking about individualism...
Can we please show my slide if you can bring it up, please? Okay. I get this question a lot because many folks have no concept of what it means to be in a food system outside of the dominant one we see. Individualism is a key difference in how we view an indigenous food system and a mainstream food system. And I say, indigenous as general. There's tribes all across this country who are much better at describing their food systems. This is just like a point of discussion. This is generalization, tribes in their own localities can talk about their own food system, but this is for a point of discussion.
One, when we look at food, food to an indigenous person is like a measure. It's the measure of how we tell our community is healthy because it signals to us that all our institutions in that community are functioning. And when they're functioning, that means the community is in cohesion. It's working together. But when you introduce individualism as they did in the Homestead Act, as they did when they were trying to put us on the reservations, as they did with allotments, when they forced individualism on us, it created dynamics that changed our food system because you need different measures. And when you have collective resources like in an indigenous food system, that's land, that's water, that's the environment, that's health. When you have those, the idea of collective resources requires a certain set of values and behaviors that make it viable. So you have to know how to cooperate. You have to know how to get along with people. You have to understand how to be humble. You have to know how to put other people first; with individualism, it's almost the flip side of that. You have to be self-promoting; you have to be able to garner or hoard resources to like access institutions in order to access food.
And so this dynamic of individualism, not only changes how institutions operate, it changes how individuals in that society operate and what they value. And can we go to the next one? And so when we talk about individualism and how it affects indigenous food systems, really we should be starting with like, how do... What makes individual indigenous food systems work and function well? And we saw them function very well during COVID because we've been through the experience where there was food insecurity, where there's food shortages we've been through that experience.
And so what are some of the elements that make an indigenous food systems function? Well, one, it begins with the access to land, seeds, water, and fire the elements. When you don't have access to those, the entire food system is thrown off, but that's really where we start the discussion of individualism and really the target of federal policies to disintegrate this community idea of food systems. And we see that play out today when we look at a lot of the government food programs and how food insecurity is measured, you will see it's always at an individual or household measurements standard, which already limits the kind of solutions and how communities can operate within the discussion around food insecurity. So individualism plays out in many ways in how we talk about food and how it blinds us to some of the solutions that may be available in indigenous communities. I'll end there, Jen, so you can ask another question. Thank you.
Jennifer - A'dae, thank you so much, and I think that demonstrates the difference between individualism and collectivism. And that it happens at a community level, it happens at a state or territory level, and it happens at a federal level how we have to shift this mindset is so critical to unwinding policy and thinking towards new policy. So I really appreciate you bringing that forward and also thinking about how we might shift.
I want to turn to our partner here in Durham, Camryn Smith, because Camryn, so many efforts to alleviate food insecurity are rooted in charity. I was wondering if you could discuss how institutions such as Duke could leverage our own power and our own privilege to support solutions that are rooted in justice and liberation.
Camryn - Thank you so much, Jen. My name is Camryn and I'm one of the co-founders of Communities in Partnership. I come to this discussion acknowledging my ancestors, who I come from. I am a very proud descendant of formerly enslaved African peoples that arrived on the Southeastern coast specifically at the Port of Charleston, South Carolina and who were commodified all the way to North Carolina, which is where I can trace my ancestry.
And so, in this work that we're doing in terms of systems. I'm very clear on three guiding principles or three facts of why we are now sitting and situated in the wealthiest nation in the world today. The US could not have the wealth we have without stolen land, stealing land, and taking ownership from groups such as A'dae's people, as first nation peoples who were systematically erased. Second and third, stolen labor and stolen people, which are reflective of my legacy of people who were stolen from lands reflective of their indigeneity and brought across to a foreign land because of our skillset, because of our connectivity, to certain forms of agriculture. Or certain skill sets that we had that could benefit the system that was built upon a racialized construct of whiteness and who had power and control.
And so, when we're having these conversations, I think it is really important that we cannot shy away from who has power and who doesn't, and the history behind why they have power and why they do not. And we need to have very clear conversations and unlearning of the fine art of what I call white supremacy or colonization. We've all kind of enveloped or sucked in or breathed this in on a day-to-day basis.
Everyone, you do not have to be a person of European descent to operationalize, believe, and operate in a white supremacist construct. This is something that unfortunately I am having to hold myself accountable for, and unlearning and undoing and healing myself and how I see myself. How I see my people and how I see other folks, who their people have been put in a very similar situation as my people have. And so when I see organizations or when the question that Jen has placed upon me, the best way for me to answer that is from my actual lived experience. We are a predominantly Black and woman-led organization that focuses on a reorientation of how we can build wealth for ourselves that is not rooted in the capitalistic, individualistic, economic system that has been built off the backs of BIPOC communities. We look at how we can build collective wealth for our people that isn't predicated on us stealing from another person's ability to survive or thrive, for us to be able to have what we need or to be able to build well.
And so part of that is also when we have awesome partners that come to the table. And you don't quite know who's awesome at first whenever they come knocking on your door, or they come and give you a phone call or an email. And having very clear conversations at the very beginning of the onset of the relationship, we have been very, very blessed as a Black and woman led organization to have very strong relationships within the Gothic Wonderland as they call it here at Duke, within certain departments that have been able to help us as a Black and woman led liberatory framework organization, build our capacity to do the work that we're right now doing and also expanding upon. And so looking at systems of power within the organization that organizations like Duke or institutions like Duke hold that institutions like UNC hold, that institutions like NC State hold, even institutions like the Durham County hold and to be able to help in a way decolonize that process, so it does not become burdensome for us to be able to build capacity and to build the resiliency that we need as a people to create our own systems.
We understand that right now we need charity "charity based systems" especially with the onslaught of COVID. But I think one of the things that COVID has definitively taught all of us is that there are massive gaping holes in these systems. And the reason being is because people have been intentionally and historically divested from, and these are people who the wealth of this nation has been built off the back of. We do not own our own systems.
In Durham, North Carolina, which is the home of one of the first Black wall streets in this nation, Dr. Herman McCoy just finished multiple years of study on Black wealth and also the growing wealth divide in Durham. Durham is one of the most progressive, if not the most progressive mid-sized city in the Southeast. And in terms of the overall cumulative wealth within the community, the Black community in Durham, we had more cumulative wealth in Jim Crow than we currently do now. Dr. McCoy actually updated the data, looked at the data again and re did an analysis. And because of COVID, we are actually at the same overall cumulative wealth as my people were emancipation. With all of these degrees and education, and all of this access and resources, we do not own anything. And so, at the end of the day, we have to see how we can build systems, how we can repair and rebuild and restructure systems for ourselves, by ourselves, with ourselves. And what I mean by that is all BIPOC people groups have to do this is we have to build systems that are built in our ways, in our ways of thinking, in our own ways of doing what is taking into account the collective identity, that is something that my people had from an African perspective, highly collective identity in how we took care of our elders, how we took care of the children and everybody in between. But when we landed on this shore, we had to reorient ourselves to survive. And now we're at a point where their unfortunately has been such a critical mass of our own people who have adopted the colonizer's ways that we're having to reeducate ourselves.
And so partnering with organizations like Duke, like UNC, to be able to have learning spaces for us to do our own healing as we see fit, partnering with organizations like the Duke World Food Policy Council, they have studies like what they have not only on the white narratives, but also the food resiliency plan for the State of North Carolina in engaging with Black and Indigenous and Latin X leaders across the state to determine what would actually be the best solutions instead of coming in and imposing their idea from a larger-scale perspective or from a corporate or a corporate firm perspective or from a perspective that is not actually in line with who and what we are as individual communities and people groups and also leveraging access and resources to networks to help us build our organizations in the way that center our people and that structure for so that we can rebuild our own power, but not power in the construct of whiteness power in the construct of the people group that is actually rooted in the ground. So we are not separated from our people. We are not separated from our elders. We are not separated from our children, that we keep in line with who we are really rooted in the construct of valuing us as a collective identity as a whole.
And so it's been a really great experience for us to have been able to partner with Duke World Food Policy Council and others to be able to build our little fledgling organization that was started from majority Black folks, materially poor Black folks, folks struggling at the margins to an organization now who we have a food system that includes over 50 BIPOC farmers. We sustain and support and are building food systems that not only feed directly in terms of our food co-op, but our farmer's market as well. Well, over 2000 households and it all being run, being rooted in and in collaboration also with other communities, such as the Vivette Jeffries-Logan who was a wonderful, beautiful friend and sister of mine and other of our first nation brothers and sisters and our Latin X brothers and sisters, so that we all can eat. That's one of the things is we do not believe in CIP is being pitted against one another. We need to lock arms as BIPOC community members to make sure that everyone has more than enough to eat, more than enough healthy food access. Everyone has healthcare, everyone has housing and we have way more than enough in this nation to actually bring it about. It's just we have to trust the people, trust the people, trust our wisdom and our knowledge that we know what's best for our community and our people and we know how best to do it and we know how best to make it sustainable. Sometimes we need a little bit of technical assistance in some of these systems that white folks have created to correlate that data and other things like that. But at the end of the day, we ultimately know how to take care of ourselves.
Jennifer - Camryn, thank you to you and thank you to A'dae in terms of your perspectives and your responses to both of those because I think one of the things that you've both brought up is how important relationship is and there is a role for all of us in this and, you know, when you speak to the power and privilege that I have access to as a white woman working at a predominantly white institution, but having to step back and needing to step back to de-center myself and my organization and being responsive like what is needed, how is needed and most importantly like, how can we be in relationship to do this?
So A'dae, I know we just have a couple minutes left, but I just wanted if you had just some quick thoughts about what relationship means to you and then, you know, Camryn can close us out on what relationship means to her and we will send some follow-up to everyone and we're so grateful for everyone who's with us today.
A'dae - Yeah, from my Kiowa perspective, relationship really means responsibility. Responsibility to my people, to my community, to the tenants that were given to us by our grandparents. Some people may say ancestors; they really are grandparents. And it's about being in that long conversation, and we all have to acknowledge whether we know what that conversation is or not. We are all part of generational conversations that are impacting present day and also impact our future. And if you don't know what that generational conversation is for you in your individual life, it's important that you find out what that conversation is.
Jennifer - Camryn I'd love for you to close this out and thank you everyone.
Camryn - Just thankful for the opportunity to be here. And as A'dae has said, you know, just really grateful for sharing this space specifically with my first nation sister. Because oftentimes, I find myself in lockstep in doing this work. Oftentimes first nation women and Black women are the ones that have to carry the weight of our communities. I oftentimes find very similar experiences and some of the barriers that we have faced as people trying to get what we need for our people, trying to make sure that our elders are taken care of.
One of the things that I really appreciate is for the institutions not to be afraid to stand lock-step with our organizations in our communities that are rooted and that are accountable. We created a terminology to differentiate ourselves from the community base because we were being co-opted. We called ourselves community rooted and standing in lock-step with those of us that are actually living in our context, accountable, governed, led by community are directly impacted ourselves on varying levels and degrees using those resources and your voice to actually help us uplift our voice and uplift what our people are telling us and uplifting our ways and holding up our history and how we see things and how we do things is very important. And so when you're looking at partnering communities keep in mind that, that we all have a story, that we all have our own humanity, and that we were all created with our own voice and our own way of being.
What colonization, unfortunately, has done is the history started when white people came to this shore and totally erased the fact that there was a history, there were languages, there were cultures, there were whole societies and systems that were created by people that loved each other, and that took care of each other. And it seems as if we keep on doing that, replicating that over and over again. And what I'm saying is just take a moment to look at the ways in which the habits that we formed have erased people's voices in their histories and begin to seek out those new ways that you can actually learn and uplift those voices and histories that have been intentionally oftentimes erased.
Jennifer - Camryn and A'dae, I cannot thank you enough for your leadership and for your friendship, and for everything that you have made possible. As we've put in the chat, everyone will be getting a recording of this webinar as well as follow-up materials, and our hope is to be in space with you much more often and continue to unwind this together. Thank you, everyone, for being with us here today.