“I think that it's important to recognize the way that there's a crossroad at which fat and blackness produce anti-fatness as a coherent ideology through anti-blackness.”
Da’Shaun Harrison defines anti-fatness and discusses how social constructions of health are rooted in anti-blackness that permeate throughout healthcare. They talk about the inequalities fat Black people face in medicine and how to debunk the social notion that fat is bad. Tune in to find out how constructions of health marginalize fat Black people.
Da’Shaun Harrison is a Black trans writer, abolitionist, and community organizer in Atlanta, GA. Harrison currently serves as the Managing Editor of Wear Your Voice Magazine, and is the author of “Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness.”
Shireen: Da’Shaun Harrison defines anti-fatness and discusses how social constructions of health are rooted in anti-blackness that permeate throughout healthcare. They talk about the inequalities fat Black people face in medicine and how to debunk the social notion that fat is bad. Tune in to find out how constructions of health marginalize fat Black people.
Podcasting from Dallas, Texas. I am Shireen and this is the Yumlish podcast. Yumlish is working to empower you, to take charge of your health through diet and exercise and reduce the risk of chronic conditions like type two diabetes and heart disease. We hope to share a unique perspective and a culturally relevant approach to managing these chronic conditions with you each week.
Shireen: Da’Shaun Harrison is a black trans writer, abolitionist and community organizer in Atlanta, Georgia. Harrison currently serves as a managing editor of Wear Your Voice magazine and is the author of Belly of the Beast: The politics of anti-fat bias as anti-blackness. They are a public speaker who often gives talks and leads workshops on blackness, gender, fatness, disabilities, and their intersection. Welcome Da'Shaun.
Da’Shaun: Thank you so much for having me on. It's an absolute pleasure.
Shireen: Now diving right in, why did you decide to start a career addressing the intersection of blackness, gender, and fatness?
Da’Shaun: It was to me a no-brainer because so much of my work and things that I've been reading and studying have sort of just led me here. And so I had a deep interest and have a deep interest in interrogating and sort of fleshing out these identities as they’re happening interconnectedly, right? As they're happening at the same time as we're moving through them at the same time. And so that, because I live with these identities because I am a fat black trans person who is also disabled, right? It was important for me to be able to produce work that didn't ask me to compartmentalize my identities, but instead interrogated or sort of investigated how these identities sort of function together.
Shireen: That's interesting. Can you tell us what anti-fatness is and how it manifests in society?
Da’Shaun: I love this question because, you know, as the book is titled anti-fat bias, as anti-blackness a lot of folks have often sort of asked the question of. What does that mean? How, how are we defining that? And, and, and how can we really understand that concept? So when I say anti-fatness, as anti-blackness in the way that I define anti-fatness is literally that anti-fatness is anti-blackness, which really is to say that it is the condition under which the black fat or the slave, as I call it, call it in the book is held captive to, or by the word. To me anti-blackness creates the world and gives meaning to everything in it. And what that means is that anti-blackness functions as a schema or an outline, or a paradigm of sorts of the logical or illogical production of black flesh. So in other words, Anti-fatness is the framework by which the black fat subject is forced to be inhuman or an object or the beast by the way of the title of the book.
it's the cosmic or universal or Intercontinental or global structure. However you want to refer to it. That determines how we are engaged in life and in death, as well as who lives and who dies. And so in that way, fatness just as blackness is always and already criminalized, analyzed, objectified, marginalized, and defined by the liberal, economy or the collective unconscious.
Shireen: And so walk us through how anti-fatness and fear of obesity are rooted in anti-blackness?
Da’Shaun: So Sabrina Strings in Feeding the Black Body, she writes of, of basically the origin of anti-fatness or fatphobia as a coherent ideology. She said that in their introduction. I believe like on page four, she just comes off the gateway. And so much about the fear of quote unquote obesity is rooted in the way that fatness is read on as she names part African bodies, black bodies. So the fear of, of fatness or, or really the fear of blackness is so much about the way that fatness is proportioned on or, or shows up on black bodies or on the African bodies. which really is again, to say that so much about fat phobia or anti-fatness is rooted in to the very anti-black structure that allows people to fear blackness as, as basically this and therefore fatness as blackness.
Shireen: How can we apply the concept of intersectionality to fat black people and can you help us define that a little?
Da’Shaun: Yeah. So there's a wonderful black feminist scholar named Jennifer Nash who wrote a book titled black feminism re-imagined after intersectionality. And in that book, she, she really is walking the reader through sort of the, the history of, of the concept of intersectionality. Now. I name her and a name that to say that I'm, I'm less interested in defining intersectionality and more interested in talking, talking about sort of the role that intersectionality plays in, in being a part of a long history of like a cohort of terms as she names it, that talk about the interconnectedness of, of marginal experience. And, and that's really what. Black feminism is founded on the foundation of black feminism. And it is, that's what intersectionality generally means, is to work through the interconnected experience, um, of, uh, varying marginalized identities. And in particular with intersectionality, it was meant to be about black women.
The question that you're asking is about sort of how that applies to fat black people. To me, I think that it's important to recognize the way that there's a crossroad at which fat and blackness produce anti-fatness as a coherent ideology through anti-blackness, that is the intersection.
That is the crossroad, that's the interconnected experience. And so it manifests itself in, in every way that anti-fatness or anti-blackness does in the world. Right through, as I talked about in the book through health, through policing, through gender, through, the ways that we talk about abolition through desirability, through body positivity and, self love and confidence. All these things are different sort of manifestations of the way anti-fatness is anti-blackness or the interconnected experience of fatness and blackness.
Shireen: I wanna step back a bit on what you just said about health. Can you give us an example of how health in particular has been constructed as the antithesis to blackness? If you have an example or a story to really help us understand that?
Da’Shaun: Yeah. So in the very beginning of chapter three, the entire chapter is about health. and if I can really quickly, I'm going to try to find the first chapter so that I can read to you the very beginning of that. So I can have the definition. The definition that I use in this chapter is from the world health organization, which is widely accepted and undisputed by so many folks in the public health field, as well as folks outside of that field, which is why I use this. According to the world health organization, health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not just the absence of disease or infirmity.
So to me, what that means is that it's not just about whether or not you're disabled. It's also about whether or not you're safe, whether or not you're secure or whether or not you're you're mentally well, And the reality of, of, of being black in the world is that there's, there is no safety for the black. There is no, no, no sense of security for, for the black, right. We know that at any given moment, police can bus in our homes or we can walk outside and be murdered by. We know that black folks who give birth are at high rates of morbidity because of the ways that medical staff treat them versus while people giving birth.
We know that black children are continuously adultified or experiencing the adult suffocation of being a black child and therefore are experiencing heightened senses of, of trauma and living through trauma that continues to harm them. That continues to affect their mental state of being. All these things are examples of ways that we are always outside of this definition of health. But then beyond that, the, the sort of origin or, or some of the very first documentation we get of medical terminology or medical practice in the U S is through slavery. Through terminology coined by white anthropologists and scientists like drapetomania right where, where slaves are being punished for trying to find an inkling of freedom where they're running away and because they run away. Now they're being deemed mentally unfit or, or, or mentally ill and therefore whipped and punished, as a way to discipline them. That's the origin. medical science and, and, and race science and the medical industry in the U S so if that is the case that as I understand that the very foundation of health is one predicated on anti-blackness. And then if we continue with the definition from the world health organization, they continue to, to remove black experience from their definition altogether, which means that there is no way for us to, to be quote unquote healthy or to embody health as a lived experience. If the very foundation of it continues to be the very foundation of, and the way that it's continued to be preserved is three anti-blackness.
Shireen: If you had to rewrite that definition that you write to use, how would it be more comprehensive? What would some of that language look like?
Da’Shaun: I don't think that we could, We could go over and find different ways to, to write a definition of health that includes everyone. But I think that there is no way to include everyone because I didn't because the foundation of this term and therefore the foundation of this practice is anti-black. So to me, it would be a sense of reform, but as so many folks know reform never actually gets completely right. There's always still someone who's left out there.
And in some cases it's made worse than the original concept. So for me, my greatest interest is in destroying this terminology altogether, not redefining it, because I recognize the harm that it continues to do and will continue to do to the black fat empathy. Speaking a little bit more about the anti fatness, sort of the influence there.
Shireen: What are some ways anti-fatness influences the systemic racism black people experience within healthcare and medicine? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Da’Shaun: Yeah. So I was talking about this a little bit earlier and, and want to revisit it. One of the biggest things is that has been spoken about in recent years and the public health forum is the high morbidity rates for black cis women and other black folks who give birth. And so much about that has of course been centered around misogyny rightfully because it is a misogyny war that's happening. But I also think that an intervention that has to be made there is that so much about that experience is also anti-fatness because again, if we're talking about the, or the beginnings of, of when anti-fatness becomes a coherent ideology in the 19th century, that's through the way that that fatness is read on black women's bodies in particular, that's supposed to bring the strings work is about.
And so. What's happening with this high morbidity rate, is that we're witnessing the intersection of the ways that anti-fat fatness and misogyny work together to kill fat or to kill black folks in general, who are also always fat and that I think is just one instance of how we're of what we're seeing in the medical industry. But we also see this through the ways that black trans folks are engaged when they're fat, right. In order to have gender affirming surgeries, doctors ask you to be a specific BMI and they, they make you lose weight or you don't get to have your gender affirming surgeries. That is a huge issue with the way that fact black trans folks are engaged in the medical industry. But beyond that, even if you do have a doctor who will operate on you at your current size, you're often chopped off, you're often charged, excuse me, three times more than you're thinking about.
Right or you'll have a thin trans person who will pay $5,000, but then you'll have a fat trans person who will pay $9,000 at minimum. That's a significant difference in, in, in an amount that is continuously growing over time. Based solely on your size, right? We've witnessed this in varying ways with those are just two very glaring examples of the way that anti-fat doesn't anti-blackness is strung up in the medical industry and in public health. And, and to me, it's, it continues to be a crisis because of this.
Shireen: And how does the medical industry really justify? So in this particular example that you provided, why the five versus 9,000, right? Like what is the medical industry's justification for that? I don't think that there is one, right?
Da’Shaun: Of course. It's about size more often than not, but there isn't, there's never necessarily a super explicit, definition or, or not definition, but reasoning or justification for why that is the case most often, because unless you are like in conversation with thin and in fact, trans folks who are, know, seeing the same doctors or whatnot, They don't have to justify it.
They take on a new patient and that becomes, that becomes their practice. So there's very little care for fat black folks, fat black trans folks in particular, in this case, um, that makes them even feel a need to justify why those numbers would exist.
Shireen: So show us, show us some light at the end of the tunnel here, the tion, what is really being done today, right? To address the structural inequalities in how the medical, industrial complex treats black people, what has there been any headway? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Da’Shaun: Well, I do think that there's a lot of work being done. I think I have critiques that, that, that names, um, that there, there is no, no light necessarily until we destroy anti-blackness. But there are a lot of, a lot of people who are doing a lot of great work within the public health space, um, within the fast study space, right? Like again, Sabrina strings published a brilliant body of work freeing the figure in the black body. My book just came out. PSA Layman who wrote the forward for the book has a wonderful memoir that I think does a beautiful job of offering critical analysis.
And so there's this work being written in, in the fat, black studies field. And there's a lot of black women doctors who are addressing the structural violence that black women and other black folks are experiencing in the public health field. So there, there's a significant number of, of, people who are doing work to make sure that Black folks in general and fat black folks in particular are being cared for. There's a lot of black nutritionists and dieticians and non-black nutritionists and dieticians who are using frameworks or health at every size as a framework, um, to best support folks into neuro. And so I think that yes, There's a lot of work being done and, and, and all we can do is hope that it makes significant change for individual fat black folks who will show up in these spaces.
Shireen: I think that Nishant has been an absolute pleasure having you on, but before I let you go, I would love for listeners to learn more about how they can connect with you and learn more about your work.
Da’Shaun: Yes. So you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at Dayshawn L H D a S H a U N L H M. And you can find my portfolio and my services and Merchandise and all of that on my website at Da’ShaunHarrison.com. Um, and I can, you can also find how to contact me through my website as well. So, and of course the book is sold everywhere, where books are sold, please purchase the book. Um, wherever you can, whenever you can. Um, the second print will be available October 7th.
Shireen: It has been an absolute pleasure having you on Deshaun. Thank you so much. And to our listeners out there, head over to our social media after this episode and let us know what you are doing in your everyday life to really debunk that fat is bad. We'll see you on the social media channels after this episode.
Da’Shaun: Thank you again.
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