CPSolvers: Anti-Racism in Medicine Series
Episode 23 – Anti-Blackness, Anti-Fatness, and Food Shaming
Show Notes by Humza A. Siddiqui
October 31, 2023
Summary: This episode highlights the culture of food shaming and anti-fatness as it relates to anti-Blackness. During this episode, we hear from Da’Shaun L. Harrison, a community organizer and trans theorist, and Dr. Psyche A. Williams-Forson, an author and chair of the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland. Together, our guests offer context around the history of anti-Blackness and how it is deeply intertwined with the culture around eating in America as well as the way anti-fatness manifests. Further, they expand on this to discuss how it relates to policing and the court systems in the U.S. This discussion is hosted by Sudarshan Krishnamurthy and Ashley Cooper. The show notes for this episode were written by Humza A. Siddiqui.
Episode Learning Objectives
After listening to this episode, learners will be able to
- Explain how anti-fatness and food shaming culture in the U.S. is rooted in anti-Blackness.
- Describe the intersection of policing and the court systems with anti-fatness and food shaming.
- Identify ways to navigate clinical interactions with patients while respecting them and affirming their experiences with food and fatness.
- Written and produced by: Sudarshan Krishnamurthy, Ashley Cooper, Team
- Hosts: Sudarshan Krishnamurthy and Ashley Cooper
- Infographic: Creative Edge Design
- Audio Edits: Ashley Cooper and Noah Nakajima
- Show Notes: Humza A. Siddiqui
- Guests: Dr. Psyche A. Williams-Forson, Da’Shaun L. Harrison
03:07 Guest Introduction 1
04:46 Guest Introduction 2
08:15 On the Intersection of Black, Fat, and Trans Communities and the Medical-Industrial Complex
13:35 History and the Racial Underpinnings of Food Shaming in the U.S. Landscape
21:48 Policing, the Court Systems, Anti-Blackness, and Anti-fatness
46:45: Language Matters: The War On Obesity
1:02:09 On Caring For Black, Fat, and Trans Patients
1:15:37 Fatness is Not Killing People and Other Pearls
1:21:25 Closing Remarks
Speaker biographies (Abbreviated)
- Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson is a Professor and Chair of the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland College Park. She is the author of two award winning books: Eating While Black: Food Shaming and Race in America (James Beard Foundation) and Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power (American Folklore Society); as well as the co-edited Taking Food Public: Redefining Foodways in a Changing Food World. Her work can also be found in several other publications and on podcasts and documentaries. Dr. Williams-Forson received her BA from the University of Virginia and her MA and PhD in American Studies from the University of Maryland.
- Da’Shaun Harrison is a trans theorist and Southern-born and bred abolitionist in Atlanta, Georgia. They are the author of Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness, which won the 2022 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction and several other media/literary honors. As an editor, movement media and narrative strategist, and storyteller, Harrison uses their extensive history as a community organizer—which began in 2014 during their first year at Morehouse College—to frame their political thought and cultural criticism. Through the lens of what Harrison calls “Black Fat Studies,” they lecture on blackness, fatness, gender, and their intersections. Harrison currently serves as Editor-at-Large at Scalawag Magazine, is a co-host of the podcast “Unsolicited: Fatties Talk Back,” and one third of the video podcast “In The Middle.” Between the years 2019 and 2021, Harrison served as Associate Editor—and later as Managing Editor—of Wear Your Voice Magazine.
- Origin Stories – For Dr. Psyche A. Williams-Forson and Da’Shaun L. Harrison, the work that they do is deeply informed by the history of chattel slavery in the United States, through which eugenicists, white anthropologists, and racial realists created entire disorders to medicalize and bastardize enslaved folks who were interested in freedom. Natal alienation is, in part, the under-structure of the wider Medical-Industrial Complex and the gratuitous violence that fat, Black, trans folks experience. All of this contributes uniquely to social death.
- Soul Food – Food cultures are more complex, multilayered, and storied than Black stereotypes will lead even Black communities to believe. For this reason, labeling food in categories, and the moralizing that follows, can be extremely dangerous. A toxic cycle of disordered eating can emerge, and treatment for recovery can be rooted in anti-Blackness as physicians view the Black habitus as out of control, unruly, not in conformance with a wider racial project as described by Michael Omi and Howard Winant. The developing attitudes about food scarcity and deficit models, and mass media’s manufacturing consent, has to be challenged, especially because there is a deep and rich history of Black people as farmers, gardeners, and ranchers that belies what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the danger of a single story.
- Afterlife of Slavery – We are living in what Saidiya Hartman calls the Afterlife of Slavery, in where skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, and surveillance, incarceration, and impoverishment are overdetermined by slavery’s racial calculus. Da’Shaun L. Harrison explains the role of fatness in all of this and offers examples across medicine, law, and sociology that demonstrate fatness and Blackness cannot be divorced from each other. Dr. Williams-Forson expands on this history with respect to Black women, whose bodies are fetishized, and Black children, whose bodies are adultified, respectively. All of this contributes to various mental health challenges that are consistent with surveillance in not only a wider police-state but also the patient-physician relationship.
- The War on Obesity – We cannot make recommendations to our Black and Brown patients about diet and exercise without acknowledging that white supremacy is statistically more likely to kill Black and Brown patients than obesity. The conditions through which the United States’ socio-politico-economic apparatus is maintained, and the cultural mores that we encourage as a society, make it difficult for Black and Brown patients to eat a healthy diet or move their bodies freely.
- Fatness is Not Killing Black People – Historically, what is killing Black people is a medical industry that is not primarily built to offer care and is otherwise disinterested in learning more about the experiences of Black bodies. Anti-obesity initiatives that aim to reduce weight and encourage healthy diet and exercise, while they may nudge choices on a population level and put pressure on corporations in their harmful advertising, may be reductive in their understanding of fatness as a function of obesity. Fat people can lead healthy lives, and we need to think about the structural issues that keep the populace from being healthy at all sizes. This demands teleological explanations and policy interventions. On one hand, we must not moralize food choices. On the other hand, we cannot let hyper-capitalism off the hook, especially those industries that target Black and Brown communities and seek to profit from the manufactured consent that lends itself to insecurities about weight loss or weight gain.
- Respect cultural mores about diet and exercise. Acknowledge that Black and Brown patients understand their bodies at some level and what sustains them nutritionally. Be precise instead about the care we can offer beyond weight loss.
- Fatness is not killing Black people. However, consider that Black patients are navigating disordered eating as a function of moralizing their food choices under white supremacy and a standard of care that was created by eugenicists, white anthropologists, and racial realists that inappropriately value the heterosexual, cis-gender, white European male habitus.
Cox, J. (2020). Fat girls in Black bodies: creating communities of our own. North Atlantic Books.
Harrison, D. (2021). Belly of the Beast: the politics of anti-fatness as anti-blackness. North Atlantic Books.
Taylor, S. R. (2018). The body is not an apology: the power of radical self-love (First Edition). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Williams-Forson, P. A. (2022). Eating while Black: food shaming and race in America. The University of North Carolina Press.
Possley, M., & Armstrong, K. (1999, January 11). Part 2: The flip side of a fair trial. Chicago Tribune. https://www.chicagotribune.com/investigations/chi-020103trial2-story.html
Purkiss, A. (2017). “Beauty Secrets: Fight Fat”: Black Women’s Aesthetics, Exercise, and Fat Stigma, 1900–1930s. Journal of Women’s History, 29(2), 14–37. https://doi.org/10.1353/jowh.2017.0019
Waxman, O.B. (2022). “The White Supremacist Origins of Exercise, and 6 Other Surprising Facts About the History of U.S. Physical Fitness.” Time Magazine. https://time.com/6242949/exercise-industry-white-supremacy/
Harrison, D., Tovar, V. (2021, January 5). Fatphobia (& Foodphobia) is Anti-Blackness with Da’Shaun Harrison, Season 2, Episode 1. Rebel Eaters Club. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/fatphobia-foodphobia-is-anti-blackness-with-dashaun/id1495401238?i=1000504393373
Harrison, D., Young, R. (2023, September 21). Destruction w/ Da’Shaun Harrison. Episode 6. Weight for it. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/destruction-w-dashaun-harrison/id1686599391?i=1000628697389
The hosts and guests report no relevant financial disclosures.
Harrison DL, Williams-Forson P, Cooper A, Krishnamurthy S, Siddiqui H, Calac A, Pitre A, Pierce G, Essien UR, Fields NF, Lopez-Carmen V, Nolen L, Onuoha C, Watkins A, Williams J, Tsai J, Ogunwole M, Khazanchi R. “Anti-Blackness, Anti-Fatness, and Food Shaming” The Clinical Problem Solvers Podcast – Antiracism in Medicine Series. https://clinicalproblemsolving.com/antiracism-in-medicine/. November 7, 2023.