In Case You Missed It: Malik Yakini, “Creating a Just and Equitable Food System”

Activist and educator, Malik Yakini of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, delivered a powerful talk on March 3 at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham. His talk, Creating a Just and Equitable Food System, emphasized the importance of honoring and lifting up the work of people of color and supporting them as they organize for power.

Yakini’s talk explored ways in which we can broaden our view of the food movement by paying attention to the current environment which is not inclusive of the voices of people of color. Having a racial justice element in the forefront of our thinking is a starting place for change, Yakini explained. “Unless we change our way of thinking on a deep level, then we will replicate the same inequities.”

Yakini pointed to inequities in the food system as being a result of systemic racism—inequities in education, the criminal justice system, wealth, health, and food access. He emphasized race is a social construct, not a biological reality. Notions of white supremacy are internalized.

White privilege has become omnipresent, “almost the water in which we swim,” as Yakini puts it. “These notions have become so much a part of the American psyche that it is hard to stand back and see how we have internalized these concepts.”

The ability to make change through organizing for power is part of what motivates Yakini’s work in the food movement. He believes that organizations in the food movement should hold mandatory, frequent, ongoing anti-racism trainings in order to alleviate the impact of racism and systemic white privilege in the food system. Facts that Yakini presented to support the need for trainings include people of color typically make less than whites when working in the food chain, few people of color hold management positions within the food system, and people of color are concentrated in low-paying jobs in the food chain.

Here is how Yakini’s talk inspired one attendee, “I loved how candid Malik was about being anti-capitalist while recognizing the challenges of still working in a capitalist framework. He didn’t pull any punches in respects to us white folks either, rightfully so. I have been thinking a lot about his recommendations that food organizations need black voices at the table, on the board and at all levels. I am looking into offering my employees anti-racism training, and paying them to attend. I also need to learn a lot more about People of Color working in the “food movement.” I looked up some of the names he shared, but need to go further. I realized that all sustainable farming and food justice books I have read have been written by white folks, and I need to correct that! I am super glad I attended.

We thank Yakini for his time and perspective. RAFI is charged and invigorated to provide a platform for Yakini’s perspective on the state of the food movement to be shared and acknowledged. It is through examining the ways our society has internalized oppression, that cycles of oppression can begin to be broken.  

RAFI’s Equity at the Table speaker series continues through the spring. Please visit rafiusa.org/cttt/speaker-series/ to learn more.