Community activist Da’Shaun Harrison preview upcoming book on anti-fatness as anti-Blackness


Graphic by Yunkyo Kim, Photo Courtesy of Eliza Gonring

Da’Shaun Harrison. The event was held as a part of Northwestern’s Sex Week, which engaged Harrison in conversation with attendees on anti-fatness as anti-Blackness.

Yunkyo Kim, Campus Editor

Author and abolitionist community organizer Da’Shaun Harrison previewed their upcoming book on  the biopolitics of anti-Black fatphobia on Thursday. 

Held as a part of Northwestern’s student-organized Sex Week, Harrison read a chapter from  “The Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness” then fielded questions from attendees. 

Harrison said they had been writing their book — set to publish in August — in their head for years, but did not put ideas to paper until 2019. 

Even though there are academic spaces to discuss anti-fatness and fatphobia, Harrison said these politics sometimes tend to be centered around White and cis people. 

“I still didn’t see something that was being written for me and for people like me,” Harrison said. “Because of that, I knew that I had to write something that not only would help other people, but also would continue to help me in my journey of learning.” 

Engaging gender studies and Black studies in their research on fatness, Harrison said, showed that the disciplines were robust together in conversation. 

Asked how they carry out wellness, Harrison said their answer was not going to be what the attendee was looking for. 

“I don’t strive to be well, because I believe my existence to be in direct opposition to wellness,” Harrison said. “I think that wellness is too wrapped up in diet culture, in gym culture, in general anti-fatness is for me to use this language.” 

Karina Karbo-Wright, a Weinberg junior and Sex Week organizer, said she appreciated Harrison’s approach to wellness. 

The exchange made Karbo-Wright reflect on how Harrison engaged their fatness as an identity that relates to wellness, they said. There needs to be more conversation about fatness on campus in relation to race, she added. 

“(Harrison’s answer) was coming just from a more deeper, rooted place,” Karbo-Wright said. “It’s like how can we be well as marginalized people in a world that’s structured to oppress us constantly?”

SESP senior and Sex Week organizer Eliza Gonring, who also attended the event, said it was one of her favorite talks they attended on campus. There hasn’t been a visible space on campus that discusses fatphobia in the context of anti-Blackness, they said. 

Gonring said it felt as if she was getting a glimpse into the future of Black studies through the event. They added that Harrison’s research on how fatphobic language reproduces harm is groundbreaking. 

Sex Week looks forward to bringing the works of Harrison into academic spaces like Northwestern, Gonring said. 

“Intersectionality is now used colloquially and also in a lot of fields outside of ethnic studies or things related to race,” Gonring said. “We’re going to see that happen with the understanding of race and gender that (Harrison) presented. So I think we really should do the work of uplifting the folks who paved the way for what is eventually going to be common knowledge.”

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