I am a relatively new vegan (after 14 years of vegetarianism, 7+ of those being largely dairy-free, but not totally). When I finally took the step to go completely vegan, I did what I usually do when something new & large comes into my life: I went online. I read vegan blogs & I poked around in vegan communities. What I noticed was that there often seemed to be a default whiteness among vegans. Sometimes it seemed to be out of ignorance — no one ever suggested unpacking that invisible knapsack — & sometimes it seemed to come from a place where folks were saying, “Humans are so vile, I’ve written them off, that’s why I focus on animal rights, & not human issues.”
Two incidents in particular made me realize I had to find more vegans of color, to keep my sanity (& no, not all people of color agree on everything, & yes, POCs can be messed up regarding race, too… duh). First of all, someone suggested that a funky way to promote veganism would be for white vegans to adopt children of color, & raise them vegan. That way, when someone made the accusation of vegans being only a bunch of white bourgie folks, they could point to their children & say, “Nuh-uh!”
Insert the sound of my head hitting the keyboard, repeatedly. In case anyone reading is wondering why, may I point you to this website & the book Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption (my thoughts on the book are here). Just for starters.
Incident number two: someone went off on a rant about how people in prison knew what they were doing when they broke the law, & they deserve what they get, & she didn’t have any sympathy for them & that’s why she works for innocent animals instead. Many others agreed that working for animals, instead of humans, was more worthwhile because humans have the whole legal system to advocate for them, whereas animals lack that advantage. My issue is not with the “innocent animals” part, but the incredible ignorance displayed about the race & class bias of the prison industrial complex in this country, not to mention blanket hostility towards anyone involved with it.
Sometimes I forget that not everyone understands multiple oppressions, the varying systems that catch up so many of us in so many different ways. Those two incidents were sharp wake-up calls. You know how vegans often get, from omnivores, the dismissive comment that working for people instead of animals is more important? And then vegans get all defensive & say, “Why can’t we do both?” Who knew there was such a large contingent of vegans who didn’t want to do both?
I don’t have the luxury of being able to ignore the way race affects my life, or the lives of my loved ones. Or homophobia. Or sexism. Or classism. Or ableism. Are you beginning to get the point?