Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

POCs feeling “discomfort” at Predominantly White AR and Veg Events? November 22, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. A. Breeze Harper @ 1:36 pm

Good morning,

I am writing parts of my preliminary dissertation work on “colorblindness” and the denial of white racialized consciousness in the vegan and animal rights movement. I am at a point where I’m looking for narratives of POCS experiences of “discomfort” at AR or vegan events of any kind, due to the climates in which they are “the only one” (or one of the only ones). I’m looking for some narratives (a paragraph or two would suffice, but longer would be cool to) of how you feel in these situations and why. I would like to know if I can use these examples in my dissertation work. These experiences can also be experiences of being “the only POC” on online forums of AR or Veganism in which “whiteness as the norm” is replaced with “colorblindness”, as your experiences don’t have to be confined to physical spaces of AR and Vegan engagement. I’m also interested in POC vegans/AR folk experiencing covert and overt racist, “Eurocentric”, or “white privileged” centric statements and how that has made them feel during AR or Vegan oriented events. I am wondering if people would be willing to share such emotionally frustrating and hurtful moments online. If you are a white ally on here but have experienced friends of color expressing their discomfort, hurt, etc to you in these events, I’d like to hear it as well.

My work is driven by Sarah Ahmed, Frantz Fanon, Joy Degruy Leary, George Yancy… POC philosophers and who are concerned with who emotionally hurtful and incapacitating the ongoing stresses of living “non-white bodied” in a “white world” can be the the minds and physical health of POC.

I can share right now that I constantly feel uncomfortable– not just in predominantly white bodied AR and vegan spaces- but in just about ALL predominantly white bodied spaces. But, I feel even more frustrated in instance when I’m participating in an experience that SHOULD be linked to radical ways of thinking about social justice. What hurts the most is that when I try to express it, I am made to feel like it’s “all in my head”. My experiences of emotional pain, shortness of breath because of anxiety in these situations, rising blood pressure are MY PROBLEM. It is “individual” and not a symptom of structural and institutional inequalities.

The purpose of my paper is overall to try to explain the need for racial healing on all levels– including in organizations and events that are supposedly involved in “liberal progressive” social justice activities. The paper is to approach racialized trauma (for both “colonizer” and “colonized”) with compassion and attempts to make the “invisibility” of “whiteness” — and the ongoing emotional stresses that come with this for many POCs– VISIBLE in a way that is not necessarily “white guilt producing” but “white awareness and reconciliation and healing” producing.

Breezie

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50 Responses to “POCs feeling “discomfort” at Predominantly White AR and Veg Events?”

  1. Sue Says:

    I found your site because of a couple of “ping-backs”.

    I’m white, and have also noticed that the few vegan conferences I’ve attended are attended by mostly white people. I don’t know what to think about that, except that you might feel less discomfort if you brought your friends along — or if you could find a way to connect with other people.

    I suspect that many vegans feel alone. Where I feel most alone is at my church.

    I can’t speak to the racism issue. But it seems to me that the conferences tend to address all types of oppression, and have a definite “eco-feminist” element. Do you feel like the events are inaccessible? Or do you just feel like you’re alone?

    Good luck with the paper you’re working on.

  2. Sue Says:

    P.S. I was happy to find your site.

  3. s Says:

    I don’t know what to think about that, except that you might feel less discomfort if you brought your friends along — or if you could find a way to connect with other people.

    Sue, so what you’re saying is, if vegans of colour want to see some other vegans of colour they should make some friends who are vegans of colour and bring them along with them? So the issue doesn’t have anything to do with the lack of inclusion in the vegan community to vegans of colour at all, it’s *our* responsibility to connect with other people? It’s that sort of attitude that precludes some vegans of colour from getting involved in AR/veg events, and completely supports breezeharper’s point.

    Breezeharper, sorry to not really engage with your post. In brief, the only vegan environments I operate within are online, my BIG ANNOYANCE is that I get to see my food, the food I grew up with, labeled as ‘exotic’ and I get that exotic means different but it’s usually a white vegan blogger writing for a white vegan audience and so MY FOOD is being called different. I wrote about it a bit in my blog once. And it’s really frustrating.

  4. Maureen Says:

    Hi Breezie –
    I’m white, but my difference is my weight. I’m a fat vegetarian (mostly vegan). I feel self-conscious at animal rights and vegan events as well. I stopped eating flesh 35 years ago, but I’m not one of those people who lost weight by changing my diet. In fact, over the years, I’ve “blossomed” to the point where I’m obese. I eat healthy food, but obviously too much of it. And I can’t wear most of the cool animal rights t-shirts because they don’t come in my size! I’m sure people attending AR events look at me and think, “If she’d just stop eating double cheese-burgers, she’d be fine.” They don’t say it out loud, but I doubt if my feelings are simply paranoia. So I feel compelled to make comments about being a vegetarian so they’ll know I’m not a carnivorous intruder.
    As for the color issue, I’ve noticed it and commented about it over the years that I’ve been involved. I’ve asked participants and movement leaders why more POC’s aren’t present. I’ve also told some of the POC’s how happy I am to see people of color at the events, prefacing my words with a disclaimer that I tend to be outspoken and blunt at times.
    It’s particularly disturbing to me, since one of my first vegetarian heroes was Dick Gregory – I heard him speak and I read his book, and I loved his story about Colonel Sanders – it went something like this – What if God turns out to be a giant chicken? I’d love to see Colonel Sanders when he gets to the pearly gates and tells Chicken Big he’s finger-lickin’ good!
    So yes – I’m white, but I feel the “subtle” discrimination that comes to all who are different. But I feel it’s ok – because it’s not about me personally. There’s discrimination everywhere aimed at everyone who is different. White (whatever that means) vs color, old vs young, male vs female, straight vs gay, republican vs democrat, conservative vs liberal, rich vs poor, educated vs illiterate, intelligent vs mentally challenged, healthy vs ill, abled vs disabled, beautiful vs homely, athletic vs sedentary, and so many more opposites. In fact, sometimes it’s not about opposites, but more of a sliding scale. Vegetarian vs vegan, animal welfare vs animal rights, dark black vs light-skinned black, orthodox vs conservative, and so it goes.
    Bottom line – yes, it’s intimidating to be obviously different from most of the other people at any event. But so what? If I let my differences keep me from attending, I miss out on something I want to do. And even more important, the rest of the people there miss out on seeing that fat people care about animals, about the environment, about vegetarianism.
    I’d love to be thin, or at least not obese. But here I am and I’m not going to hide from the world just beause of my weight. And I hope I get to see lots of other people who are different in their own ways at events. Not just people of color,but how about some people in wheel chairs, people who are blind, people from all walks of life!

  5. jillian Says:

    Sue Says:
    “I’m white, and have also noticed that the few vegan conferences I’ve attended are attended by mostly white people. I don’t know what to think about that, except that you might feel less discomfort if you brought your friends along . . .”
    Sue, I think you might benefit by reading Tim Wise. I think part of the point here, is that the public face of the AR community is doing a poor job of reaching out to vegans of color. We feel alienated from the movement. Not from the ideals, but from the people pushing the ideals.

    * * *

    Part of the problem I was having on a vegan board I used to post regularly on was articulating exactly what was bothering me about the tenor of some of the conversations where race is at play. How both J Lo and Anna Wintour wear fur and both probably impacted fur sales, but only J Lo was ever derided. Another Board where everyone had a helpful discussion about how there are no black vegans (someone even added “Think of the rastas” and I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a joke). Or what seemed to be the final straw, how the Michael Vick situation was approached. I ended up seeing that as a personal failing because what I couldn’t articulate at the time what I felt was wrong with the approach. But it essentially boiled down to this: it never even occurred to PETA and other white AR activists (and even semi-activists who post on forums but certainly don’t go to rallies) that there would be reason to avoid the appearance of a white lynch mob. It didn’t occur to them to reach out to POC and ask for our participation. It didn’t even dawn on them that they maybe needed us for appearance sake. On some levels I get it. If a huge chunk of your members have read Singer and believe that slavery (and his analysis of the slave trade tends to be so far off historically that it makes me want to put my head through a wall every time I read it) and all that came with it is dead, it may be pushing it to expect them to recognize when they’ve just placed themselves in a position where they have the potential to act out historic power dichotomies. I just think there’s a lot of work to be done.

    I, for one, am tired of people who decide it’s not worth bringing veganism to POC because we won’t get it. I believe it was a Spring edition of VegNews that listed percentage of vegans by race: latin@, black and white, with latin@ being the highest percentage. Now, I’m not sure where they got the numbers or whether it included people who were situationally vegan (poor) or vegans by choice. But it certainly shows up a stereotype for what it is. Of course, I never really saw this mentioned on vegan boards. And there were certainly a lot more people grieving over the Crocodile Hunter than there were over Coretta Scott King, who was a human rights activist and, of course, vegan.

  6. breezeharper Says:

    I have to be honest and say that I was at first speechless in terms of your response, when I read it last night, Sue. Though I know you have entered this forum with sincere intentions, I feel like you have replied to my post in a way that lacks compassion and “connectedness” to the essence of what we on VOCs have been struggling with. May I ask if you have read any literature about whiteness, white privilege, and the emotional struggles that POCs have endured since colonialism? There are a lot of peered reviewed journal literature and award winning books that investigate how and why white people in the USA collectively do not understand what POCs are talking about when we speak of racialized oppression, “colorblindness”, and “whiteness as the invisible norm”– and how it pervades EVERYTHING. I have mentioned this earlier on VOCs, several times, that I’m talking about traumas and “triggers” of CONSTANTLY being a POC in a USA in which whiteness has been the VIOLENT norm since colonialism.
    I sincerely want to understand how it’s possible that I can pour my heart and soul of emotional trauma and pain of dealing with “whiteness as the norm” and still, a majority of well-intentioned white identified people simply can’t fully connect to what I’m saying on a heartfelt level. May I ask if you have read any literature on Critical Race Theory and Critical Whiteness Studies? Have you read anything about psychoanalysis and POC’s emotional health when living in a society like the USA? I’m simply asking that you may want to consider diving into these texts if you have not, as it’s not as much about me bringing VOCs to mostly white events, because we’re still uncomfortable. For example someone had mentioned on this thread how hurt they feel about their food being “exotic” to white vegans. Let’s say if I were to bring my 3 Ethiopian vegan friends to an event that is predominantly white, and we saw that “Exotic Ethiopian vegan” food was being sold (an literally labeled as ‘exotic’), this would make us feel quite “hurt”; this sign is a marker that Ethiopian people are “The Other” while “whiteness” is the continued invisible norm. If you are unaware of why “exotic” is incredibly discriminatory to non-white people, and really only part of the White Eurocentric “fantasies” and “imaginations” of non-white cultures, please do check out Edward Said’s work on “Orientalism” and also Lisa Heldke’s book “Exotic Appetites: Ruminations of a Food Adventurer.” The discomfort we feel is not necessarily about being “the only one”, as it’s also about the rhetoric, the advertisements, the modes of communication, and white-socio epistemological assumptions at these events that take on very “colonialistic” underpinnings– much of the time they are often “subconsciously” done by even the most well-meaning good hearted white identified people who feel they are helping with eliminating oppression.
    Simply ask yourself how you would or could viscerally know what I’m referring to in my original post– especially if you aren’t a racialized minority in the USA and/or you may have never been exposed to literature on Critical Race Theory, Critical Whiteness Studies, Decolonial theory, etc. Perhaps it’s the lack of “visceral” experience that makes it difficult to fully engage with the implications of my post (not to say that there are white identified people who can’t but it appears to be very ‘rare’ when I do encounter them)? In referring to the books “Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance” (Sullivan and Tuana), “What White Looks Like” (George Yancy), and Charles Mill’s “The Racial Contract”, these high profile academic scholars speak of how a majority of white people have been racialized and socialized to literally NOT see it. I have mentioned in the past that until I was exposed to people NOT born and raised in the USA, I had a very Americanized/American-centric consciousness; this meant I had been nationalized and socialized into NOT seeing the pain and suffering cause by my American privilege in a way that made it completely invisible, if not “normalized”. I’m not sure if this is a good parallel, but it’s the best one I can think of as a reflect on what I “could not see” and how diving into decolonial theory, postcolonial theory, narratives by people who suffer from American privilege, entered my consciousness.
    I will stop for now, but I am really trying to understand how to compassionately communicate the complexities of “whiteness” and “covert racism” to those who have been racialized and socialized to NOT see it at the deepest levels.

    Best,
    Breeze

  7. Katie Says:

    Maureen – Your experience is your experience, but you seek to minimize the experience of being a POC experiencing racism, and that is where I want to call you out.

    “Bottom line – yes, it’s intimidating to be obviously different from most of the other people at any event. But so what? If I let my differences keep me from attending, I miss out on something I want to do. And even more important, the rest of the people there miss out on seeing that fat people care about animals, about the environment, about vegetarianism.”

    So, the most important thing about being a POC at a vegan event is that white people will see that POCs care about veganism? So…..a vegan POC is really just supposed to show up at events in order to help white people with their racism? The post is talking about experiencing racism. Your experience is not the same as this. The fact that you feel the freedom to wax on at length in this forum seems to be evidence of your white privilege.

  8. Abram Says:

    I fear my own narrative might not be as directly relevant to the question at hand, nor carry as much weight as that of a visible minority, since my discomfort in predominantly white-bodied spaces is not related to my own visible ‘otherness’, but to that of my partner. My discomfort might be called a secondhand discomfort, perhaps more intellectual than visceral, developed as a consequence of both my studies and my association with my partner of 15 years who is a visible minority. Although I feel discomfort in predominantly white spaces and feel more comfortable in diverse spaces, I have the advantage, because I am white, of blending in as long as I don’t draw attention through my words or association with my partner.

    She has expressed on more than one occasion, when a discussion with other white people turned to how white a lot of social and environmental justice circles are, and someone remarked, ‘but isn’t your husband white?’, that she sometimes forgets, and doesn’t feel, that I am white. This may be because we have spent so much time together, shared so many stories, had so many discussions, experienced so many things together, and are so like-minded on significant issues. It may also have to do with the people with whom we mainly associate.

    Anyway, in the time we have been together I have heard many stories and seen the mental and emotional pain caused by both overt and covert (including systemic) racism. I have walked with her when people threw stuff at us from moving vehicles while yelling ‘paki’ among other obscenities. I’ve seen white people look visibly uncomfortable in her presence and heard them make ignorant remarks.

    We don’t go to AR/vegan events, not only because they are usually predominantly white, but rather because so many of the participants/activists are often, though perhaps well-meaning, so single-minded in their focus on their chosen ’cause’ that they remain largely ignorant of the larger racial, social, cultural, economic and class dynamics at work in, and interrelated with, their cause. Most of them are also largely, if not completely, unaware of their own privileged positions, and many think we live in a post-colonial society that has transcended racism. But mainly we don’t go because we still face plenty of other barriers, both economic and social, and feel our actions, our own choices in how we live and how we participate in consumer culture, constitute our activism, if you will. However, we are very aware, and my partner has certainly felt, and pointed out, how white social and environmental justice events/groups/organizations/political parties tend to be, as she did volunteer work, not so long ago, with a university chapter of a social and environmental justice-focused non-profit group.

    Hope this is of use.

  9. breezeharper Says:

    Abram, your narrative was very helpful. Thank you for much!

  10. breezeharper Says:

    P.S. I meant “Thank you very much”.

  11. Abram Says:

    You’re very welcome. Feel free to use it in your dissertation if it fits.

    I must admit I’m a tad jealous (not envious–I’m happy for you) of the academic work you do. I miss academia terribly, but the financial picture simply doesn’t support my return for graduate work. My interests were/are in ancient & medieval languages & literature and in hybridity issues and narratives.

    Keep up the good work. I hope you will share your dissertation and/or publish it once complete.

  12. veganswines Says:

    Hi, I’m a vegan AR from Germany. I only in fit in here seen from a global or inter-national point of view.

    In Germany being distinguishable as a so called “Ausländer” (which basically means that you somehow look ethnically different than a white Northern-European person) is the point as which a demarcation line is drawn.

    The form of covert racism I experience here, also amongst vegans and AR people, has something to do with the misconception that only white Europeans have a “real or worthy cultural background”. A racism that is based on the false notions about the histories of cultures, seems to play a role in covert racism today, still.

    People act towards me like: “you come from a culture that is kind of primitive”. And they believe they can spot my “primitiveness” by taking notice of any visible racial difference.

    This type of thinking I am confronted with in Germany being a vegan of a different “race” has something to do with the concept of Germanness though and some specific Nazi ideologies.

  13. n Says:

    I got a great introduction to the link between inequality and health at a film festival I attended earlier this year during which several parts of the PBS series _In Sickness and in Wealth” was shown (http://www.pbs.org/unnaturalcauses/hour_01.htm). The series talked about health in the United States and its relationship to poverty and race. I think I could stand to do a lot more reading on this topic to understand better how to reach out to POCs in the vegan community and elsewhere, so I’m thankful for the book suggestions above. Regardless of our (white vegans) good intentions, we are not going to be able to avoid making slights and creating discomfort until we understand the pain and the feelings that come up because of our discourse. For me that has basically meant that I have stayed out of the discourse for fear of looking like another uncaring and unfeeling person who is unaware of her privilege. I am aware in some ways, but I clearly do not have a full understanding. It is up to me and others like me to make the effort to understand: the resources are there, and we need to make it a priority to become better educated so that our movements can be inclusive in the truest sense of the word. Thank you for working on this research and raising awareness through this blog.

  14. n Says:

    Let me correct my post to make it clear that when I say “our” movements, I do not mean to say that eco, animal rights, or other movements belong to white people. I meant “our movements” to mean the causes that we as individuals are passionate about and in which we choose to participate. I believe that vegan and animal rights causes intersect with other struggles for equality and justice, which to my mind, emphasizes even more the need to understand the feelings of isolation and hurt that you describe.

  15. Tina Says:

    Breezie–I wish you luck w/your most interesting topic & your studies. I look forward to reading your final paper.

    Interestingly enough, this has been a burning question that I have often asked mysef, over the years.
    Having been involved in AR/Vegan activities, mostly in the Phila. area for about 30 years, I have noticed few POC at most protests/demos, etc….I always wondered what else I could’ve done to encourage more POC to become involved. Everyone was always welcomed to participate in our events. I did lectures, talks, presentations & distributed hand-outs in places & areas where there where POC interested in AR/vegan/vegetarian issues/concerns, in hopes of joining us in our protests, meetings, etc…..at times, many POC would join us at these events , only to continue for a few more upcoming events.
    I am sorry that POC feel uncomfortable at these events. We all need to work together & respect each other when trying to right a wrong for all beings.

  16. Claire Says:

    Tina,

    I am just wondering if you ever sought out any POC-led AR/vegan groups/events to participate in. Or for that matter, if you participated in any POC-led activism that didn’t relate directly to AR. If not, why not? If so, why was the group or event compelling to you? I think answering these questions can reveal a lot about why POC would or would not want to participate in white-led movements/events.

    Basically, if the question one asks is just, “How can I get more people of color to participate in our (white) events?” then I think you’re bound to be pretty unsuccessful. If you seriously want to be an ally to people of color, a better way to ask this would be, “How are POC addressing on AR in my area, and what can I do to support them?” or maybe thinking about food-related activism led by POC, and how that could incorporate (if its not already) a vegan perspective.

    I think it’s a step in the right direction to try to make events or groups that are predominately organized by white people not be hostile or uncomfortable places for POC, but I can also see how even with the best of intentions, a group with white leadership (whether that leadership is explicit or implicit) would be less comfortable, or focus their attention in ways that are less relevant or compelling, for many POC than a group with POC leadership would be.

    Additionally, I see a lot more individual people of color, as well as groups led by people of color, working on the intersections of many different social justice issues (or other types of activism, including AR, which I guess doesn’t really fall into the category of social justice.) I don’t know if your AR group(s) worked on addressing AR in relation to social justice issues, but I would think that could be one way of making AR/veganism more relevant to a broader base of people.

    -Claire

  17. johanna Says:

    Breeze — once again you post about work you’re doing & I’m all, wow!!! :) I totally want to read your work when it’s done.

    In my recent post about moving to Bristol I mentioned going to a vegan brunch at a community center near me (in a predominantly POC neighborhood) & finding it a v. white space. That did make me feel uncomfortable — I’m hoping as I go to that center more often I’ll find POCs to hang out w/too!!

    I don’t have that much in-person vegan contact (alas), but I know online I get uncomfortable in vegan spaces where people keep talking about “exotic” food & whatnot, & it turns out that pretty much everyone is white. :P

  18. Daniela Says:

    I’m Latina and I’ve been vegan and active in the AR movement for 5 years. I would fall into the category of not feeling left out of AR events. In my experience, it’s felt rather inclusive because we tend to talk more about what we have in common rather than our differences. The Austin AR community is diverse in my opinion – several Latinos, people in their 40’s, college students, straight, gay, etc.

    I don’t necessarily think we put enough effort into reaching out to POC specifically, but we’ve done outreach events at LGBT festivals and anti-rodeo and anti-circus demonstrations, where the attendance includes POC.

    An area of concern to me is when we see factory farming footage of abuse and some factory workers are Spanish-speaking. I hope that videos like these don’t fuel racism but rather open eyes to the perversion of the entire factory farming system, which includes abuse against workers.

    Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Your research sounds very interesting.

  19. kram Says:

    First, I am not intending to upset anyone here, so please, everybody keep an open mind here…then criticize later :)

    As a longtime vegan and participant of events, the problem is that if I don’t see many POC, I naturally assume those POC that I dont see ( as groups not individuals ) arent interested in the subject matter enough to participate. For instance in the SF Bay Area. I primarily notice that the attendees/participants of most of the AR/veg/vegan events and dinners are primarily whites and then primarily asians. Whether this participation is for health, spirituality, environment, friendship etc, it still leaves me with an impression that the other POC’s are not interested enough in participating. So this leaves me with a question: If the majority try to somehow include the POCs, then will POCs have a problem with this as well because then it might be labeled as colonialism, white guilt etc?

  20. Hello Kram

    The position or perspective in this part of a sentence:

    “If the majority try to somehow include the POCs [...]”

    seems somehow exclusive to me. Cos, one could compare this to a model of a political situation where you have a majority and different minorities. What I believe is really important, is to see that reducing a constellation to the majority-minority aspect only, misses the fact that in reality there exists a plurality, and that the AR/vegan or environmentally concerned people are very heterogeneous in the first place.

  21. breezeharper Says:

    For those who have responded to my post, how many of you have read literature on Critical Race Theory, Critical Whiteness Studies, and Anti-Racist studies?

    I’m referring to seminal works by Derrick Bell, Charles Mills Wright, bell hooks, George Yancy, Albert Memmi, Frantz Fanon, Shannon Sullivan that really get into “deep” critique and analysis of how EVERYONE’S consciousness is shaped by the racialization process…

    ..I am curious to see if people’s responses are influenced by ONLY personal experiences WITHOUT ever having read about this subject.. or if they are influenced by personal experiences AND reading about this stuff.

    Best,
    Breeze

  22. Doris Says:

    On the Food Fight (vegan grocery store) website, they have a section called “Exotics” with this disclaimer:

    “*NOTE: Some of these things are only exotic if you are a sheltered cracker.”

    http://store.foodfightgrocery.com/exotics.html

    I have a feeling that the disclaimer was added later, after some people complained about their childhood comfort foods being labelled “exotic.”

  23. breezeharper Says:

    P.S.

    I’m asking this because I met a white identified vegan AR person via email who told me she had no clue or experiences with racism or what it really meant to be white in the USA. She identified as a petite blonde white woman.

    However, after I asked that she consider reading bell hook’s “Black looks”, and completing the book, she was completely blown away by her own ignorant perception around what she THOUGHT race and racism were. Up until that point of her adult life, she never really deeply questioned how her racialized experience affected her perceptions about racism, race, race relations, etc.

    But when she read bell hooks , suddenly her understanding (or misunderstanding) of the implications of race in the USA did a 180. She began to realize that because she had never deeply interrogated her “white racialized consciousness” (or even knew it was “white”), it affected how she interpreted her world, period. After reading bell hooks, she tried to share the concepts with her white identified friends and they simply “weren’t having it.” They didn’t understand or denied what hooks had written.

    I think of this above experience, quite often. I also think of how my very own consciousness was shaped by “speciesism as the norm”, and that until I started engaging in the literature around animal rights, I too could not fully UNDERSTAND the implications of my anthropocentric (sp) perception; as a matter of fact, my speciesist perception was “invisible” to me.

    I guess what I’m suggesting is that if one hasn’t deeply engaged in the literature around critical race theory, whiteness studies, and decolonial studies, and they may identify (at least in the USA) as “colorblind” or only understand racism as “those KKK members and that’s certainly not me”, what does this mean within veganism and AR?

    I’m starting to reformulate this question that I get thrown at me all the time: “How do we (assumed white people) get POC involved in our movement?” to, “How do we get white identified people to want to engage in and critically reflect on what it means to be racialized as ‘white’ in the movement?” The first questions seems to target POC as the central “problem”, and I’m simply not comfortable with this binary.

    So, these are my thoughts for the week as I read through all the posts to my discussion thread.

    I appreciate these dialogues and hope to continue the discussion–

    Breeze

  24. Carolina Says:

    I am Latina and Native. I had been vegetarian for several years and recently turned vegan. I have been to a few vegan and vegetarian events. I did not go back to many due to the uninviting feeling lingering in a room of usually, mostly Caucasian folks and the seemingly unavoidable awkward criticism.
    At potlucks, I’ve had my food spoken about as if though it were a strange “exotic” treat, not an edible healthy vegan delicious part of a meal. Some literally used the word “exotic” when describing it, some eyed it saying something along the lines of “that looks…interesting.”
    When in other non-veg potlucks that included people from my own culture and community my meals where seen as what they are- dishes. Food. Nurturing substance. Not an “exotic” delicacy to cautiously eyeball and pick at apprehensively.

    During activist conversations I cannot bring up topics relating veganism to my own culture, POC and many times the queer community without getting vacant looks or shifty eyes. It seems to be a combination of fear, ignorance, and lack of understanding that causes most of vegan community to turn their heads and change the topic.

    It all seems simple but it isn’t. I know it. It affects me on the daily. Physically, I am of darker complexion and I love my brown skin but it is thrown in my face whenever I am in veg events that that is not what is the “norm” in this community.
    I do not hear allies, I do not see much work being done to support POC or speak to POC of what being vegan can mean to them.

    How am I supposed to see this? POC are not important enough to speak to? Are we not intelligent enough to comprehend or be interested in veganism?
    How are other vegans of color or possible vegans of color supposed to see this; feel about this?

    I have no apologies for what I have to say because it is my experience. Yes, I may seem angry but there are reasons for it.
    Being marginalized is no f***** picnic in the park.

  25. breezeharper Says:

    Carolina (and others who have expressed emotional disgust over the word “exotic”):

    There will be a chapter dedicated to the use of “exotic” in veganism in the manuscript I’m working on. As a matter of fact, I’m working on the chapter right now and should be done with it by next Friday. If y’all want a copy of that “draft” to read through, let me know. Just don’t distribute it.

    Thank you everyone for sharing your emotional frustrations. Those who use “exotic” and don’t understand how it hurts so many of us, need to KNOW how we feel.

    Also, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE check out Lisa Heldke’s book “Exotic Appetites” if you have not already, along with bell hooks’ “Black Looks” (she has several sections dedicated to the problems of “exotic”)

    Breeze

    Breeze

  26. kram Says:

    Ok everyone, first I will say my experience is first hand and I have not read any of the books, sources etc mentioned in the posts.

    But I do have a serious question regarding the use ( or overuse ) of labels as there are lots of terms on these posts flying around…

    Take any label. For example Exotic. If someone spends the time cooking a very good dish from a country that people are not normally accustomed to ..ie Turkey ( just picked anything here )…and someone says “Wow very good, quite exotic”…implying very unusual, unexpected etc. Is that terrible? Is it demeaning ( to the food or the person who made it )?

    Ex2. Take the case where someone prepares something for a potluck not from their culture..IE Mexican food and they label it “Mexican”. What if there are Mexicans there and realize…oh thats Incan Food, or Indian food, or Mayan Food. Then the label actually offends someone because it is attributing something to their culture/race that is not theirs. In that case the person bringing their dish offends people and if they are called out on it…might not bring a foreign dish again due to potential conflict.

    My curiousity is this. Is the labeling and importance of every word or term hurting the causes of veganism?

    Again my example of AR events in the previous post…if I were to ever be called out on terms of “white guilt” or “colonialist” or othet terms for trying to go to events that are more inclusive of POC or run/by or sponsored by POC, then I will not be inclined to participate in those events.

  27. breezeharper Says:

    The transgression of this thread is curious to me. I specifically asked for POC to share their “frustrations” and discomforts with being “the only one” (or white allies who have friends of colors who also shared these views with them)…

    I’m trying to understand why instead I’m getting responses in which the underlying message is that I should not be asking this question or that it is frivolous by respondents who identify as “white” mainly.

    I’m just wondering why engage in these dialogues on VOCs and let the tone of your message tell VOCs with these concerns that they are not important or that “its no big deal”? Maybe I’m mis-reading this as an underlying tone of irritation…? But, at the same time, there seems to be an indication that you’re expressing you want to know WHY you don’t see many POCs at the AR and vegan events you attend.

    If VOC blog is about hearing the voices of vegans of color and their “unique” racialized experiences, is it truly productive if we are ultimately met with the response, “Though I’m white and I’m coming from my own experience, and having never engaged in literature about this, your perception of your racialized or racist or colonialist experience with AR and Veganism is unfounded.”

    Is there a possibility that you would ever read the literature to get a non-white non-eurocentric understanding of the roots of our (”our” being VOCs) frustrations and why it is essential that these questions are asked? I’m not asking for “white guilt” or “white shaming.” I’m simply asking for the same type of mindfulness that I ask from anthropocentric speciesist omnivores who, having never read the AR literature or gone to conference about AR, tell me with certainty that my AR concerns isn’t really hurting the cause of social justice.

    That’s the feeling I’m getting as I read this thread. It’s quite confusing and little surprising that in a “safer” space that is VOCs, my specific questions looking for a specific type of experience is met with what I see is resistance to concerns expressed by VOCs that have volumes written about; well, volumes that aren’t specifically about VOC, but scholarly amazing literature by critical race theorists, decolonial theorists, postcolonial theorists, subaltern studies theories, etc. that have looked at “our” concerns, frustrations, discomforts around being “non-white” in a “white world”, written about for over 100 years.

    Best
    Breeze

  28. Carolina Says:

    Kram,

    I can’t help but notice that your post right (after my post in which I stated I am Latina and Native) all have to do with “Mexican” “Inca” “Maya” food/culture/people, etc.
    I am sure this isn’t an incident.
    I had to comment, not to be petty, but to make a point.

    Another issue surrounding culture and race in many vegan events and most events that are usually run by predominantly white folks is race assumptions.
    If I am Latina it does not automatically mean I am Mexican. If I am native it does not automatically mean I am Inca or Maya.
    It may have been what came to mind once you heard the words “Latina” or “Native” but it is offensive to assume that.
    In many cases perhaps you would be dead on, in mine you are not. I am neither of those.

    Calling someone’s culture, food, beliefs because they are unusual or out of the norm for you and especially using the word “exotic” or “foreign” IS offensive, derogatory and demeaning.

    Please consider the following dictionary history of the word exotic. Perhaps it will help anyone who does not understand why it is demeaning further comprehend the vast encompassing offensive ways in which this word has been used throughout history.

    EXOTIC
    1599, “belonging to another country,” from L. exoticus, from Gk. exotikos “foreign,” lit. “from the outside,” from exo- “outside,” from ex “out of.” Sense of “unusual, strange” first recorded in Eng. 1629, from notion of “alien, outlandish.” In reference to strip-teasers and dancing girls, it is first attested 1954, Amer.Eng.

    After looking at this definition please consider the following examples and perhaps, Kram’s examples in the same context.

    Example:
    You meet a woman’s baby for the first time. He/she is cute, has beautiful dark green eyes, curly hair and light brown complexion.
    You use the word “exotic” or “foreign” to describe this baby while you believe you are complementing the mother about them.
    The mother seems upset by this and doesn’t talk to you for the rest of the night.

    Example 2:

    At a Vegan event there is a wide array of food. You spot a dish you have never tried before but you are all for trying it. You pick some out on to your plate.
    You sit down and chow down your food. You liked it and you state out loud to your neighbor,
    “Did you try that that one potatoe-like thing? I’m not sure what it was but it was very exotic.”
    “Oh yeah. I love it when people bring foreign food.” says your neighbor.

    The Vegan of color who brought the dish is sitting at the same table and perhaps says something or does not. But, they are offended.

    Kram you asked,
    “Is that terrible? Is it demeaning ( to the food or the person who made it )?”
    It is demeaning and offensive to the culture (where the food comes from) and to the person who made it. Once again, look at its history and its use.

    The word “exotic” triggers many feelings of disgust as well. Take “Exotic” pornography for example. It has little to none white women/men. It is exclusively geared at demeaning women of color. It sells them as not being the norm, being unusual, alien, etc. To what is seen as regular porn (featuring white women/men).
    The word “exotic ” is fueled with a demeaning sexual connotation as well.

    Personally, I have been called an “exotic beauty” several times and it is not a complement. I am not the only woman who has been seen and labeled as such and was offended by it.

    “Is the labeling and importance of every word or term hurting the causes of veganism? ”

    You also asked this Kram and first off I must say, no one here is labeling and rating EVERY word on a scale of importance.

    Ignoring POC and other issues within the vegan community is what will hurt the cause of veganism.
    You have millions of POC who could be possible vegans but if vegan events are not seen as welcoming and there is ignorance flowing, you cannot further the cause.

    If you pretend something is not there, it will not go away.

  29. kram Says:

    Hi All, if it is truly my posts that are seen as offtopic or transgressing, I apologize. First, this blog does not have threads, so there is no real way to respond to a specific previous response. My statements was in response to a previous posting not the topic at hand. Second, if any posts are seen as not as on topic or unsafe, the moderator should not post the postings. You are welcome to remove mine, and i encourage that if you feel that my posts were disruptive.

    Finally, There is no way I want to minimalize any perception of racism in AR or any other situation. Every question should be asked. Nor do I want to minimize or stifle anyones voice. That’s why blogs exist. I will be more careful where/when I post in the future. Keep up the good work on insights into veganism.

  30. johanna Says:

    Kram,
    There is a lot of discussion on this blog about the problematicness of “exotic”–you might start w/this post & others in the archive. It’s not the innocuous term you think. I would also suggest some reading about white privilege would be useful for you & some of the others in this thread.

    Carolina,
    Right on. If you ever wanna blog here please let me know!

  31. breezeharper Says:

    Just so folk know, I have been moderating this post.

    I don’t “censor” unless I get the occasional “porn” comment that has spam.

    Kram, I just wanted to share that I’m noticing a “resistance” to emotionally connecting with the visceral experiences of VOCs who literally experience “exotic” as a “triggering” word; a word that is not connected to the SAME visceral experiences that white racialized people have. And perhaps you can simply never FEEL (versus intellectually know) this emotional pain (yes, it’s painful. I’m not sure how else to describe it) because of being racialized as white? It’s simply not going to be the SAME for you as it is for Carolina or myself, or Johanna?

    A lot of my scholarly emphasis is on psychoanalysis, emotional healing, etc around these “triggers” experienced by marginalized people of color in the USA. Whether they can be “proven” to white identified people or not is not my focus. These emotionally painful experiences are “real” and felt by millions of POC and that is where I focus my work. This is what I’m interested in; I’m not necessarily interested in discussing “are labels like ‘exotic’ really a problem?” I want to dive into the emotional distress these labels are literally illiciting (sp?) from POCs.

    Best
    -Breezie

  32. Ico Says:

    Breeze Harper,

    Can I just say that I think everything you’ve written is dead-on and that your dissertation sounds awesome? :D And the way this thread is turning makes the necessity of it clear, too.

  33. Doris Says:

    Breeze, thank you so much for your thoughtful writings, in the posts as wellas the comments! I have not read any of the books/authors you mentioned, but I’ve discussed these issues with other POC my whole life.

    I don’t have time to write as much as I’d like, but I just wanted to quickly add to what Carolina wrote.

    Kram, as Carolina points out, the word “exotic” refers to something foreign. If you label a person or a food “exotic” you are implying that it doesn’t belong here, wherever “here” is. For POC living in predominantly white cultures, we are too often marginalized and exoticized. We are constantly told in many ways that we do not belong where we are, and calling us or our food “exotic” is just one of those ways. It’s particularly offensive in the United States, where white people are assumed to belong and other immigrant populations are exoticized.

  34. adam Says:

    Last week during a Fur Free Friday demo, I noticed there were a significant numberof POC (which isn’t a surprise as it took placein a diverse city). But what I also noticed was that during the march (and other similar events) most of the POC who attended either came alone or were with a significant other.

    After the end of the march I had intended to strike up a conversation with one woman whom I had seen at a number of other events, but she had already left (as had *all* the other POC). Perhaps theseindividuals were just in a hurry to get somewhere, but after hearing about the experiences of VOC on this blog, it seems that they most likely felt awkward, uncomfortable, and/or alientated. I think this might be a good example of how the invisible whiteness of many well-intentioned AR folks alienates POC.

    And I’d also like to say I think that the research Breeze is undergoing and the discussions on VOC are truly amazing. I hope other visitors can also appreciate the important dialogue that goes on in this safe place and try as hard as they can to empathize with other posters (if they do not already).

  35. adam Says:

    Breezie,
    I’m curious of whether or not you (or anyone else) have attempted to break down the category of POC and investigated how say, “Indian-,” “East Asian-,” “Latino/a-,” “Afro-American,” etc. may have different experiences, specifically at AR/vegan events in the USA. Also, I wonder how age, gender, and class may also contribute to differences in the experience of POC. Has anyone noticed any diverging patterns in the narratives POC of different heritages/cultures/ages/ gender/class have been telling?
    peace, adam

    • breezeharper Says:

      Adam,

      This is a very important question that I struggle with all the time because POC “essentializes”, you know? I’m still trying to figure out a better way not to use such an essentializing term. Has anyone encountered literature on this or have any thoughts on this?

      I know not all people who identify as “POC” feel the way I do, but I guess what I’m looking at are specific and reoccurring themes that a significant amount of people who identify as POC are experiencing, and I want to focus on that particular demographic of POC. Hope I’m making sense. A lot of my knowledge on this subject, and reoccurring themes of “emotional distress from ‘whiteness as the norm’, comes primarily from African Diasporic USA identified people and indigenous identified USA people and Latina identified WOMEN. I know this is not ALL people of color, so maybe I need a different word?

      -Breezie

  36. Claire Says:

    Breeze,

    I’m not sure if I’ve read any of those authors you listed other than bell hooks, though I may have- I have a terribly memory for authors. I have read other works on critical race theory and whiteness studies, including some of the articles on your Sistah Vegan site a year or two ago. (By the way, I really enjoyed your site and I’m looking forward to the anthology!) Additionally, a lot of my understanding of the way that white privilege operates and of systemic racism comes from recognizing the parallels to male privilege and systemic sexism. This is not to say that I think they’re the same or always work in the same way, but I feel like my radical feminist critiques gave me a good basis from which to explore other systems of privilege and oppression, and a language with which to do that.

    My views of systemic racism, the process of racialization, white privilege, etc. have all developed a lot in the last two years. I recognize white privilege in a lot of situations I probably wouldn’t have a few years ago. I really don’t experience any “white guilt” though. I simply feel an obligation to continue to listen to and learn from the voices and experiences of people of color, and to question other white people when they are doing or saying something that seems to come from a place of white privilege.

    You asked, “And perhaps you can simply never FEEL (versus intellectually know) this emotional pain… because of being racialized as white?” I think this is true, at least for me. I don’t think a fucked up racist joke, for example, will ever elicit the same heart-racing, body-tensing, knot-in-my-stomach feeling as a rape joke, even though I think they’re equally bad. (The rape joke comes to mind because of something that happened the other day, and I took note at the time of how strongly I physically reacted to this relatively small thing.) I hope this does not diminish my commitment to anti-racist analysis or activism, though.

    Also, upon rereading my comment upthread: I should clarify that I don’t think it’s impossible for people of color to feel comfortable in white-lead movements/spaces, and I’m not saying that white people shouldn’t work on addressing specific things that make people of color uncomfortable in these circumstances. Rather, I think there is a fundamental difference between asking “How can we get more POC involved here?” (which maintains the idea that whites are in control of the movement and that that is somehow natural or unproblematic and not really a big deal) and asking “What are we doing that makes this issue seem irrelevant or off-putting to POC? How can we change that?” Also, of course, white people who are interested in social justice need to focus on how to be effective allies to people of color, within and outside of a specific movement such as AR.

    Finally, to relate back to your original post, yes am friends with people of color who are involved in AR activism/who are vegan for AR reasons who feel the same way you do. One of my pretty good friends has told me explicitly that she does not like animals rights groups or even a lot of activists who are predominantly AR focused, because so many of them are white, affluent men, who seem quite unconscious of their many layers of privilege.

    -Claire

    P.S. I really enjoy this blog, and it’s always thought-provoking. Thanks folks!

  37. Noemi Says:

    I really feel that the readership of this blog is changing.

  38. Noemi Says:

    sorry, I didn’t finish my thought. I don’t think the output or direction of the bloggers is changing, rather the readership and how it seems to be now to be a display or representation of vegan people of color and the intent.

    • breezeharper Says:

      I am sensing that there is not a complete understanding by some, of its intent as a “safer space to talk about whiteness, racism, colonialism amongst POCs”. Not just this thread in particular, but some other discussions and some readership responses from the past few months indicate this lack of empathy and awareness. I am not sure if it’s intentional or sincerely unintentional, but I’m feeling like there seems to be a lack of mindfulness and compassion of acknowledging and respecting a non-white racialized epistemology of the world. One does not always have to agree completely, but one also does not need to always have to “re-center” and “reinforce” the “objective” nature of “white” ways of knowing and being either…. I interpret the intent of the blog to bring the margins to the center, after all, many of us- at least born and raised in the USA-, have been forced to embraced the white Eurocentric “ways of knowing” throughout K-12… then be told that is’ not “raced” knowledge but “universal” knowledge and that bringing in the politics of our racialized experience is “not objective.”

      Anyway, that’s the sense I’m getting….

  39. breezeharper Says:

    PS:… but I also do appreciate everything I have read thus far, as it is helping me to understand, as best I can, how the racialization process so strongly affects everyone’s epistemologies, even if I don’t agree with them.

    In turn, I hope these exchanges will help me to produce a manuscript that is accessible and compassionate to many people, regardless of “race”… But we’ll see if that’s possible. :-)

    Best,
    Breezie

  40. johanna Says:

    Noemi — I am sure some of it has to do w/the increased publicity of the blog since we won the VegBloggy award. I really appreciate the few comments we’ve gotten since then from folks who say that they’ve learned a lot from this blog, or that they’ve been looking for something like this blog (I think some of the latter folks now blog for us, even–tho’ I could be misremembering the timeline of things)… but yeah, they are certainly outnumbered by defensive-ass people horning in w/unacknowledged & unexamined privilege, aren’t they?

  41. neva Says:

    Hey, I identify as white, I look white. I didn’t get through all the many comments but wanted to add one. We have a local listserve for vegans to connect and organize events, share alerts, and sometimes just chat.

    At one time a woman (who identifies as white too) posted something to the list asking in essence “what are we going to do about all these South American and Asian immigrants coming to our area with their culture of animal torture…” OMG.

    A couple POC on the list said privately that they felt too intimidated to respond. One person did and said that in her culture meat was very rarely eaten until it became a Western status symbol. My husband (white) posted that we (white Americans) hold the corner on factorry farming, vivisection, excessive meat consumption, etc, so we ought to fix ourselves first… He got a thank you email from some minority members of the list who hadn’t responded on list.

    I emailed the original poster privately and told her that immigrants face massive discrimination and that after years of waiting to bring my cousins here from Peru, my cousins decided not to come because they feared discrimination and hate, and oh btw, there is a vegetarian society in Lima. She completely misunderstood my email and wrote back congratulating me on challenging my culture and said that “Latins” like me sure can dance… Ugghh. I’m not Peruvian, my cousins are, my point was that they so feared discrimination they gave up on coming here, and that people who make assumptions about other cultures and other races in that way contribute to the problem.

    I don’t know if this is helpful to you, but to me it was like this huge cultural blindspot for what’s going on in the dominant culture, while getting outraged at issues in the minority culture. And I think it made the vegans of color in the community feel really unwelcome and really misunderstood.

  42. supernovadiva Says:

    i don’t attend AR events maybe because of my own prejudice. AR people that always approached me were young, white, single, still in college, living on the parent’s dime “we’re not human beings, but human doings” quoting latter day hippies.
    i don’t- sorry white readers above- like being singled out and bee lined because of my blackness. i don’t like it because then the subject becomes my blackness. then the colorblind thing comes up and how that person don’t see color BUT you bee lined straight to me to tell me you’re colorblind. seriously.
    not to sound like i have a chip on my shoulder, but those friendly, though well meaning, interrogations “why are you here?” is something i experienced in dept stores, malls, and any place that may be prodom. white that i have a right, for my own reasons, to be. i can’t explain it, but it’s unwelcoming. your action can be saying ‘you don’t belong here.’
    not saying don’t chat up POCs. if the oppotunity to chat comes around or you see a lone person (any race/sex/ whatevs) not being talked to/ giving vibes of not feeling welcome- then chat. i’m just saying i don’t bee line to the white girl in the reggae club asking questions.

  43. nassim Says:

    Greetings All,

    I follow the posts on the site but hardly find time to reply myself. I felt like I should add to this one.

    Breeze – your work is truly wonderful, and I feel like you encompass in much of your research exactly why I chose to be vegan…and some posts here specifically struck a chord with me – Carolina thank you for what you’ve said…

    I simply wanted to share an experience I’ve had as a vegan of colour – but first mention that although I am familiar with critical race theory/discourse Identity politics confuse me..I am a middle eastern woman, but I feel as though I cannot say “I identify as…” because identity seems to be out of my hands sometimes..is this where the idea of agency comes in? Anyway, I’m trying to say that as a racialized woman it’s hard to even discuss why I feel out of place in predominantly white environments, because those feelings are everyday realities – even fears of mine. Which brings me into my example…

    Not too long ago I attended the first and only AR/veggie workshop I’ve been to in my community. My ex-partner and I were two of only four people of colour in a crowd of at least 60-70 people. Not to mention we knew the two others, how funny is that, right? As soon as I walked in, I felt uncomfortable. I remember specifically signing in, and having issues with a woman because she “just can’t seem to hear me” when I told her my name numerous times… All of this crap was really getting to me, but I think what bothered me the most was the overwhelming assumption of privilege in the room. I mean the “issues” discussed were things such as ‘how to get vegan options at your favourite restaurant’. I had never, before this day been exposed to this ‘other side of veganism’ I suppose you could call it. Dare I say, the trendy vegans, the white vegans, that are vegan because veganism becoming a status symbol?

    I was so frustrated with the population, the cause, and felt like I could not call myself a vegan. As if ‘vegan’ was a white word. I felt betrayed, as I once felt betrayed by ‘Feminism’ and found strength in Third Wave Feminism and Womanism. I now find strength in communities (even if they are online!) like this one.

    Thank you to all of you, hope my post helps…

    great love and admiration.
    nassim

  44. [...] Mills Wright, George Yancy, Albert Memmi, Frantz Fanon, Shannon Sullivan [see comment #21 at Vegans of Color]; and secondly, promote trust and inclusion by actively getting involved in the liberation movement [...]

  45. [...] Vegans of Color: POCs feeling “discomfort” at Predominantly White AR and Veg Events? [...]

  46. Sara Says:

    Hi there-

    Seeing this news item about PETA made me both anygry and disappointed. Angry that PETA is satisfied with sensation and doesn’t consider the deeper implications of their stunts, disappointed because I’m not surprised. Did anyone else see this yet? I know it’s more of the same from PETA but I was caught off guard by the campaign/stunt nonetheless.

    http://www.1010wins.com/PETA-Uses-KKK-Imagery-at-Dog-Show-Protest/3818935

    I wasn’t really sure where to write about this – but the level of discomfort I feel about this event makes me think of the overall discomfort VOCs can/do feel at events like this.

  47. Lola Says:

    I have been struggling with this question for a while now, that the vegan/AR movement is predominately for privileged, white people. The question was recently brought to my attention at an event with Karen Dawn, author of Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals. Someone from the audience asked Dawn, “What would you say to someone who accused the vegan/AR movement as being predominately made up of privileged, white people.” Her answer was somewhat to this effect (she said more than this, but this is what stuck with me most), “Well, I would agree that it is. I think there needs to be a better effort at outreach to vegans of color and especially, we need to stop offending them.” And then she told us that every year she sponsors a student involved with AR and this past year she specifically picked the black student as a form of affirmative action within the movement.

    After this question was asked I noticed that the entire room was white, except for one man. This could be a problem with the location of the talk except for that the talk was in the city of St. Louis, which is not a predominately white area.


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