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?
Got it! Get it! Am on the the exact same wave length as you.
A young fresh[wo]man in high school in the USA, wrote me a few days ago. She said she was doing work on Animal Cruelty for he school project. She encountered my Sistah Vegan page. At first she was happy, but then he basically concluded that I shouldn’t bring “Race and ethnicity” into my doctoral research on veganism and animal rights. She didn’t understand why I just couldn’t understand that at the end of the day, “It’s only about the animals”.
Furthermore, she “concluded”, after reading my website, that I was never proud of being an african american AND vegan at one point of my life. WOW! I have no idea how she concluded that one.
I love how the Sistah Vegan anthology and project has the most resistance from white middle class identified USA folk. Her comments were nothing new to me. I’m just astounded the resistance I keep on getting from this particular demographic.
…so yea, I get ya!
Yeouch!! That kind of response is so frustrating. It’s all about the animals, or it’s all about the humans–both are so dissatisfying, & just… arrrgh.
I can’t wait for your anthology to come out! I was so, so glad when I first found your website (I forget how I stumbled across it–I think I heard about your podcast first), b/c I’d been feeling so alienated in veg-land as someone who cares about race issues (& other issues, like human ones, period).
check out my blog. I couldn’t help but to post this young lady’s email to me.
Her email address and last name are protected.
Breeze–wow. Race a “feeble matter”? I was going to say, “Tell that to…” & start rolling off a list of victims of racially-motivated crimes, but… it’s so easy to make such a list, I got a little overwhelmed. 😛 Good luck in corresponding w/her–like you said in your post, where do you begin???
(& wow, my little tongue-sticking-out emoticon looks way more happy than it ought to when it got translated into an actual little graphic.)
I decided not to use my energy to respond to this young lady, directly. It’s just too much, emotionally, to respond to every SINGLE time someone tells me about their “colorblind” fantasy of the world. May be she’ll “poke around” my site again and find the answer on my blog then if she WANTS to, she can research the concepts of talk about. IT will be her responsibility to educate herself if she does not understand what I have written about….
Breeze–I definitely hear you on it being too draining to respond to this kind of thing EVERY time! But I still find myself feeling guilty sometimes if I don’t respond, like I’m letting the side down. Sigh. I know that self-care is a really important thing for activists to do, & sometimes that means just picking your battles. I just need to drill that into my head more so I actually DO that!
Hi! I’ve been reading over your blog and I am so happy to find other vegans of color. As a Latina with 7+ years of being vegan under my belt, withstanding the misconceptions of both non-vegan POC and the mostly white vegans I have met has been interesting and isolating. I look forward to reading more!
I’m so glad that you’re enjoying the blog! I’m always looking for new vegans of color to blog here — so please let me know if you’d be interested. 🙂
I am JUST learning to pick my battles. It’s tough, but I’m now focusing on my emotional and physical health. This means I can’t be a martyr because it doesn’t do anything good for my health. Have you read pattrice jones’ book, “Aftershock”? She talks about how imbalanced it is to be “the martyr” within social justice activism. It’s a great read because she is a anti-racist, vegan, animal rights activist, and just “gets it”.
I haven’t read “Aftershock” yet but I really want to! This past summer I burned out rather spectacularly on nonprofit work (of the 501(c)3 kind — right now I am reading the book that INCITE! edited, “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded” & feeling really justified in my burn-out), so it’ll be interesting to see if there’s anything in the book that reflects that,in addition to the grassroots-type stuff. Not that I want to go back to 501(c)3-type stuff, errgh.
I just finished “The Revolution will not be funded.” It’s a fantastic read. Everything I had always thought about, in term of US based NGOs, but had to be “silent” about. I think it’s a good read for the many folk involved in Animal Rights Activism THROUGH NGOs, as well. I wonder what it means if certain Animal Rights organizations’ board members and funders are largely white class privileged USA nationals. This is a serious question that I want to consider, sometime in the next few years.
pattrice jones wrote the afterword to my upcoming anthology, “Sistah Vegan.” I think she’s very amazing on how she makes the the connections to interlocking connections in a way that is easily accessible to people who are literate in English.
When is the anthology coming out? I can’t wait to read it! Also, that is awesome that Pattrice wrote the afterword.
Winter 2008, hopefully 🙂