Vegans of Color

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

“Engaging” POCs in AR Work? June 12, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 10:28 pm
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I was looking at the program for the Animal Rights 2008 National Conference & saw the following as a workshop topic on Saturday, August 16:

Engaging Ethnic Minorities (African-Americans, Latin Americans, Asian-Americans)

Hm, seems to be a bit incomplete there in their listing (& no peanut gallery comments from readers about how PC-ness has gone crazy & how could anyone list every single group, blah blah blah, because I’ll just laugh at you).

From the way the program thus far is laid out, it looks like there are several program options for each time slot; if so, at the same time, there is also this:

Commonality of Oppression (commonalities of oppressing animals, children, women, others)

Who are the “others,” do you think? Could they possibly include the “ethnic minorities” in the first workshop listing? In my experience, if you happen to ask folks to rattle off a list of -isms, usually sexism & racism would be first off the tongue — so it’s interesting that us POCs are relegated to the category of “other.”

In the Engaging Ethnic Minorities workshop, I am curious as to who will be speaking & who it is geared towards: Is it POCs telling a white audience how to “recruit” us? Is it white folks in AR who’ve done their marketing telling other white folks how to “recruit” us? The separate listing for a discussion of other oppressions makes me feel more like the Engaging workshop is meant to discuss pulling POCs in, with the subtext that it’s purely because more POCs means more veg*ns/AR activists… not out of a genuine desire to ally alongside us & work with us on other issues that affect us. I mean, that’s for the other workshop, right? Or perhaps for this workshop, in the following time slot:

Engaging Other Movements (health, environment, hunger, women, justice, peace movements)

Again, isn’t something missing here? Oh, yeah, how about a shout-out to folks working for racial justice? Naw, we got our one little panel about how white folks should engage with us… right?

I look forward to seeing more detailed descriptions of the panels as the conference grows closer, including names of panelists, because my first impressions thus far are not good. I had been considering trying to attend the conference (but wow, how expensive is it???) but I am leaning towards skipping it now.


20 Responses to ““Engaging” POCs in AR Work?”

  1. Hmmm, I just took a look at the program and what also struck me was that, in parens next to most of the programs, they explain what they’ll discuss. Like, “Engaging the Community (utilizing community issues, allies, and opportunities).” But next to engaging The Ethnics (grrrrrrrr, how I hate how that word is usually used…like in this case!), it says, “Engaging Ethnic Minorities (African-Americans, Latin Americans, Asian-Americans).”

    Um, ok. What exactly is being discussed? How is that a topic. You’re just gonna be talking about African-Americans how? That just doesn’t make any sense.

    I don’t need to be “engaged.” I’m here. I am engaged. And what?

    And yes, these conferences are so expensive. I remember listening to Erik Marcus’ podcast and him possibly having a retreat that would cost $2000 for the weekend. How will most people afford to go to something like that?

    Was reading Pattrice Jones’ Superweed today where she posted about a talk she gave at Their Lives, Our Voices ( entitled, “Inconvenient Connections: Collisions at the Intersection of Race, Sex, Class, and Species.” I don’t know what was said but that there sounds like a good title. Clear, succinct, meaningful. Plus, what little I’ve read of Pattrice Jones has really resonated with me.

  2. You know what I’m tired of hearing/reading? “Minorities.” Isn’t that like so 1990? It’s not about majority/minority, it’s about power. Women are the majority, yet sexism exists just fine. For that matter, nonhuman animals are in the majority, too, yet humans control them just fine.

    People who frame racism, xenophobia, and issues regarding race, ethnicity, and cultural identity need to get past the idea of “minority” and starting thinking about power – who has it, how have they kept it, and how best to shift it?

  3. incognegra Says:

    Wow, this conference agenda sounds so incredibly problematic I don’t even know where to begin.

    First, I think this idea of “engaging” racial minorities in AR is very troubling, especially given their failure to make any kind of real statement about anti-racist work. In my opinion, the use of the word “engage” indicates that they’ve failed to acknowledge the ways in which the AR movement has been limiting and unwelcoming to people of color. The designation of particular eating practices as absolutely ethical or unethical, for instance, fails to acknowledge the ways in which race and class inform people’s eating practices and further enforces the AR movement’s status as a solely White, middle class venture. Part of the problem also has to do with White privilege–the average White person does not understand his/her/hir racial identity in the way that non-Whites do. For Whites, race isn’t an issue until someone else brings it up; they understand their experiences as neutral and free from racial implications.

    Framing this issue as a matter of “engaging” the “minorities” or not also allows AR to ignore financial differences, disparities in food access, cultural differences, and the histories of racial oppression that have helped to produce and reproduce the very foodways that the AR movement believes are unethical. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of these AR people understand their brand of veganism as neutral–that, all things being equal, any person in their right mind would make this choice.

    But all things are not equal and therein lies their complicity in reproducing this oppression. In their failure to acknowledge their own privilege, they work to maintain structures of oppression that discourage people of color, despite the fact that some may have the mobility to explore new ways of eating, because veganism is coded as such a White, middle class practice. I think it’s hard for a lot of people of color to imagine themselves entering into a community of such (unwitting and unapologetic) privilege.

    I also think that the “commonalities of oppression” workshop could be useful potentially, but I think that it should be preceded by some sort of training that challenges attendees to self-interrogate and work through their internalized racism, sexism, and the other isms they intend to relate later. Otherwise, I think that such a workshop would just constitute an attempt to appropriate the struggles of marginalized people in order to further an AR that is racially, sexually, and otherwise ‘neutral’ but not really.

    As much as this event description infuriates me, I’m tempted to go just so I can tell some people off.

  4. Noah Says:

    If y’all are interested in organizing a conference, I would be more than happy to provide major legwork. Seriously.

    I bet even just seeing an outline of an ideal conference would be a beautiful thing.

  5. […] “Engaging” POCs in AR Work? « Vegans of Color “In the Engaging Ethnic Minorities workshop, I am curious as to who will be speaking & who it is geared towards: Is it POCs telling a white audience how to “recruit” us? Is it white folks in AR who’ve done their marketing telling other white folks h (tags: race veganism animalrights) […]

  6. Freesia Says:

    ugh ugh ugh

    this is exactly why, even as a vegan of almost three years, i am not in any way involved in the veg* community.

    i just discovered this blog today. it’s exactly what the movement needs. thank you.

  7. bdsista Says:

    As a nonvegan, who doesn’t really like red meat, but is African American, so who grew up with the whole soul food, pork oriented diet. My biggest beef with the whole AR movement (BTW I have a degree in Animal Science-which is basically a degree on how to make them food-but is great training for veterinary medicine but I digress…) is that there seems to be more investment into Animals than into disenfranchised people. I work now as a teacher and there are students everyday that are homeless and the meals they get here are the ony meals they may get in a day. Did you see the Dateline show about the children that were homeless, the girl whose father just got out jail, etc. and the teacher who helped them raised their grades because she cared about them? So long as a hungry child without a coat in the winter comes through the door of my school, I consider it the height of inhumanity to place an animals needs above a child. A dog in good conditions has a life expectancy of 12-17 years. A child has one of 80-100. You do the math.
    Minorities don’t need to have their attention taken off of the survival of their children. This is the first generation where the children are doing worse than their parents despite getting an education. Where males are not going to college at the rate of females. Where will our leaders of tomorrow come from if we do not take care of them now? Am I biased, You Damn Skippy!

  8. johanna Says:

    bdsista — One question about your comment. In comparing the worth given to dogs versus children, you based it on life expectancy. Does that mean if we have people whose life expectancies are shorter (for example, the terminally ill), we should give them less attention & resources than other people? Surely life worth doesn’t derive from that. (And even if so, there are animals who have life expectancies equal to or greater than humans…)

    Also, while I & the other bloggers here agree w/you (as you’ll note if you check out the rest of the blog) that many AR activists do not give consideration to human oppression, the whole point of this blog is that the issues are connected, & that work can be done on more than one front at the same time. This is not a sentiment unique to AR activists; feminists of color, for example, are often castigated for giving attention to issues of both racism & sexism, as if it is impossible to do both.

    Freesia — Thank you! It is really touching to hear that.

    Noah — A conference would be awesome!! Thanks for offering to help out. I don’t know about the rest of the folks here, but I know on a personal level I’m totally unable to start anything like that right now (moving overseas in a few months)… although if the rest of you start something, I will cheer you all on… & read the ensuing blog posts jealously. 🙂

    incognegra — Aw, you should’ve written the blog post about this! Hehehe. I agree that talking about commonalities of oppression could be really useful at that conference, but I also know from sad experience that bringing up race w/o any sort of training (of the sort you suggested) seems to end up w/the time being spent comforting white people crying about how bad they feel about their privilege, or they get angry & spend the whole time yelling about how they’re not actually privileged at all.

    Elaine — Yeah, I hate the “minorities” term, too. Especially when, globally, who is a minority looks very different.

    Joselle — $2000?!? I don’t know anyone who could afford that. Clearly I am hanging around w/the wrong crowd. 😛 And yeah, I generally like what Pattrice Jones has to say! Aftershock is a really great book.

  9. Noemi M Says:

    I’m all for organizing/creating spaces when none is there, but I also think it’s important for conferences and other organizations to see how problematic we find them for whatever reason, always w/ the hope that it might change (not only talking about this particular conference, but in general. I think it’s a good idea to critique/speak up. Some organizers like to hear feedback.)

  10. Gary Says:

    bdsista says do the math. Ok. One million animals are slaughtered every hour in the U.S. Nearly every one was denied a mother, confined most of his/her life, engineered to be obese or overproduce egs or milk, subjected to mutilations without painkillers, and brutally killed at a very young age.

    But as Johana says, it’s not about “this group” or “that group.” Oppressive forces tend to cross boundaries. We all suffer; we all have profound interests, we all deserve to be treated with respect. There’s no reason someone can’t be vegan and work for racial justice and anti-poverty programs. Compassion begets compassion. Bonus: a vegan diet, in the vast majority of cases in the West at least, is more earth-friendly and less resource-intensive (and less violent) than a meat-centered diet, and thus helps us all.

    On another note, you may want to send a friendly note to FARM and let them know about the problems with the way some of the AR2008 sessions are described (if not implemented). May be a productive eye-opener. I’ll mention it, too. (I’ll be attending and tabling there). Also – johana, would like to see you talk there.

  11. Gary Says:

    Oops, spelled your name wrong – twice. Sorry.

  12. Chad Miller Says:

    Hi there. Good discussion, great site. We’re just organizing our first conference here in Portland, it’s taking place next week June 27-29th). We’re also including a couple of workshop/talk things regarding bridging movements/social justice causes.

    Not sure if they’ll be better/worse than the national AR conference, but we’re trying our best. It’s a tough issue to effectively tackle in a couple of talks, it’s something that warrants an entire conference itself, really. I’d hope people can cut organizers some slack and realize most folks are doing their best with limited time and working around a conference that is basically trying to focus on non-human issues, not all of the problems of our society.

    If anybody would be interested in working on something for next years Let Live NW AR Conference, we’d love to hear from you and be able to include something more focused on race and economic status.

    Don’t hesitate to get in touch, really, we’d love to have something like this next year.

    Chad / Let Live

  13. Chad Miller Says:

    Just realized I didn’t include contact info, sorry.

    Chad Miller:


  14. serenityinseoul Says:

    New to the blog, found it thanks to VegNews. I’m a Korean born woman raised in the USA since infancy by means of adoption and became a vegan in 2003. I SO look forward to reading this blog more often and maybe even contributing if possible. I’m happy to know there are vegans of color out there speaking out!

  15. Tamara Says:

    bdsista, I admire your passion for children and agree that the problems you describe are indeed compelling and deserving of attention. The main problem I see with your argument is that you have split the two issues into an either/or mindset. In fact, we should all be working to end ALL kinds of oppression. Of course, I realize that each individual’s time is limited as far as volunteering, activism, etc. But it truly doesn’t take any more effort or time to do the single most important thing possible to end animal oppression – GO VEGAN. You can continue to be an effective advocate for children (and in my opinion, a better one, since as many have already stated, these issues are all interconnected), but you will simultaneously be extending your web of compassion (which you obviously posses!) to all living beings. Veganism is a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute personal protest against injustice that you can implement by the simple fact of what you choose to put in your mouth.

  16. noemi Says:

    as a teacher, bdsista-you are in a great position to impart w/ your students animal rights and value of animal rights-I would love if the teachers of my children showed any interest in humane treatment of animals. Why? because I believe this leads to being compassionate all around, whether it to with animals or humans. I also don’t understand the life expectancy comment. Okay, I did the math. What’s your point?

  17. johanna Says:

    Hey all — yeah, I need to e-mail the organizers about this… I am a bit apprehensive about doing so, because in general my experience in bringing things like this up to folks has not been positive. However, I’ll probably also send them the link to this post, so if nothing else they can see that it’s not just me upset about this.

    Gary — aw, thanks! If I do end up going to the conference (who knows), maybe we will see each other.

    Chad — thanks for the comment. I get that conference panel slots are always, always going to be too short for a discussion, but… OTOH, if nothing else, a non-diverse movement will never change things, simply because it won’t have the mass backing that it needs. So, yeah, I get that AR conferences focus on animal-related topics, but considering how all these oppressions are linked anyway, I think it’s more than relevant.

    serenityinseoul — I’m glad you found us! I’ll e-mail you about joining the blog, if you’re interested.

    Tamara & Noemi — yeah, I’m w/you on the linked oppressions thing, heh.

  18. SuperWeed Says:

    Hi, this is pattrice jones. Loving this discussion and wondering if some insider information, from someone who has both been banned (yes, banned) from that conference and has had some success in moving it a little bit in the right direction might be useful?

    I don’t want to go on and on taking up space here in this comments thread but I would be happy to share my own experiences trying to make interventions in past years, speaking at or sitting in on some of the problematically named panels this year, interacting with the conference organizers at the behest of the people of color caucus this year and last year, or anything else that might be at all useful. I could share information privately or take up space on my own blog if folks are interested.

    Also, I have to cop to responsibility for “engaging,” which I suggested as an alternative to the much more problematic “outreach” — although what I wanted them to say was “engaging the feminist movement,” “engaging anti-racist activists,” etc — with the idea of social change movements engaging each other in a process of *mutual* change rather than one movement standing unchanged and “reaching out” to the unenlightened (pun intended) masses.

    And, no, I have no idea how many times I and others have to stand up and say “people of color are the majority of the world’s population and soon will be the majority in the United States too” before they will quit saying “minority.”

  19. johanna Says:

    pattrice — I would love to hear more about your experiences w/this if you’d like to post about it on your blog!

  20. […] note that in the comments of my post here questioning the conference, it was suggested that bringing in race issues to AR spaces would be […]

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