Vegans of Color

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

Who’s Monkeying Around for Veganism? December 14, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 11:51 am
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Recently I picked up a magazine from UK animal welfare group Viva that featured an article titled, “Don’t Monkey Around, Go Veggie!” It discussed a campaign they’re running, which highlights the loss of biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest caused by the raising of cattle for meat and uses a monkey as the main visual (see this leaflet [PDF file]). A photograph shows campaigners on the streets of Bristol; one is in a monkey suit, & two others, who appear — as far as I can tell — white, have monkey masks on their faces. Behind them, on a table, is a stack of monkey masks, presumably to give to interested passers-by along with leaflets.

My first reaction was that I could never dress up as a monkey: as a person of color I’ve been compared to animals & specifically to monkeys, gorillas, or other primates way too many times for that to be something I’d feel comfortable with (for more on this from an Asian American perspective, check out the anthology Screaming Monkeys). I know a lot of people of color who would feel the same way; historically the very humanity of many of us has been questioned, & comparing us to animals used to degrade us & justify mistreatment.

If I were handed a monkey mask on the street & exhorted to wear it on behalf of the animals, I would refuse for this reason. It seems pretty clear that this association of certain types of people with primates — and not in an empowering, “we’re all animals!” way — was not considered in planning this campaign. Color me surprised (pun intentional).


5 Responses to “Who’s Monkeying Around for Veganism?”

  1. Doris Says:

    If I were part of a group of activists and we were all wearing masks, I would not be offended, even though I’ve had quite a few racial slurs hurled at me. If I were with a group of white activists and I were the only one asked to wear a mask, I would find that offensive.

  2. johanna Says:

    That’s a good point, Doris, but I still feel like b/c it has such a different implication when a white person vs. a POC does it, I would feel uncomfortable doing it even in a group.

  3. agm (pronounced,"jim" Says:

    I’m pleased to be in the company of fellow vegans. I have been vegan for several years and found out about your blog through ciut radio program, ‘animal voices’. I’m crazy about the program it’s how I became a vegetarian first then vegan, through listening to the program the first time.

    There is so much to say…, first keep up the great work! Vegans everywhere unite! Controversy, being vegan invites controversy, speaking with friends and family never fails to evoke comments suttle and not so suttle on the merits or miscortunes percived by others about being vegan. I finds this to be a great segway into informing others about the cruelty perpetrated upon the planet and the animals be eating meat. I don’t want to frighten any away from the opportunity to learn about eating more healthy or the merits of being vegan, but I have taken the approach that everyone choice about food is personal. So I’m not out to change anyone. I would like to spread the word however. And that word is “kindness”. Living a kinder exsitence through our choices. One-at-a time, or by divine intervention million at a time. That is my general answer to others when asked about my eating habits without overwhelming them with the need for everyone to become vegan. That would be the goal.

    I am a vegan of color, I have been a person of color my wholel life and have experienced bias throughout my life.
    I continue to experience bias, from the grocery stores to my persoal relaionships. It’s frustrating but somehow I love it. I know that may sound strange, but I will explain in future blogs. I would like to make one point before I turn off to many readers, society and mostly the media have used racial statments far to long to divide people and humans, it needs to be said that science says that there is no such a term as different races, science says there is only one race, they are called “homosapiens” or the human race. There are many cultures, many culture, but only one race the human race or homosapiens, and culture is a beautiful thing, all the different foods, and different ways of spicing foods, music, dance, songs, arts… the list goes on. I will leave it here for now and allow some healthy digesting.

    Stay Human,

  4. adam Says:

    Doris, I think johanna’s point relates to Carol Adams’ observation that “the playful absorption of male chauvinist pig by the dominant culture revealed back that men, white men especially, cannot be easily dehumanized.” It’s easy for whites, especially white men, to play on the idea of monkeying around only because their human identity is rarely a political question today–they “cannot be easily dehumanized.” A person of color, however, is not ensured that once s/he takes off that mask that s/he will no longer be considered a “monkey.”

    Johanna, it seems that the human-animal analogy is a frequent theme on VOC. Do you (or anyone else) see these analogies as inherently insensitive and alienating? Will they always backfire and alienate?

  5. Doris Says:

    Hi, Adam,

    I agree that it’s much more difficult to dehumanize someone who is a member of the class in power.

    In the situation described in the blog post, I personally would not be offended, as I stated above. However, I can understand how someone would feel uncomfortable in a monkey mask because of the ties to racial slurs. I think there are definitely times when an act that is not racially motivated can remind someone of a racial incident and it’s a legitimate concern.

    For example, people debate the use of certain words that have nothing to do with race, but because they sound similar to racial slurs and make many people uncomfortable. I think people should not use those terms, because even though they are not racial terms, their use demonstrates an insensitivity to the issue.

    I’m sure there are some POC who are not offended by those words, but that doesn’t mean that the POC who are offended are wrong. In these situations, I think whether we are offended has a lot to do with our individual experiences.

    Is it clear that “this association of certain types of people with primates . . . was not considered” in this campaign? Absolutely. At least, I hope it was not considered, as opposed to the other option – it was considered but dismissed.


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