Vegans of Color

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

Coping with Unwelcoming Second Homes? April 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — dany @ 2:49 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I call “race traitors” lately, or people who have found homes outside of the (social) locations deemed fit according to their race. One of my homes, with out a doubt, is within socially conscious vegan communities that understand animal rights issues to be related to other oppressions. However, within these spaces, there always seem to be people who don’t quite “get it,” and will inevitably offer some unwarrented racist and/or classist statement about people who inevitably “get what they deserved” in any given situation, ignoring the historical legacies or present realities of their material, emotional, and psychological lives.

One of the most traumatic experiences I had during a conversation on a generally conscious, anti-oppression internet community about police violence after the Oscar Grant shooting in January in Oakland. In response to the situation, a white vegan contributed very little to the conversation, announcing: “Apparently, he was a butcher” and suggested that his shooting was “karma”.

Whereas I have found the concept of rejecting expectations of racial social scripts to be useful, I realize that it requires emotionally expecting certain spaces to be “safe spaces,” without necessarily making them as such in a public way. With this, dear readers (and fellow VoC bloggers!) I ask you these two questions:

What experiences of rejection (as a person of color/against people of color) have you experiences/witnessed in (mainstream white) vegan communities?
How have you dealt with this (on an interpesonal level?)
How have you used these experiences to alter the way that you operate within these spaces to make them “safer” for all those who participate?
What sage words of wisdom can you share/


14 Responses to “Coping with Unwelcoming Second Homes?”

  1. victor Says:

    I recently wrote about this topic on L.O.V.E.’s blog:

    In the past, I politely pointed out to animal advocates their racist and sexist statements. I have experienced enough backlash in response to that from people I once respected in the animal welfare leadership to realize, belatedly, that the mainstream animal welfare movement is no safer than any other “mainstream,” white-dominated space for POC (Similarly for women. And working class people. And people with disabilities. And many others.)

    In retrospect, this should have been obvious, not only on its face, but also because the suffering-reduction rhetoric of animal welfare and the ranking by AW leadership of the suffering of different species requires ignoring power and privilege, concepts basic to understanding racist, speciesist and other forms of oppression. After all, who gets to decide whose suffering matters?

  2. G Says:

    I’m often puzzled when someone mentions a community of poc and how “at home” they feel. I grew up odd kid out, a queer woman of color in solidly middle class but ethnically diverse community. When I entered Uni I attempted to reach out to poc groups on campus but found the homophobia and sexism overwhelming. I learned first hand that simply experiencing oppression doesn’t equate with a desire to confront other forms of inequity. I don’t want to live a stratified existence, hanging with vegans one day, queer poc the next. When I’m selecting groups that I want to ally myself with they have to pass a litmus test namely, are these groups accepting of all difference? Are all people included and do they expressly challenge gender, racial ,class inequities? If your down with a progressive ideology then your ok with me.

    Oh and anyone who would refer to what happened Grant in Oakland as “karmic” is a royal asshat who obviously doesn’t know what compassion means.

  3. S. Says:

    “race trator” what is actually meant by that? and what are locations “fit according to [someones] race”? I mean what if you live somewhere where you can’t really chose with who to socialize with? And, what about people who are in religious contexts where they mingle with people of other races constantly?

  4. Alicia Says:

    Very interesting piece. Although I have never experienced something quite to this level the comment that was made by the white vegan about police brutality against a butcher is a sentiment that I have seen before on boards and is a large reason why I have stepped away from some groups. On a vegan board I belonged to a couple years ago I posted a story about a little boy who was shot while hunting with his grandfather. I posted it because I was just shocked that a child so young (i believe somewhere between 6 or 8) would be allowed to hold a gun let alone shoot and kill with it but the responses from the white vegans on the board absolutely appalled me. Many of them were downright doing a happy dance at the injury and eventual death of this little boy. They were elated that one more omnivore had been wiped off the planet. It was the most horrific thing I have ever seen. It reminded me that within every group there are extremist who take the message too far and justify doing horrible things in the name of their cause. It happens with religion all the time and it also happens in veganism. I think the best thing that can be done is present a light of what veganism really is to the people around you and just let the hate-mongers stew on their hate. It will consume them and take over their life while we will remain happy, healthy vegans that have compassion for all life.

  5. Alicia Says:

    I’m not sure what happened in my last comment for someone reason the number eight was turned into a smiley face.

  6. adam Says:

    I too just completed a blogseries on white privilege in the AR movement. I attempted to document the marginalized voices on the internet in the series and explain to color blind activists how to create safe places for vegans from different racial and class backgrounds in posts covering PETA’s race tactics, whitewashing AR/veg activism, alienating discourse, and issues concerning police, class, and race.

    On “race traitors”: This could also be an empowering term for white allies to challenge their socially sanctioned places as white supremacists in our society. On the other hand, it seems lots of ARAs would consider themselves “species traitors” and thus believe their color blind categorization of humans from all races, nations, classes, etc as one is just. Perhaps this requires a need to not only recognise the diffrences among speices/animals but humans/H. sapiens as well.

  7. johanna Says:

    I’ve never heard the term “race traitors” used this way — I’m not all that familiar w/it but I thought it referred to white people who were seeking to give up their white privilege & align themselves w/POCs? (which is obviously, er… well, good luck giving up your white privilege — even if you think you can somehow do that, society will still assign it to you, pretty much) Am I off base here?

    The karma thing is horrifying. WTF vegans???

    I’ve been mulling over a post that is kind of related, about food & culture & stuff… your post makes me want to get off my duff & write it!

  8. […] Coping with Unwelcoming Second Homes? Vegans of Color […]

  9. sam Says:

    This is so interesting and something I’ve been thinking about for a while though not necessarily in relation to Animal Rights, more in relation to an internship I had last summer at a not-for-profit centered around reproductive rights for African-American women.

    I am an African-American woman and the transphobia, sexism and general racism I experienced at a small (4 person) organization staffed entirely by African-American women was astounding to me.

    It’s strange b/c I’d always understood/perceived the kind of double dealing that some Caucasian-American activists do wherein there is a primary issue being addressed at the expense or on the backs of related issues, but I’d never experienced that within a community where my safety would have normally seemed like such a no brainer.

    I mean really why wouldn’t an African-American woman feel safe amongst other African-American women? My oh my was I wrong! This is problem that crosses class and colors lines and comes into play no matter what primary issue is at stake.

    On a slightly more related note, when I was vegan I definitely had a great deal of trouble with vegans who naturally assumed that I was all about PETA and would become bizarrely angry and question my commitment and “authenticity” when I’d explain that I don’t support PETA in large part because I find them to be a racist, sexist, classist organization. And that, whatever my views on animal rights I couldn’t support an organization that attacks so many other vital parts of my being.

    People are strange strange creatures.

  10. Saira Says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian all my life and in my teen years I chose to remain a vegetarian, and eventually a vegan, because I strongly believed in animal rights. However, whenever I associate with white vegetarians/vegans I find my vegetarian beliefs are often dismissed as being due to “religion.” It is astonishing to me that some people cannot accept the fact that my choice to become vegan was my choice and not forced upon me by my religion! Instead they assume that because I am of Indian descent, I must a) be religious (I’m not at all!) and b) had vegetarianism forced upon me!

  11. “Apparently, he was a butcher” and suggested that his shooting was “karma”.

    Holy crap. One of my friends said almost exactly the same thing about some Mexican immigrants who got some really horrible autoimmune disease from working in a pig slaughterhouse. I took him to task for it, but he’s usually really conscious about those things and it really shocked me. I guess one thing to do is obviously keep speaking out and creating spaces like this, but damn if it doesn’t get annoying to have to keep calling out people who should really know better. I feel like we need to start some sort of massive cultural education movement in the vegan community or something.

  12. I admit I am newly researching the idea of going Vegan mainly because as an ageing ndn woman more and more of the typical European foods have become painful for me to digest, dairy and most domestic meats especially. Here at a friend’s suggestion to learn more about the vegan end of things.

    Being new I can’t speak much about the effect of Poc/Poc issues as far as the vegan community, but I can speak on more general experiences in this. As a Cherokee woman with fairer skin then society expects me to have (nope don’t look like no Disney Pocahontas with my orangey skin, sorry) I’ve often gotten the “you must be a wannabe then” from whites and POC alike, as if I didn’t even have the right to call myself a women of color.

    Living outside of a rez environment I struggle to connect to some sense of community all the time, as do my children, and for this we face a good deal of hurtful ridicule. To be honest when a white says these things are far easier for me to ignore, then when these comments are made by a POC. People have the picture in their head of what a ndn woman is supposed to look like, mostly based on skin tone, and even in the most liberal of “safe spaces” these stereotyped notions remain a constant. There are no ndn communities in the city I live in, so I live in a mostly Black neighborhood which most of the time I love, but some days it’s tiring to be the “token”, especially looking like I do.

    I’d hate to think what might happen if I had a conversation with my neighbors about my paganism or lesbianism (I’m not in the closet by any means, but a lot of people around here seem to go with “if we don’t talk about it we can pretend it doesn’t exist theory). I doubt that would go over well at all.

  13. maho Says:

    It is interesting.

    I did not experience racism much in Japan. I am Japanese living the Japanese culture. I am married to a non-Japanese person (American who is from Michigan), and now I have experienced racism that I had not known until I got married. For example, it is difficult for foreigners to rent an apartment and police and media are prone to blame the ills of society on foreigners. It is terrible.

    Now I am vegan, which is always a subject to be discriminated against here. I am okay, because it is their problem and I want to speak up for animals that are suffering.

    There are a always people who are uninformed, ignorant about racism or other types of discriminations. It is frustrating because they just “don’t get it”.

    I will be just persistent and subtle, but keep informing the idea of vegan, racism or global warming.. isn’t it a lot of work?

    Thank you for the great thought.

  14. cub Says:

    i have a slightly different take on the white vegan’s karma remark. i believe it was a form of distancing oneself from the role of victim: “i can’t bear the thought of that happening to me, therefore the victim must have deserved it.”

    a common perception among prosecutors during jury selection for rape trials (whether true or not) is that having more women on the jury does NOT help the victim.

    connect the dots– add skin color, culture, and eating ethics, and you’ve got your extra-distance-value-added insensitive remark. it is not just white privilege, but rather the perspective of one who hasn’t had a good cop beat-down YET. or i guess that’s one white vegan who’s never gonna protest (?)

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