Vegans of Color

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

For as long as my skin is Black I will be a devoted anti-speciesist. August 29, 2009

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The title of this post is a reference to the recent post at Womanist Musing. The post details her feelings about the ways animals have been used by a white supremacist society to metaphorize people of color. From the Black apes to the Latino chihuahuas and everything else  in between. I know those feelings all to well. The post ended with a powerful few lines:

They may scream biology until the end of time but we remember when such comparisons were used to justify slavery, rape, and segregation.  For as long as my skin is Black I will be a devoted speciesist.  My dignity and humanity demand no less.

Her words are haunting and powerful for me. And She’s right. Those memories run deep.  People of color still get their babies snatched away, still are shot and hunted, and until (maybe) recently experimented on. People of color are treated like animals, are called animals, and are dehumanized all the time.

In the US (and the world) Blackness positions people at the bottom of a very real racial hierarchy. Solidarity between different people of color is sometimes hard as we all scramble to get ourselves away from the bottom. Some of us do this by distancing ourselves from the bottom, from Blackness. I have heard people of color who aren’t Black distance themselves by how different they are from Black people. Black people distance ourselves from each other through colorism and regionalism/xenophobia. I’ve heard American Black folks distance themselves from African Black folks through primitivist, xenophobic rants. And Black Africans distancing themselves because Black Americans are portrayed as violent and animalistic.

I can’t ask a cow about her feelings on her systematic and mechanical rape, separation from her child, and eventual slaughter. But to assume because of differences between us that she doesn’t care, or is incapable of care uses the same logic as white supremacy has used for people of color.

Koko, the famous gorilla, could sign 6,000 signs. She could create new words by combining signs. She scored between 70 and 95 on IQ tests. She makes me think of Red Peter. Red Peter is the only Kafka character to have really, truly touched me. A Report to An Academy resonates with my diasporic identity. To be snatched from home, shipped to somewhere else, and lose one’s connection to home, but to be able to speak back to the one who took you in their own tongue. Is it such a stretch to think that animals could not also be upset by being shipped in cages across oceans but be unable to tell us such in a language we can understand.

Red Peter was a link for me. He is literally a gorilla, metaphorically a diasporic person. He’s the missing link between Koko and animal and me a human. If I can empathize with a literary gorilla who tells the same story as Koko might tell, than I can also empathize with Koko, and by extension all animals.

In my soul I know it would be just as wrong for me to withdraw my solidarity to those who are seen as less than me, because of a species barrier. To construct the worth of a being by their humanness is an embrace of a world where white patriarchy is the standard. Humanness is so connected to  able-bodiedness, whiteness, maleness, cisness, straightness, because these were the people who got to decide who got to count, and when they got to count as human.

For me to use biology to explain why it isn’t ok to kill or cage me, but it is to kill or cage someone else is a replication of power dynamics. It is shitting on those lower than me on a hierarchy of power, so that I can keep my perch away from the bottom.

For me to refuse compassion to other beings, simply because I have been compared to them, is to center whiteness. I say “Fuck you!” to those white folks who think they have the authority to use my history to humanize animals. But when it is just me and the caged bird I know what’s up, I don’t need to compare. My histories let me empathize in a way I doubt those in the center ever could.

I’ve reached a different conclusion from Womanist Musings: a history of my people being kidnapped, enslaved, caged, experimented on, hunted, sacrificed, killed, and displayed has left a bad taste in my mouth, and empathy in my heart.

For as long as my skin is Black I will be a devoted anti-speciesist.