Vegans of Color

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

More on classism, and some thoughts on ableism, within vegan movements March 27, 2010

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Stephanie at Animal Rights & AntiOppression: Classism from Vegans Doesn’t Help Animals, Nonhuman or Human.

Steph at Vegan About Town: the ability to make choices.

And Prof Susurro at Like a Whisper re-posts a list of Feminist Reading Tools for Recognizing and Dismantling Intersectional Oppressions in solidarity with Breeze’s offering of resources here.

Nathan Gilmore at Alia Porci recently presented this thoughtful post: Earning the Right to Be Vegan: On the Intersection of Ableist Privilege and Speciesist Power. Here’s an excerpt:

Ability prejudice can also play out in the even subtler forms of animal rights activism that demand a intimate familiarity with every single hot topic in the movement, or at least, the ability to show yourself well-versed any of a number of disciplines ranging from law to sociology to ethics. While each of these certainly is germane to the broader issue of animal rights, and can be used with great efficiency, might it not be conceivable that the vegan, who for whatever reason (e.g. disability), honestly and truly cannot engage these issues so deeply might read this demand as a slammed door in the face?

Over the past year I’ve been thinking more about the privileging of the able-bodied (& neurotypical) in activist movements — including, but by no means limited to, veganism & animal rights. Often certain types of activism are held up as the pinnacles of commitment & getting shit done: direct action; mammoth demonstrations on the street; confrontational protests; etc. These are more risky for people who do not fit within a certain paradigm. For example, the risk of being dragged away by the cops at a protest may look very different to you if you are: POC; gender nonconforming; undocumented; a person with childcare commitments; female; disabled — not that any of these categories are mutually exclusive, of course!

I remember during the late ’90s & early ’00s, in the NE & mid-Atlantic area of the US, if you were an activist in certain circles it was almost taken for granted that you would do a lot of summit-hopping: primarily (but not always) to NYC or DC, wherever the next big anti-globalization protest was. If you weren’t climbing on the bus early in the morning every week to go protest, people asked why.

Maybe you find it uncomfortable to stand or walk for long periods (especially in the cold!). Maybe the routes of protest marches aren’t necessary accessible to those with mobility issues. Maybe you’ve got anxiety or other mental health issues that make potentially confrontational activism an issue. Maybe you can’t afford to take time off work / pay for childcare / pay for the bus even with sliding scale fares! (&… maybe you have doubts about the efficacy of huge demos as the best use of activist time & energy, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue…)

I really appreciated the paragraph in Nathan’s post that I quoted up there because it highlights one way in which neuro-atypical people are often invisibilized within activist communities (as are people with disabilities — PWD — in general). Here are some other standard activist behaviors that might be challenging to someone who’s not neurotypical or someone with mental health issues:

  • Tabling
  • Doorknocking
  • Wheatpasting flyers
  • Leading workshops
  • Working the door at events
  • Being a panelist or debater

Of course a lot of these may pose issues for PWD in general. And yet how much do these sorts of things form the core of activist work in many communities? Could we be alienating PWD from our movements partly by not thinking more of how standard activist work could be more inclusive (in addition to, you know, recognizing that PWD exist)? I think a lot of activist groups are still lagging behind on making events truly accessible, but I don’t think I’ve often seen consideration of PWD beyond a hasty search for accessible venues, if that.

(And given how many vegans push the health aspect of veganism, I wonder if any of the spaces on this bingo card have been used to PWD: specifically the ones about diet/exercise or how if you just took vitamins etc. you’d be cured. Shudder.)

EDIT: It seems I misused the term neurotypical up there; I had gotten the impression from seeing it online that it was used to cover a wider spectrum of conditions than autism, but apparently not? Neurodiversity maybe is more what I was looking for, as I meant to use a broader term & it sounds like some people, at least, use it in that sense. Also, I probably should have specified that the list of challenging activist items was at least partly inspired by my experiences with activism as someone dealing with mental health issues.