Vegans of Color

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

… & the rest of you can wait March 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 3:24 pm
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In response to being called out for claiming that leafleting to college students & faculty couldn’t have any whiff of classism about it, Elaine Vigneault offers up her reasoning for why she chooses to focus on animal rights activism as her priority. There are some things that could be picked apart in the post, but what stuck out most for me was this:

I advocate veganism predominantly to the privileged precisely because they are privileged. They have the most power to affect significant change in our society on behalf of animals, the environment, and public health.

So instead of denying, as in the comments on Prof Susurro’s post, that leafleting solely to college students & faculty might possibly have a class element to it, Elaine now turns around & says that this is a deliberate tactic, that those who are privileged must be prioritized for their power.

In other words, let’s bank on their privilege instead of, I don’t know, working to help other people become empowered.

What are the rest of the people supposed to do in the meantime? And what about people from non-privileged groups who are doing advocacy work within their communities? Are they then wasting their time? Is grassroots work pointless unless it targets the government (as a body Elaine cites as having power to change attitudes about nonhuman animals) or other powerful groups? Should we hinge all our efforts on legal change? What would animal activism that (further) ignores marginalized groups look like? Where will it get us? How do we gain by setting our eyes on those with the most power?


The Face(s) of Veganism in Bristol November 15, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 6:14 pm
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I’ve been absent from the blog for a few weeks due to relocating from New York City to Bristol, England (sorry to have missed out on some good discussion from folks!). There seem to be a lot of vegans here — or at least in my neighborhood — but I haven’t yet met any vegans of color.

I did spot one veg*n of color, or at least someone pretending to be one: Animal welfare group Viva is holding a Christmas Veggie Roadshow in Bristol soon, & I noticed immediately on picking up one of their flyers that the person shown was a woman of color (scroll down on their banner page to see the image). I thought that was kind of neat — though what’s with the Carmen Miranda thing?

My new neighborhood, Easton, sports a radical community center that does a weekly vegan brunch. I’ve only gone once so far, but hope to go more regularly, because I think it’s an awesome thing. But (you knew there was a but, right?) I couldn’t help but notice that everyone I saw at the brunch seemed to be white. In a neighborhood that, to my eye at least, seems to be predominantly of color.

Also nearby is Cafe Maitreya, an award-winning veg*n restaurant. It is indeed very tasty — my partner and I went last year when we were visiting — but rather expensive. I could be wrong, but given the economic statistics I’ve seen for our neighborhood, I am assuming that it’s mostly not locals keeping the restaurant afloat.

There’s obviously a lot of context I don’t have, given how new I am to the area, but I was struck by how in these two instances veg*nism seemed to be a marker, in some ways, of outsider status. This all connects to more thinking I need to do about my own place in the neighborhood, with regards to gentrification & other similar issues. And again, these are all just quick impressions that I’ve gotten over the few weeks that I’ve been here. I look forward to learning more… and also hopefully meeting other vegans of color, of course!


Two Quick Links July 26, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 7:59 pm
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I have two or three posts that have been bubbling away in my brain for a while — hopefully I’ll get to writing up at least one of them soon — but I just wanted to pass on these links:

Via Noah, Dani at the Vegan Ideal has a sharp critique for the recent call for proposals about queers & AR. They bring up some really important points about the ties between the AR movement & the prison-industrial complex — probably not the ties you might expect — & how this impacts POCs & the poor.

Via Joselle, a post on Feministing about being a veg*n of color (which links here — thanks, Grace!), which also talks a little about Seoul in particular.


A Few Links: Black Veg*ns; PETA’s Race Problem (Again) July 4, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 7:40 pm
Tags: , , , , , has an interview up with Kristin Candour & Tashee Meadows, founders of a group called Justice for All Species, a group “of people of color with the mission of providing resources to communities of color to promote a vegetarian diet and a harmonious relationship with humans, fellow species and the earth we share.”

Both Candour & Meadows find useful the comparison of nonhuman animal exploitation with slavery, something I am not comfortable with; Meadows did add an interesting comment on the issue:

However, I am concerned about who is not being compared to animals. When the comparisons made by animal rights groups focus solely on communities that have been “treated like animals,” read Blacks, Women and Jews, the chance of white men, often the architects of such systems, being compared to other species is rare. This leaves them in a class unto themselves, and may unwittingly reinforce an existing hierarchy of oppression.

Dani at The Vegan Ideal gives us thoughts on PETA’s targeting of people of color street vendors in LA, written about here. Dani highlights an important point:

In a society built on white supremacy and capitalism, people of color, especially those who work on the street, make easy targets. Molyneux notes that if the PETA volunteer had harassed a rich white man, say one who owns a meat packing plant that exploits both workers and nonhuman animals, the volunteer might end up in jail. However, by targeting people of color working on the street the same volunteer has all the support of the institutional racism and classism, including the LAPD.


Understanding Intersectionality & Food: How to Get It Wrong June 3, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 7:55 pm
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My recent post about Breeze Harper’s anthology on race & class in sustainability/ethical consumption movements is being discussed at Alas, A Blog, & by someone blogging at the Atlantic. The latter post is particularly textbook. It’s short, so I’ll quote it in its entirety:

I genuinely don’t understand this. I’m pretty comfortable with the concept of privilege, but I fail to see how my choices in foodstuffs contribute to it. I’d order the book to find out, except that it sounds very, very silly.

Yeah, because race & class issues are “very, very silly.” To some folks more than others; more often those who don’t have to deal with them personally, I’ve found.

I’m also bemused that supposedly Erik Marcus commented to say, “The book might sound a good deal less silly if only every sentence at the website you’ve linked to wasn’t so poorly written.” I’m assuming it’s a troll hoping to stir up some vegan infighting, although who knows? Maybe Erik Marcus really has nothing better to do than critique our writing styles.

Several comments on both posts seem to be expressing some disbelief that food & diet could be in any way tied to class or race. They also seem to focus mostly on consumption (ie. what access do certain groups have to fresh, local food?). But as posts on this blog have demonstrated over & over again, there’s much more to the story than that. Like any movement, veg*nism, animal rights, & sustainability movements are affected by the biases of the societies they spring from. And that plays out in who is encouraged to join, what tactics & rhetoric get used, etc. Focusing solely on food security/access — which is very important, don’t get me wrong — ignores so much. It’s a little bewildering to see all these people stubbornly refusing to see this, but then I guess that’s what privilege is all about, huh?


Race & Class in Ethical Consumption & Sustainability Movements May 20, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 2:27 pm
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Somehow I didn’t hear about this before, but there was a recent call for papers (the deadline for abstracts has already passed, sorry! is extended until August 1) for a new anthology edited by Breeze Harper (of the Sistah Vegan Project): Race and Class Consciousness: Contradictions, Resolutions, and Reconciliation in the Ethical Consumption and Eco-Sustainable Movements.

An excerpt:

The alternative foods, ethical consumption, and environmental sustainability movements in the USA, have grown exponentially in the past decade. The fusion of white racialized consciousness, 1st Worldism, and middle/upper class experience drives the formulation of “ethics”, “morality”, and “sustainability” that the “status quo” dominating these movements espouse. Rarely, if ever, has the status quo of these movements written about how [white] racialized consciousness and class status impact their philosophies and advocacy of animal rights, veganism, fair trade, ecosustainable living, etc., in the USA. Deeper investigations by academic scholars have found that collectively, this “privileged” demographic tends to view their ethics as “colorblind”, thereby passively discouraging reflections on white and class privilege within alternative food movements (Slocum 2006) and animal rights activism (Nagra 2003; Poldervaart 2001). Consequently, academic scholars such as Dr. Rachel Slocum feel that rather than fostering equality, “alternative food practice reproduces white privilege in American society”. (Slocum 2006, 13) This oversight deserves critical redress if the goals of these movements are to be globalized and accessible to people of color and low-income people.

The discouragement about reflections on white & class privilege has definitely been more than just “passive” from readers of this blog at times, especially lately, although obviously the passive discouragement is a big player as well. As one of my favorite LiveJournal icons says, “White privilege: you’re soaking in it.”

I can’t wait to read this anthology! On another Breeze Harper note, last I heard, the Sistah Vegan Project anthology is due out sometime this summer. Yay!


The Cult of Veganism; or, Sit Down & Shut Up, Little Brown Girl May 7, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 9:08 pm
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In the last post, Nadia questioned why some white male vegans harp on their suffering, as vegans, when actually, veganism & animal rights rightfully center the animals.

In response, Dave Warwak (the teacher canned recently for forceful advocacy of veganism to students in his junior high school art class) left this comment, saying in part:

How about we prioritize our time and energy by bashing factory farming instead of bashing our own kind for speaking out against injustice? I am all for pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and part of that is speaking out. Many silent vegans struggle with oppression – we all feel it, but to ponder about “why white guys feel discriminated against” does the animals a great disservice in these extremely urgent times when we could be focusing our energies on real good.

The essence of this comment is that those of us concerned with anything else rather than the suffering of non-human animals are divisive, are weakening the vegan cause, are traitors. And we should just stop complaining & hew to the vegan party line.

It sounds remarkably like white feminists castigating women of color for calling out the racism of mainstream US feminism.

Instead of critiquing white male privilege within vegan circles, let’s go do some “real good,” right? Because heaven knows opposing racism & sexism, especially if we — gasp — critique other vegans, is a time-waster, a distraction from the REAL issues.

We’re being asked to identify as vegans over any other aspect of our identities & our lives. Again, the parallels with the feminist movement are just astounding. Women of color get punished for speaking up about racism in feminism. Vegans of color questioning whitecentric vegans also are penalized for such heretic thoughts. Color me surprised (pun intentional).

Do (white, male) vegans see themselves as my ally automatically when they learn that I, too, am vegan? Do they assume we’re on the same side? (Is it even a conscious thought?) Such vegans divide the world into two parts: people who are vegan, & thus allies, & those who are not vegan.

Some of us don’t have the luxury of seeing things that simply. Some of us will never, ever have the privilege of ignoring, if we want to, the rest of who we are in favor of focusing solely on our diets. Why? Oh yeah, because the world won’t let us. Because being who we are — completely aside from veganism — can be very dangerous sometimes. Some of us are getting raped or fired for being gay or pulled over for Driving While Black or losing our homes due to gentrification or being harassed on the street or getting deported or being tortured or having the franchise taken away from us or struggling to get health care or…

Oh yeah, & how about how race & class affect who has access to affordable vegan food (among, you know, the many ways discussed on this blog that these issues intersect with veg*n ones)? Oh, wait, I’m being divisive again, aren’t I?

Warwak also says, “Veganism is for all animals. ‘All animals’ includes humans.” Yes. Then why should vegans pretend that the only oppression that matters is non-human?

The very idea that one should ignore the impact of markers such as class, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. is completely repugnant. Clearly this viewpoint is steeped in deep, unthinking privilege. It is no secret that a lot of people of color, for instance, are put off animal rights issues because of racism & colonialism in the movement. Women are put off when they see veganism used to encourage women to hate their bodies.

None of these critical issues are going to go away. They are all interconnected. To claim to be able to pull one strand, one lone form of oppression, away from the whole tangle, & to hold it up as the One Thing Worth Fighting For? Naive at best, & damned offensive & dangerous at worst.

And stifling dissent, as Warwak would have us do, is the mark of a cult. That’s no movement I want to be part of, & people who think that way are not my allies.


Who Pays the Emotional Cost of Killing Animals for Food? March 30, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 1:54 pm
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I recently read Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights (by Bob Torres of Vegan Freak fame). It’s a good read, & I recommend it. What I want to share is a snippet he quotes from Gail Eisnitz’s Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry (a book I haven’t read). It’s from an interview with Ed Van Winkle, a man who’s worked in many slaughterhouses. Here he talks about what it’s like killing pigs all day as a “sticker”:

“You may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around down in the blood pit with you and think, God, that really isn’t a bad-looking animal. You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later, I had to kill them — beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.

“When I worked upstairs taking hogs’ guts out, I could cop an attitude that I was working on a production line, helping to feed people. But down in the stick pit I wasn’t feeding people. I was killing things. My attitude was, it’s only an animal. Kill it.

“Sometimes I looked at people that way, too,” he said. “I’ve had ideas of hanging my foreman upside down on the line and sticking him. I remember going into the office and telling the personnel man that I have no problem pulling the trigger on a person — if you get in my face I’ll blow you away.

Every sticker I know carries a gun, and every one of them would shoot you. Most stickers I know have been arrested for assault. A lot of them have problems with alcohol. They have to drink, they have no other way of dealing with killing live, kicking animals all day long. If you stop and think about it, you’re killing several thousand beings a day.” [emphasis mine]

Who works in slaughterhouses? Who bears the mental toll of this kind of work? Predominantly lower-income people of color. In addition to the horrible emotional strain of having to kill for a living, such work is also incredibly dangerous (& needless to say, filled with labor law violations). Human Rights Watch issued a relevant report in 2005: Blood, Sweat and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants.

Yet another reason to avoid eating meat (“humanely” slaughtered meat is not an improvement for the animal being killed, of course, & thus not a solution either).