Vegans of Color

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

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.


What Will the Hipsters Come Up with Next? March 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 4:31 pm
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Ugh, this is from the NYC events list Nonsense NYC:


New York City Chinatown Garbage Tour

Did you know you could make art out of dead animals? Artist Nate Hill is going to show you how to collect dead animals from the garbage in Chinatown to make your own personal taxidermy. This is the first NYC Chinatown Garbage Taxidermy Tour. You will learn how to dig in the garbage for dead animals. You can make art out of these animals. I’ve found everything from sharks to frogs to plain old unidentifiable crap. Sometimes I find nothing interesting, but that is what makes it fun. You never know.

Special for this tour only: Co-host Carlen Altman, appetizers, and haphazard display of how to put animals together on the ground.

Southeast Corner of Canal Street and Lafayette Street, Manhattan
9p rain or shine; $free

So nasty. And it’s not lost on me that this tour, which purports to show you where you can get lots of CRAZY DEAD ANIMALS, takes place in Chinatown. Because, you know, those Asians eat all that weird shit, right? “[E]verything from sharks to frogs to plain old unidentifiable crap,” apparently.


Some POC environmentalists don’t want to give up their meat either March 12, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 6:03 pm
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Via Racialicious, the Black. Brown. Green. website, which links environmental & racial justice issues. Sounds good, right?

The Living Green page categorizes some things folks can do to go green as follows:

Just Do It. Things so obvious you’d be crazy not to start doing them today.
Step It Up. Things that take a bit more effort but make your life happier, healthier, easier and greener.
Go All The Way. Things that most people consider “die-hard” but are quite sensible, simple, and relatively inexpensive to implement.

There are lots of the usual suggestions, like composting & using compact fluorescent light bulbs. Also mentioned is the idea of having less kids.

What’s left out? Oh yeah. Eating less meat & dairy, or even — shock — cutting them out altogether. I’m glad that at least the page doesn’t play the “happy meat” game, by suggesting people eat “free-range” animals that have been named & cuddled before slaughter. But ignoring the environmental consequences of animal agriculture? Especially when another potential hot-button issue among environmentalists (having less kids) is mentioned, I don’t see the reasoning behind leaving this omission.

The website is still under development, so maybe this issue will be addressed somewhere, but it’s regardless very disappointing to not see the environmental toll of meat-eating mentioned in what is, right now, the most useful part of the site.


Are vegetables straight? February 28, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 10:33 pm

So NYC is getting a Veggie Pride Parade this year. I heard about it a few weeks ago & I think it could be fun, & certainly interesting to see how it pans out.

I just noticed that one of the events scheduled is the wedding of Penelo Pea Pod, who has been the mascot of VivaVegie (the group sponsoring the parade) for 10 years. Apparently the “lucky guy (ur, animal? vegetable?)” is still to be decided.

I get that doing something with Penelo Pea Pod makes sense, since she’s been around a while. Something to celebrate her life, or whatever. But having that be a wedding seems really… tired, & pandering to narrow traditions, even if her spouse ends up being another girl pea pod or something (can you tell I’m tired of the increasing emphasis on marriage rights at Pride [meaning the GLBTQ one] in the past few years?), which somehow I doubt will happen.

And… I don’t know. What does it have to do with veggie pride? I get it, I really do, that the parade organizers want to have cute, fun stuff to interest crowds. Hence the costume & poster contests they’re planning. And I guess summer is the wedding season, or whatever. It still makes me wanna roll my eyes.


Connecting speciesism with racism: watch out for squirrel gangstas? November 2, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 9:24 am
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While checking out the 7th Carnival of Empty Cages (well worth a read), I found a link to this post from the Sistah Vegan Project. It critiques an article from Outdoor Life magazine called “Squirrels Gone Wild.” In this article, squirrels are evil beings who attack innocent humans.

But what’s really stunning is the illustration that accompanies the article: a squirrel drawn as a stereotypical gangsta. What’s wrong with this? As Breeze Harper (the creator of Sistah Vegan Project) notes:

Is the implication that black and Latino men involved in thug and gangsta life (or maybe if they aren’t even involved in gangsta life, but by default “gone wild” because they are black and Latino in a white culture that constructs them as deviant “at birth) are “animals”? Is this why, when the cartoonist decided to illustrate a “humanoid” version of a squirrel “gone bad”, he can only think of his perception of the deviant a black or Latino male that could also invade the white family’s reality and attack them?



Why this blog? November 1, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 10:20 pm
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I am a relatively new vegan (after 14 years of vegetarianism, 7+ of those being largely dairy-free, but not totally). When I finally took the step to go completely vegan, I did what I usually do when something new & large comes into my life: I went online. I read vegan blogs & I poked around in vegan communities. What I noticed was that there often seemed to be a default whiteness among vegans. Sometimes it seemed to be out of ignorance — no one ever suggested unpacking that invisible knapsack — & sometimes it seemed to come from a place where folks were saying, “Humans are so vile, I’ve written them off, that’s why I focus on animal rights, & not human issues.”

Two incidents in particular made me realize I had to find more vegans of color, to keep my sanity (& no, not all people of color agree on everything, & yes, POCs can be messed up regarding race, too… duh). First of all, someone suggested that a funky way to promote veganism would be for white vegans to adopt children of color, & raise them vegan. That way, when someone made the accusation of vegans being only a bunch of white bourgie folks, they could point to their children & say, “Nuh-uh!”

Insert the sound of my head hitting the keyboard, repeatedly. In case anyone reading is wondering why, may I point you to this website & the book Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption (my thoughts on the book are here). Just for starters.

Incident number two: someone went off on a rant about how people in prison knew what they were doing when they broke the law, & they deserve what they get, & she didn’t have any sympathy for them & that’s why she works for innocent animals instead. Many others agreed that working for animals, instead of humans, was more worthwhile because humans have the whole legal system to advocate for them, whereas animals lack that advantage. My issue is not with the “innocent animals” part, but the incredible ignorance displayed about the race & class bias of the prison industrial complex in this country, not to mention blanket hostility towards anyone involved with it.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone understands multiple oppressions, the varying systems that catch up so many of us in so many different ways. Those two incidents were sharp wake-up calls. You know how vegans often get, from omnivores, the dismissive comment that working for people instead of animals is more important? And then vegans get all defensive & say, “Why can’t we do both?” Who knew there was such a large contingent of vegans who didn’t want to do both?

I don’t have the luxury of being able to ignore the way race affects my life, or the lives of my loved ones. Or homophobia. Or sexism. Or classism. Or ableism. Are you beginning to get the point?