Why Trump Veganism Must Go

trump-veganism

Donald Trump’s horrific rise to power was based on fear-mongering and the blatant exploitation of divisions. Millions of “forgotten” working class whites rallied behind Trump, driven by his appeals to dangerous immigrants, nasty women, and dangerous “urban” people of color. Fear, anger, and otherization both mobilized and motivated.

Bigot-powered politics typify other change-making spaces beyond the American presidential race. Veganism, for instance, frequently banks on the same inflammatory approach. Women’s bodies are abused, assaulted, and raped to shame other women into compliance. People of color are framed as “brutes,” “savages,” or “monsters” to encourage whites to side with veganism.

Disaffected vegans, mostly white and male, embrace these tactics, eager to transmit “their” vegan movement, one that prioritizes white-centric, patriarchal values and banks on the ostracization of nonwhites and women. Incidentally, such an atmosphere puts pressure on marginalized people to join ranks with the majority as a measure of protection. As many white women voted for Trump, many white women also throw their support behind these hateful vegan campaigns, happy to cash in their racial privilege and bargain with patriarchy in hopes of higher status by association.

When these tactics are criticized, their vitriolic supporters go ALL CAPS. They become aggressive and threatening, desperate to protect their privileged approach as common sense while framing their critics as anti-vegan. Anyone that finds such an approach problematic is accused of not caring about animals, or told, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” “Make veganism great again,” they seem to suggest.

“PC” culture isn’t welcome here. Neither are women, people of color, disabled persons, trans persons, and others. In fact, they are framed the bigots for daring to challenge the discriminatory status quo.

trump-fans

The result of anti-intersectional vegan campaigning is strikingly similar to that of Trump’s. The ranks swell with sexist, racist, blissfully ignorant, and hateful deplorables. More than tapping into and inviting in this bigotry, this framework actually aggravates it, creates it, and normalizes it. Being racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced and discriminatory is becoming an acceptable value so long as it is positioned as necessary for the protection of the oppressed.

Violence begets violence. History has shown that appealing to privilege will encourage behavior change that is unstably based on violent ideology. This violent ideology supports discriminatory actions. It further marginalizes the underprivileged. Vegans will do well to avoid taking cues from Trump’s play book. It is unsustainable and wholly incongruent with the principles of social justice.

I am further wary of post-Trump appeals to “come together” or strive for “unity.” It is akin to victim-blaming. Rape survivors hear it. Communities impacted by police violence hear it, too. Those who have been wronged by institutional oppression are not those who should be concerned with unity. They should be focused on how to strategize to survive systemic violence. Vegans betray justice by insisting all movement parties “just get along.” There is no ethical justification for supporting violence in our society or a social justice movement. Both Trump’s campaign built on hate and the vegan movement’s campaign built on hate will have deadly consequences to minorities impacted by that ideology.  “Unity” rhetoric is a form of social control and protects, rather than challenges, inequality.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

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I SPONSORED A PUSSY: Cabbage Chicks and the Politics of Vegan Sexism

Cabbage Chicks

Sexist advocacy is normalized within the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Most readers are likely aware of the infamous PETA campaigns that use the naked bodies of women to grab attention, but sexually objectifying vegan women “for the animals” might now be the status quo. Case in point: the Cabbage Chicks.

In 2013, a grassroots group based out of Milwaukee tabled the city’s PrideFest featuring two young white women, topless save for a pair of cabbage leaves glued to their breasts. Their nudity was exploited as a teaser to attract visitors, and they awarded stickers to those who took the bait and donated. The stickers read: “I SPONSORED A PUSSY.”

When criticized, the organization insisted that it was unaffiliated with the campaign. Apparently, these women came up with this idea on their own to “help draw attention” to the tent, and “they had fun doing it.” The organization’s president assured that dressing up in vegetable costumes was “empowering.” PETA takes a similar position in response to feminist critique.

Cheers to them, of course, if they indeed had fun and felt empowered, but this is far from an individual act. Naked protesters frequently represent an organization, and organizations clearly condone these stunts by promoting the women’s semi-nude images on social media accounts. Individualizing women’s protest, however, removes culpability and risk. When campaigns succeed, the organization can reap the benefits. When they falter, the individual volunteers can be blamed.

Defending the Campaign

What if men get naked sometimes, too? One organizational representative noted that one man also took his shirt off and helped out: “There was a male dressed up as well, not sexist.” Yet, in our deeply sexist society, the bodies of men and women are not interchangeable. Men’s bodies are interpreted differently, generally in ways that empowers them and reasserts their dominance. Women’s naked bodies have yet to be divorced from the larger structure of degradation and sexual objectification. Again, PETA also deflects with this false equivalent when pressed by feminist critique.

The organization’s president also stated: “I’m not completely making the connection on how this is any different than wearing a swimsuit at a public beach.” Of course, beaches can be sites of oppression for women as well, but for the most part, wearing bathing suits on the beach is not going to draw attention to women in the same way wearing cabbage leaves in an information booth would. While PrideFest is arguably much more nudity-normative, it should be considered that women dressed as food reinforces the notion that women are consumable commodities (isn’t treating vulnerable persons like edible things exactly what activists are hoping nonvegans to get move away from?). The double entendre of the “I SPONSORED A PUSSY” sticker only reinforces the misogynist message.

Contextualizing the Campaign

This stunt is only one of several other problematic campaigns. In another, they had a young woman stand by the side of the road with meat cuts drawn on her naked body. The organization suggested that it was less problematic because it’s “not really sexy,” but using a naked woman’s body to emulate violence against animals is arguably worse.

In another campaign (not staffed by the organization itself, but promoted on its Facebook page), two bloodied women lay prostrate on the ground with a metal pipe by their bodies. A man in black (drawing on the imagery of the stereotypical rapist or murderer) stood over top their “corpses” brandishing a woman’s animal hair coat. This campaign targets female consumers (the primary wearers of “fur”) by drawing on imagery of violence against women. The organization’s response? “AWESOME! Thanks for all that you do for the animals! <3”

The PETA Effect

I share this incident to demonstrate that something systemic is at work here. The use of naked or nearly naked young women (usually white and always thin) and the use of women’s bodies as stand-ins for dead Nonhuman Animals are both increasingly popular tactics resulting from the hegemonic presence of PETA. As the largest Nonhuman Animal rights organization, PETA has the cultural power to define what types of advocacy are popular, expected, and legitimate. Ultimately, PETA is reflecting popular advertising techniques from the business world, those that are developed by men for patriarchal purposes (i.e. “sex sells”). In other words, it is not simply about women’s personal “choice.” Instead, there is a more powerful movement structure working to narrowly define what choices are available to female activists.

Regardless of individual women’s choices, activists should be concerned about the larger implications for women as a demographic. Western society trivializes and even condones rape, and according to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 2 seconds (most of these are victims are women). Psychological and sociological research has shown that sexual objectification of women and trivialization of violence against women is correlated with the devaluation of women and increased violence against women. It even leads women to self-objectify and achieve much lower levels of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is important, not only in fighting against one’s own oppression, but in feeling worthy enough to participate in social movements . . . including Nonhuman Animal liberation.

What is more, this kind of advocacy does not solicit the desired effects. The tools of misogyny only build more misogyny.

Criticizing these tactics isn’t about policing women’s behavior. Vegan feminism is instead responding to the rape culture that Nonhuman Animal rights organizations perpetuate to the detriment of women. Organizations must accept responsibility for the wider implications of this type of advocacy. Nude campaigns are mostly legal, just like rape jokes are legal, but that does not exempt them from criticism. Shutting down well-meant discussion about the hurt that sexist advocacy causes women is problematic. It is also indicative of how toxic the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has become for women and other vulnerable groups. The bottom line is that activists cannot articulate a clear message of anti-oppression for other animals so long as the movement uncritically exploits and aggravates the oppression of other vulnerable groups.

Here’s a radical notion…what if women didn’t have to be sexy cabbages to advocate for the end of violence against animals? What if women got to be persons? I think a person makes for a better activist than a cabbage any day.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

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How Vegans can be Better Pro-Intersectional Activists

vegan-unity

Content Warning: Ableism, trans antagonism, racism

By Aris Austin

A couple of weeks ago, I published an article on why vegans need to be better pro-intersectional activists. If you haven’t already read that article, I encourage you to read it before moving on to this one. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick summary: Being a pro-intersectional activist (1) is the right thing to do and (2) will make our movement stronger.

So, how can we go about actually being pro-intersectional activists? I am by no means an expert on the issue, but I do try my best. I hope to outline a few first steps we can all take below.

1. Listen

Listen, listen, listen. This is number one on my list for a reason. Leadership starts with listening. Unless you are a single mother struggling to feed her family, you won’t know what her life is like unless you listen to her. And if you try to advocate for her before listening, you’re talking over her instead of using your voice to amplify hers. That isn’t good advocacy.

Listening doesn’t necessarily mean needing to seek out that single mother, or sitting on your hands until you happen to hear her speaking. You can educate yourself. It’s easier now than ever to listen to the stories, experiences, and needs of people. A simple Google search will yield countless articles, blog posts, and videos from single mothers talking about their experiences. So do some research. Listen to the voices of oppressed individuals. Learn, and then use your own voice to amplify theirs.

2. Never stop listening

If you haven’t seen Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” I encourage you to watch it. As she explains, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

We cannot allow ourselves to think that because we know a single story, we know every story. Listening to that mother’s story is an important step, but it does not make us an expert on the lives of everyone struggling to feed their children. How can we claim to know the story of a disabled mother of two in Chicago simply because we’ve already listened to the story of an able-bodied mother of three in São Paulo? Their experiences may be completely different. If we ever make the mistake of thinking that we’re done learning, we limit our ability to do good things and increase our potential to cause damage.

3. Own your mistakes

This one can be hard to do, but it’s also incredibly important. And hey, we all mess up sometimes. Every single one of us has made some kind of mistake in the past, and as we learn, it’s reasonable to expect ourselves to make more. However, the way we handle ourselves after making a mistake can mean the difference between a good and a bad conversation. Because of this, it’s important to handle ourselves well.

In my article on why vegans need to be better pro-intersectional activists, I used an example where you unintentionally hurt a friend by using the term “moral schizophrenia” to describe the treatment of animals. Let’s explore that example again, first looking at what might happen owning your impact.

You: “The way people cuddle their dogs at night and have no problem slaughtering pigs…They don’t even feel bad about eating bacon, but recoil at the thought of eating dogs. It’s total moral schizophrenia!”

Your friend: “Whoa, hold on. I get what you’re trying to say, but it really bothers me that you call it “schizophrenia.” That makes it sound like people with schizophrenia are violent, or don’t know how to make moral decisions. I have schizophrenia, remember? I would never hurt anyone.”

You: “I see what you mean, but that’s not my intention. I’m just saying that people treat animals in unpredictable and sometimes violent ways. I’m not trying to offend anyone.”

Your friend: “But when you use it like that, it’s ableist. You’re adding to the stigma that makes people see me as violent, unsafe to be around, and unfit to live in society. Will you please stop using that term?”

You: “You don’t get it. That’s not what I mean at all. I mean, obviously I feel safe around you, so you know that isn’t what I mean. I get that the term might offend you, but it’s a pretty common term in the animal rights movement. Sometimes we have to use shocking language to explain shocking things. Anyway, if most people knew that pigs weren’t all that different from dogs…”

You have completely lost your friend at this point. By defending yourself instead of listening, you’re causing hurt and perpetuating stereotypes that potentially limit her options in life. You’ve probably caused some damage to your relationship, and you’re certainly not getting anywhere with your vegan message. Worse, you may have given her the impression that veganism is an inherently ableist movement, and you’ve left yourself open to making the same mistake in the future.

Now let’s look at an example where you own your impact and address your mistake:

You: “The way people cuddle their dogs at night and have no problem slaughtering pigs…They don’t even feel sorry about eating bacon, but recoil at the thought of eating dogs. It’s total moral schizophrenia!”

Your friend: “Whoa, hold on. I get what you’re trying to say, but it really bothers me that you call it “schizophrenia.” That makes it sound like people with schizophrenia are violent, or don’t know how to make moral decisions. I have schizophrenia, remember? I would never hurt anyone.”

You: “Wow…I guess I never thought of it that way. I don’t know what to say, except that I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m going to make an effort to stop using that term, and to be more aware of casual ableism in my language. Thank you for telling me.”

Sure, it sounds a little corny, and apologizing and owning your impact probably didn’t fix everything. Your friend may still be hurt. But by simply apologizing and not arguing, you’ve minimized the damage you’ve done and taken a big step toward doing better in the future. Rather than alienating your friend, you’ve shown her respect, and you’ve taken a step toward deconstructing oppressive systems.

It can be hard to take being called out well. Our first reaction is to become defensive, because we feel like we’re being attacked. It might be helpful to keep in mind that your friend probably only spoke up because she trusts you. She knows that you’re a good, thoughtful person, so she expects you to be willing to correct your mistake. In a way, her calling you out may be a sign that she thinks highly of you and is willing to push you to do better.

4. Speak up

This step combines all of the previous steps and helps you create positive change. You can’t (and shouldn’t) rely on your friend to educate every vegan on why saying “moral schizophrenia” is wrong. Let’s say that after your conversation, you went home and did some extra reading on why saying “moral schizophrenia” is problematic (educating yourself is great!). Now, let’s say that a few weeks later, you hear another vegan drop the term. This is your chance to speak up.

It’s probably more constructive to engage this other vegan in a conversation rather than outright attacking them. Since you also used to use the term, you can start by finding common ground with them, and then explaining why you’ve changed your mind. Let’s look at an example:

You: “Hey, I just wanted to point out something you might not be aware of. I noticed your use of the term “moral schizophrenia,” which is something I used to say too. But a friend recently pointed out that it implies those with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous. That’s already a major stereotype that can limit their employment, housing opportunities, and even safety. When we use it to describe violent systems, it only worsens the societal stigmas they have to live with every day. I know you probably didn’t mean any harm, but do you think we could talk about using different language that isn’t so harmful?”

They may change their behavior based on that simple conversation. Even if they reject your invitation, at least you did the right thing. You’re acting in support of your friend, and you’re working to remove harmful behavior from the vegan community. In doing so, you’re doing the right thing, and you’re making the vegan movement stronger by making it more inclusive and accessible.

It is important to note here that we should use our voices to amplify the voices of oppressed individuals rather than “talking over” them. What I mean by this is that we should be mindful of the space we’re taking up, especially if we’re speaking from a place of privilege. Like many things, this is dependent on the situation. If a man in a group of men hears a misogynistic remark from his friend, that is absolutely the time and place for him to speak up. However, if that same man finds himself in a room where several women are already discussing their own experiences of harassment from men, this is probably a good time for him to listen and learn rather than launching into a speech of his own. Women in our society are already so often “spoken for” by men, so it’s best for him not to take over the conversation, especially because he’s probably the least experienced person in the room on that particular subject.

5. Act in solidarity with others

I’m not saying we all need to drop animal rights as our first priority. But there’s little that bothers me more than people who purposely ignore every other form of oppression simply because of animals. To avoid speaking out against racism or xenophobia simply because you think the group of people being attacked is especially bad for the animals is (and yeah, I’ve seen stuff like that coming from some fairly prominent vegans). To condone slurs about Chinese people “because they eat dogs” ignores the fact that (1) people in many other countries eat pigs, who aren’t so different from dogs, (2) there are many wonderful activists in China working to end the dog meat trade and (3) racism is never justified, no matter what stereotypes you decide to believe.

We can do better by avoiding this mistake, but we can also do better by acting in solidarity with others. There are so many other movements that deserve our support, and we can give it to them by making very few or even no sacrifices to our work for the animals. Consider North Carolina-based group Vegans for Peace. Members of their group have joined other LGBT rights activists for several protests against North Carolina’s discriminatory House Bill 2. I imagine that many of these activists are animal rights activists first and foremost, but they understand the injustice happening in their state, and they’re taking the time and effort to protest it.

Acts of solidarity like this not only help combat injustice, but also make the vegan movement more inclusive. A group of vegans protesting HB2 tells the government that trans discrimination is wrong. But it also tells trans people that they’re safe around that group of vegans. And if we help people feel safe and welcomed around us (rather than making them feel unsafe or excluded, like some vegans seem intent on doing,) it greatly increases our movement’s potential for growth and positive change.

This is part two of four in a series on veganism and social justice.


meAris Austin is an author, student, and activist who writes fiction and nonfiction that aims to dismantle oppression. Their fiction has previously been awarded with honors at Colorado State University, where they attend school and serve as president for the university’s animal rights group. Aris can be found on Facebook page and more of their writing is available on their website.

Single-Issue Campaigns are the White Feminism of Animal Rights

White vegan feminism

Single-issue campaigns are sustained protests that focus only on one particular form of speciesism such as banning horse carriages or resisting badger “culls,” and they are the darling of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. In a deeply speciesist society where violence against other animals appears unceasing in its cruelty, activists understandably feel overwhelmed and may rationalize that snipping at the low hanging branches of speciesism is the most realistic approach. They may even suppose that the marginal reforms sometimes achieved may make life in hell a trifle less miserable for vulnerable animals. However, there are a number of problems with single-issue campaigns.

As explored in an article I have published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Food, Culture & Society and  Chapter 3 of my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, single-issue campaigns are inherently speciesist. They rely on a human-created hierarchy of worth that privileges some species over others in presuming that a focus on those animals who are already specially favored is the best bet to eliminate some forms of speciesism altogether (such as dog fighting or exploiting elephants in circuses). Sometimes they seek to bring attention to less favored species, such as chickens and cows, but, in these cases, the campaigns focus only on reforming the industries with the presumption being that the public would never care enough about chickens or cows to support their full liberation. Thus, activists tend to advocate for the abolition of speciesist industries that impact very favored animals and the modification of speciesist industries that impact less favored animals, but generally ignore altogether the most marginalized of species (such as fishes and “pest” animals).

There is limited evidence to the effectiveness of single-issue campaigns, but the majority of the movement’s resources are funneled into them, starving foundational vegan education of much needed support. Elephants in some circuses have been banned, only to be moved to “breeding” facilities and replaced by camels. Orcas may be on the way out of sea parks, but dolphins, seals, and other prisoners quickly fill this vacancy. More chickens may be raised in “cage-free” facilities, but the demand for their eggs and flesh remains unchanged by a public whose conscience is assuaged by slick industry advertisements keen to promote this “healthful” and “humane” added-value to their products. Picking and choosing oppressions leaves many in the lurch. Veganism creates a much needed anti-speciesism framework to encapsulate the needs of all species, but the movement stigmatizes vegan education in favor of more glamorous, high-impact, and advertisable single-issues.

By singling out particular species as especially worthy of movement resources and public compassion, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement reinforces speciesism. It supports the notion that some species are more important and deserving than others. A movement that loads attention and resources on already privileged species is one that engages inequality to combat inequality. In this way, it is remarkably similar to the feminist movement’s infamous problem with white privilege (also known as “white feminism“). Rather than fight for women as a whole, in all their diversity, the movement funnels its efforts into already privileged middle-class white women. Historically, white women have been feminism’s equivalent to the “low hanging branch” that orcas, elephants, dogs, and cats occupy in the anti-speciesist imagination.

Vegan White Feminism

I support a veganism that is inclusive of all species just as I support a feminism that is inclusive of all women. I back up this attitude in promoting only holistic, education-based vegan approaches to anti-speciesism. Veganism is a political position that opposes the institutional oppression of other animals. All animals. Veganism is adulterated when it is skewed toward the interest of whales, shelter animals, and other cute and cuddlies. Yes, these species matter, too, but prioritizing them is a cruel injustice when the most oppressed and ignored species are counting on humans to be their allies and break down those exploitative institutions that bind them.

“White feminist” single-issue campaigning isn’t coherent, and it won’t be effective. Feminism can only go so far when it focuses on the interests and needs of white women, because it ignores the root causes of oppression and the ways in which difference manifests among those who are oppressed. Feminists may find themselves in trouble when they advocate for white women under the guise that their more easily won gains will trickle down to women of color, as it is completely illogical. Securing rights for well-to-do white women will in no way ensure that other women will be liberated from their racially-defined sexism. Closing the pay gap for “women” (as measured by white women’s status) ignores how race intersects to restrict pay and opportunities for Latina and Black women, for instance. White women, Latina women, and Black women are all women, of course, but how they experience womanhood and sexism differ considerably. Because of white privilege, what works to advance white women’s interests will not necessarily work to advance that of women of color. The “trickle-down” tactic undermines the very essence of feminism and only further marginalizes those who could benefit the most from feminist advocacy. When the Nonhuman Animal rights movement insists on prioritizing relatively privileged Nonhuman Animal species, it commits this same injustice to unpopular species.

A mouse does not go through a human-privileging society as a cat or dog would. Like white feminists, vegan activists would benefit from acknowledging this difference in experience across a wide diversity of species by committing to inclusive vegan-centric activism. Vegans demonstrate a clear intersectional failure when they presume all species will benefit from the promotion of those species already relatively privileged in human society. #OrcaVeganism

Taylor Swift White Feminism

Single-issue campaigns are promoted by the movement (large, professionalized non-profits and their elite leaders in particular) because of their fundraising capacity, not their liberatory potential. Unfortunately, movement elites are able to frame their capitalist agenda (corporate growth) as congruent with a very anti-capitalist one (the liberation of the oppressed). Activists, who look to these elites as experts, take their single-issue rationales at face value. Non-profits benefit from endless campaigning and relatively insignificant tweaks to a speciesist system because they fail to offend the industries and state that support them. Single-issue campaigns keep the cash flowing while still presenting a semblance of meaningful action for other animals.

Single-issue campaigns support the very hierarchy of worth that vegans (and feminists) claim to reject. So why are activists still defending them? Perhaps it is no accident that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s ranks are dominated by white women. As women, they certainly understand what it is like to be disadvantaged in a patriarchal society, but as white women, they are much less likely to consider how privilege manifests even among the oppressed. White feminism allows white women to focus on the most privileged of the unprivileged, and single-issue campaigns replicate this very problem. As with feminism, veganism must nurture a framework that acknowledges and respects differing oppressions. It must be cognizant of privilege. More importantly, it must not replicate inequality in its allocation of attention and resources.

 

Readers can learn more about the problems with single-issue campaigning in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

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Animal Whites and Wrongs

animal whites

For a movement built on racism and white-dominated in leadership, theory, and rhetoric, it is all too common for Nonhuman Animal rights activists in the age of “colorblindness” and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaigning to fall back on white fragility and open hostility to people of color and their allies when challenged on their complacency with racism. I think it is fair to say that most animal whites activists are happy enough to identify as “anti-racist,” but when pressed into action, most will find themselves on the defensive, worried about their identity as a “good” person, and positioning themselves as uncompromising saviors to other (seemingly more deserving) animals.

This is most glaring when racism-apologists shut down Black Lives Matter activism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement with “ALL LIVES MATTER” or “Black Lives Matter, too.” Indeed, the rhetoric and ill-conceived rationalizations used to justify this intentional misappropriation often read eerily just like that of America’s conservatives. How very strange given the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s claim to liberal, inclusive values.

The “color-blind” “all lives matter” approach is racist. It intentionally and consciously ignores difference. More than ignoring it, it aggressively seeks to stomp it out. White activists do not like to be reminded of their privilege. Being an activist “for the animals” allows them to take on a sense of heroism, goodness, and superiority. Acknowledging racism in the ranks challenges that self-image.

But, white vegans, this isn’t about you. Ignoring difference (and violently rejecting its existence or importance) is one of the main reasons why the Nonhuman Animal rights movement struggles with diversity. It is one of the main reasons why the movement is not taken seriously. The exclusionary actions and “All lives matter” rhetoric of “colorblind” activists and organizations demonstrates beautifully how and why people of color are actively marginalized in the  movement, even to the point of squeezing them out of leadership roles. What choice do people of color really have? A white-dominated space that can’t even say “Black Lives Matter” without adding conditions or making alterations makes for a hostile work environment. Especially for grassroots coalitions, the institutional channels for addressing racially antagonistic behavior are frequently non-existent. Aggravating this is the general failure for the Nonhuman Animal rights movement to adopt an intersectional understanding of oppression, choosing instead to support a single-issue approach. White protectionism thus prevails and contributes to the destruction of “the other.” How very antithetical to the liberatory message the movement espouses.

We have a moral duty to support justice where ever it is needed. The promotion of racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement divides in the most deplorable way. Bizarrely, racism-apologists insist that marginalized persons who push back against sexism and racism are responsible for this division, but that logic only makes sense if the Nonhuman Animal rights movement were a movement in support of social inequality, not one opposed to it.  Making the world a better, more safe and just place is not now and nor was it ever a single-issue endeavor.

I have also seen racism-apologists accusing activists of slander for the “crime” of identifying racism present in the words and actions associated with single-issue, “colorblind” organizations. This baffles me completely, as speciesists regularly engage this exact same pro-oppression tactic to silence Nonhuman Animal rights activists. There is no desire whatsoever to learn from others, only a prioritization of the ego. To be fair, this is a common enough psychological reaction, but activists are in the business of persuasion and behavior change, and should be more sensitive to the dangerous consequences of cognitive dissonance once aggravated.

I want to be clear that this is not a matter of “bad apple” activists organizations, but this is instead systemic to a movement that formulated its identity out of Jim Crow white supremacist ideologies, prioritizes a single-issue approach to activism, and tokenizes people of color. It is a movement that appropriates non-white experiences when convenient while simultaneously celebrating white leadership and white-centric, often racist tactics.

These are sad and scary times, and my condolences go out to all those who have been hurt by unfortunate (and unnecessary) diversity failures in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. It is demoralizing, but I ask readers to keep up the fight. We are on the side of righteousness. And, as they say: if you aren’t making white people uncomfortable with your anti-racism activism, you aren’t doing it right.

Cheers to the allies, who are doing what is right and taking the burden off of people of color who are too often unfairly expected to defend themselves, explain themselves, and dismantle the system that whites created. More importantly, cheers to activists of color who do not have to, but nonetheless go out of their way to explain racism to an audience that has already ignored so many opportunities to learn.

We can do better, and we must do better. For those privileged to do so, keep going. Let’s not give up.

 

 

You can read more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com

The Woman as Sexy Dying Animal Trope

Women crouch in filthy cages, dressed in rags, looking around in fear; promo image for "The Herd"

Too frequently in anti-speciesism advocacy, women become stand-ins for Nonhuman Animals suffering from extreme human violence and degradation. It is not by chance that women predominate in these roles. Women are selected (or self-select) because it culturally “makes sense” to audiences that sexualized violence will be aimed at women. If men, a relatively privileged group, were to substitute the vulnerable and suffering Nonhuman Animals, it just wouldn’t compute.

Women are regularly subject to violence and degradation, so they become the “natural” choice when staffing campaigns. Women in the audience, too, are familiar with the normalcy of misogyny, and perhaps social movements hope to trigger them into supporting the cause by tapping into their fears and traumas. Such a tactic begs the question as to how aggravating inequality for women could reduce inequality for other animals.

Consider the vegan advocacy film, The Herd. Status quo misogyny predominates, and there is arguably nothing that sets this film apart from standard sexist and violent horror movies except the good intentions of the filmmakers. The script is exactly the same: young, thin, white women, naked or nearly naked, are sexually brutalized for the titillation of the audience.

I ask activists to consider how replicating violent, misogynistic media could, logistically, disrupt oppressive thinking about other vulnerable demographics. Further, I believe it is ethically problematic to contribute to a culture of woman-hating in a world where actual violence against actual women continues to happen so frequently that it can only be described as normal. Images have power, and these images should be used responsibly in service of social justice. It is both unwise and immoral to capitalize on sexism to advance anti-speciesism.

In the video linked below, I have compiled a number of images to illustrate the woman as sexy dying animal trope. This is a pattern that extends across a number of organizations, notably PETA, but also LUSH Cosmetics, 269life, and others. Consider what it means when activists instinctively position women as representatives of speciesist violence. Consider also the privilege afforded to men who are less frequently used, but also the dangers in positioning them as abusers in protest scenarios. In a society where violence against women is still not taken seriously, it is unclear how movement audiences could be expected to take violence against animals seriously through misogynist imagery of this kind.

 

 

ARationalApproachtoAnimalRights

You can read more about gender politics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com