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.

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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

Love, Sex, and the Animal Liberation Front

Man in ski mask kisses woman in black hoodie
Image from Animal Freedom Fighters Unite Facebook group

More so than other factions of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, the “liberation” or “direct action” faction (frequently associated with the Animal Liberation Front) often engages symbolism of human-to-human love, intimacy, and sex in its activist narrative.

Consider Love and Liberation: An Animal Liberation Front Story, a romance novel following a young female activist who falls in love with another direct action activist, the two of them bonding over illegal actions in the name of anti-speciesism.

Cover of Love and Liberation

Consider also the direct action comic, The Liberator, male-created with a male and female protagonist. The female-bodied hero, however, tends to be drawn for the male-gaze, large breasted and sometimes bra-less.

Liberator

More than other factions of the movement, the direct action faction relies on narratives of heroism, machismo, and domination. As with any hero’s tale, the “girl as reward” must be present. In a previous essay, I note the “Liam Neeson effect,” whereby Nonhuman Animals are feminized and their plight exploited as a plot device to excuse hypermasculine vigilantism and violence. “Direct action” activism hopes to attract members and new recruits by creating an opportunity for boys and men to prove their manhood and become real life superheros. Steve Best, a leader of the ALF faction, has stated that it will be the media coverage of this type of activism which will motivate and inspire viewers to take up arms, so to speak. Love and sex must be part of this opportunity, as becoming a “man” necessitates power over the feminine.

Relatedly, ALF activists also frequently pose with Nonhuman Animals as loving and thankful. Most of these survivors are undoubtedly relieved, but we must keep in mind that media is not created by accident, and images are carefully chosen to convey a particular message. I see in this thankful animal trope the same patriarchal or paternalist concept: man as liberator and benevolent leader, woman and animal as grateful and dependent. Savior narratives, well meaning though they may be, are inherently disempowering to the marginalized (this is a major concern in ally politics).

ALF member in ski mask cradling small monkey

Social movements consciously strategize in their media representations, using particular codes that the audience will be expected to accurately and favorably interpret. The ALF and other direct action collectives bank on our cultural literacy with misogyny and patriarchy in order for these scripts and codes to make sense. I question as to whether or not this hypermasculine script will translate for an anti-oppression future if we’re still speaking the same language of domination.

 


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

Three Reasons Why Veganism Needs Diversity

Two girls in hijabs caring for a cat. Reads, "Effective Advocacy Requires Diversity; Cite Women; Celebrate Women; Patriarchy never helped anyone"

Diversity matters in the vegan movement for three reasons.

First, social movement research indicates that a diversity of representatives will be more likely to resonate with a diverse audience, and a diverse audience is needed for social change.

Second, a diversity in leadership provides role models, which attracts and nurtures a diverse activist pool. Social psychological research supports that marginalized people find a sense of agency and belonging when they see people like them doing important work.

Third, a white-centric/male-centric movement relies on the very same hierarchies of power that facilitate speciesism.  As Audre Lorde famously stated, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Here is my challenge to you. Try going an entire week without citing, referencing, or promoting a male leader or a male-led project. Replace them with women/of color doing similar work. Highlight diversity instead of spotlighting privilege.

Then, expand your practice. Make it a habit to promote diversity in Nonhuman Animal rights spaces instead of defaulting to the status quo of men, all day, everyday. Double-down on your anti-speciesism politics by maintaining an intersectional lens.

 

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology 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 Urgency Of Activism: Friend or Foe of Progress?

Not Safe for Work: Contains Coarse Language

Minks in cage

By Michele Kaplan

One thing the Animal Rights movement is not short on is statistics. We have stats so exact, we have what is called “kill counters”, that tell you exactly how many marine animals, chickens, ducks, pigs, rabbits, turkeys, geese, sheep, goats, cows (and calves), rodents, pigeons (and other birds), buffalo, dogs, cats, horses, donkeys (and mules) and even camels have been killed, within seconds that it took to view a page on the internet.

And as we watch the numbers on the counter rapidly increase, taking less than a minute till the numbers are in the thousands (for many animals), what is the animal rights activist to do with that information?

Does one nod soberly, acknowledge the truth, and say something like “there is much work to be done. We keep fighting.”

Or does one intensely focus on the staggering statistics, the numbers that just … keep… rising, and say “There is no time to waste! The animals need us now!!!” This is The Urgency, (the activist panic) that if one is not careful, can swallow you whole.

And while The Urgency says “do… something! Hurry up! Go! Go! Go!!”, is the default answer to take immediate action? Can we remain mindful and aware that because we are in a state of urgency, that it is very much possible that it’s clouding our judgment, as to what constitutes as a good idea for the cause?

After all, when we are in a state of panic (activist or otherwise), often the dominant motivation is a strong desire to experience catharsis, to get relief from said emotion (whether we are conscious of that or not). This is not to say that an action can not be both cathartic and effective, this is to say that just because it feels good, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are reaching beyond the choir.

Is it possible to be mindful in a state of urgency, that we can either tell someone “Fuck you!” or we can try to educate them, reach out, but that we can’t do both? That as activists we have to decide what we want to accomplish and ask ourselves : will this action, will this behavior, will these words work towards or against the goal? We all want to say “Fuck you!” sometimes, but what happens when we mistake this for effective activism? #KnowTheDifference

Can we, in our state of urgency, remain aware of triggering language? Can we remain aware that, yes while “holocaust” is defined as “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”, and thus when we use it to describe the animal agriculture industry, we are using it in an accurate fashion, but it’s what the word is commonly associated with (the slaughter of humans on a mass scale), that will matter more in our outreach related conversations?

Can we be aware that having the truth is not enough? Can we be aware of vegan consciousness (and the varying levels of), and that it is simply not always realistic to expect nor demand instant vegan consciousness (that matches our own), knowing that the unlearning of deep rooted speciesism is a process, not a moment. Can we remember in a state of urgency, that unless we were born vegan, there was a time when we didn’t get it either?

Or in our state of urgency, is there no time to be aware of such things? And if that is the case, what exactly are we doing? Are we really helping the animals or are we just yelling “Fuck you”?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was written with no intention to disparage or attack anyone in the community. The article was also written with no intention to put down anxiety or suggest that an anxious state is an inferior state. It is not. There is no inferior or superior emotional state and as with all emotional states, it is to our benefit (when possible) to be aware of how it may be influencing our thought process. This article is also not suggesting that the activist should be perfect at all times. No one is, as perfection does not exist. The only reason I am able to write about The Urgency (aka: the activist panic) in such detail, is because I have often experienced it myself in my own activism, and it is only when I stopped to examine my own behavior, and questioned what was I really accomplishing, was when I realized how The Urgency can impact one’s judgment, despite having good intentions. The article is also not written with the intention of telling anyone how to do vegan activism. It is merely asking questions for discussion. I still struggle at times, with how to reach beyond the choir, but I have learned that activism without self care is just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “The Urgency” is frequently used to divert from pro-intersectional, critical thinking in advocacy spaces. It is also highly gendered in its expectation that women must put others first, thus shaming them for considering how urgency-based tactics could be hurtful to other women. Read more in the essay, “What Are You Doing to Help Animals Right NOW?” hosted on Coreyleewrenn.com.

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on April 4, 2016.


me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

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Vegan Feminist Work Removed from Ecorazzi; Author Ousted

Photo of McGrath, quotes "They want me to shut up, to lay low, to be complacent. That's never going to happen."

It is no accident that mainstream vegan spaces are androcentric, and the contributions of women are so invisibilized. There are a number of disadvantages women face to having their anti-speciesist expertise and experience acknowledged, one of them being the overt exclusion or silencing of women.

In late March, 2016, a young woman writing for Ecorazzi published an essay on vegan feminism, imploring the feminist movement to acknowledge the thriving anti-speciesism intersectionality community we’ve been working so hard to build. The article was written by a feminist for feminists; its intended audience was not the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. It nonetheless solicited the attention of vegan men who, while not a part of the dialogue, insisted on eliminating that which promotes vegan feminists and their achievements (to the effect of recentering men’s achievements). At the request of a high-profile male theorist who has described her writing as “speciesist garbage,” her work was removed.

When Vegan Feminist Network made a public statement on the incident, an Ecorazzi staff member responded:

Ecorazzi statement posted on VFN which claims that the essay was removed at the request of Gary Francione for not being vegan or abolitionist enough

The author’s name is Lauren McGrath, and she’s not about to let this go without a fight. In an interview with Vegan Feminist Network, she explained:

This was a public attempt to embarrass and gut me, by both a tired academic and a writing team who I considered my friends. The best part is that they can’t do that- I’m too determined, I’m too passionate, and I fully intend to make the most of this situation.

So how did this happen? As Ecorazzi explains in the aforementioned comment (which was originally published on Vegan Feminist Network’s Facebook page), Ecorazzi has been shifting to a fully Francionist abolitionist approach in its topic coverage. Importantly, this policy appears to necessitate the exclusion of other writers, some of whose advocacy ethics are nonetheless in considerable alignment with “The Abolitionist Approach.”

An Ecorazzi job posting on Vegan Job Board, for instance, seeks a salaried writer who will demonstrate, “A strong understanding of the principles of The Abolitionist Approach by Gary Francione.” The job description insists, “All editorial content will have a strong focus on animal rights and the Abolitionist approach by Gary Francione.”  Says McGrath, “When I was hired, I didn’t realize how aggressively Ecorazzi was going to push Francione’s work.” And this misunderstanding might be expected given that, “The piece I wrote, that got me ousted, was in fact reviewed by all the Ecorazzi staff with zero disagreement or problems.” In other words, it was not until the unofficial “editor-in-chief,” presumably not on staff with Ecorazzi, decided that the piece was not in line with the principles of “The Abolitionist Approach” that McGrath’s work was erased.

After two or three days of no response to McGrath’s voicemails and emails, it was settled via text message that her employment was no longer needed. She was subsequently locked out of the Ecorazzi webpage.

I'm willing to admit when I feel scared, or upset, or feeling threatened, and I think that makes me strong.

In my opinion, McGrath’s contributions to anti-speciesism advocacy are invaluable. Veganism needs more women like her working to build connections to like-minded movements. Unfortunately, she was punished for doing so. Because her experience with marginalization is so common, it only leads me to conclude that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement as an institution, despite its pretenses, ferociously stigmatizes and derides feminism.

What will become of Lauren McGrath after this? I worry for her. She explains, “I’ve had my income, the very thing that sustains my home, puts food on my table, and pays off my bills, yanked out from under me, and that sucks. That’s really, really hard right now, and I’m doing what I can to keep afloat…” Because poverty is feminized, fewer women have access to the secure employment or thousands (even millions) of dollars in wealth that so many of the patriarchs of our movement do, those who use their power to push around those they perceive to be weaker than them. McGrath unknowingly found herself in an impossible position, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t try.

I turned my back on activists I admire and didn't speak up about my beliefs because I wanted to please my boss and keep a job. It was an ugly feeling."

Despite the ethical qualms she faced as an Ecorazzi author and her ultimate erasure, McGrath remains hopeful. As we closed our interview, she insisted, “I’m determined and eager to continue my career nonetheless, perhaps that this has just fueled my passion.”

McGrath isn’t the only victim–this is a systematic attack on women’s contributions, and very often, it is racialized. Recall that Sarah K. Woodcock, Korean-American and feminist founder of The Advocacy of Veganism Society was removed from not one, but two conferences at the behest of white male gatekeepers. I think it no coincidence that she also takes a strong feminist and anti-racist position in her advocacy approach. To be clear, while Vegan Feminist Network fully supports McGrath and the loss of her job is a serious injustice, the disproportionate amount of support and attention her case is garnering does warrant an acknowledgement of how Woodcock’s race may also be working against her (or, rather, how McGrath’s race may be working for her). Stinging from the repeated microaggressions and outright discriminations she has faced, Woodcock questions: “Does oppression only matter when it happens to white people? Does sexism only matter when it happens to white women?”

We need accountability. We must push back against blatant discrimination and woman-hating. So long as the movement remains male-focused and violent in its strategy, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement will remain marginalized, mocked, and misunderstood. I reject this oppressive behavior. What about you?

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology 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