Renouncing Vegan Birthright

By Julia Tanenbaum

The new Vegan Birthright program sponsored by Jewish Veg and Mayanot Birthright exemplifies how Zionists so often exploit the struggle for animal rights in the service of colonialism. Since 1999 Birthright Israel has handed 500,000 young Jews worldwide a free trip to Israel at the hidden cost of the dispossession of millions of Palestinians. As both Vegans and Jews we have a moral duty to renounce this program that supports Israel’s ongoing colonization of Palestine and apartheid policies. Over 5 million Palestinian refugees are to this day excluded from their own land while any Jew born and raised in the U.S is encouraged to claim their “birthright” to it. Jewish Veg’s rhetoric of compassion and repairing the world cloaks deep hypocrisy. Vegan birthright advertises a chance to meet “world leaders” in the Jewish vegan community in a “world leading vegan city”, but in reality this narrative is part of an Israeli propaganda strategy to use Israel’s supposed status as a liberal home for first queers, now vegans, to obscure the brutal violence of the occupation. Endorsing Birthright means supporting Israeli apartheid, denying millions of innocent Palestinians access to basic human rights like clean water, electricity, education, freedom of movement, and medical care. This immeasurable violence is fundamentally incompatible with the nonviolent ethos of veganism. Jewish Veg must show us which side they are on; do they support ethnic cleansing and colonialism or will they stand in solidarity with all sentient beings, Palestinians included? We call on Jewish Veg to stop the vegan Birthright program and renounce the racist ideology of Zionism if they share our values as Jewish vegans.

The Israeli animal rights movement vegan Birthright venerates is not only complicit in but directly encourages the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine through “vegan-washing” the occupation. Every year or so another article circulates about how the Israeli Armed Forces provides vegan food and boots to soldiers, upholding the absurd myth of the IDF as the “most moral army in the world”. Palestinian animal rights organizers have termed this narrative of Israeli vegan exceptionalism “vegan washing”. Vegan washing works by falsely juxtaposing “enlightened Israeli vegans” with “backwards” Palestinians, and by creating a form of militarized veganism which bears little resemblance to the radical nonviolent vision of animal liberation.

Mainstream Israeli veganism falls in line with this strategy. Israel’s leading animal rights group 269 Life attracts significant attention for its violent demonstrations, which perpetuate racism and sexism, but less for its pernicious “non-humans first” stance which unequivocally defines human oppressions, such as racism, sexism, capitalism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., as irrelevant to fighting for animal rights. Leaders of the group like Santiago Gomez support the occupation using the logic of vegan washing, because of “how the ‘Arabs’ treat animals”. Gomez goes to the lengths of supporting Israeli massacres of Palestinian fishermen, whose lives he clearly values far less than those of the fish. Vegan Jewish “messiah” Gary Yourofsky is blatantly racist against Palestinians, calling them “the most insane people on the planet”. He even spoke at the Ariel Settlement, where illegal settlers were caught torturing Palestinian children, sparking a boycott.

At its best, animal liberation organizing shakes the foundations of our social order by rejecting human domination over nature and all of it’s inhabitants. The entrenched racism of our movement obscures how the simple idea that all sentient beings hold innate rights to life and liberty and exist for their own sake is fundamentally revolutionary.  If we reject the idea that humans have the “right” to animal bodies and lives we must also reject the much larger colonial project which relies on the same ideology.

We must reject the vegan washing model and instead follow the example of anti-Zionist vegans like the members of the Palestinian Animal League or Anarchists Against the Wall, which began as the pro-intersectional human and animal rights organisation ‘One Struggle’. We must follow the example of vegans like Haggai Matar, who spent two years in prison for refusing the draft in 2002. Organizations from 269 Life to PETA think they will attract people to veganism through racism and sexism, but there are no shortcuts to liberation, especially when they harm other oppressed communities. Decolonizing Veganism is the only way for non-human animals to become free, because history teaches us that solidarity is the strongest weapon in the face of injustice. Vegans must choose whether to continue our community’s endorsement of colonial violence and white supremacy, or stand for the lives and liberty of all sentient beings.

 


Julia Tanenbaum is a member of the Philadelphia chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now. She has organized as a student and in local environmental and racial justice movements. She previously published her research on the history of anarcha-feminism in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. She deeply believes that animal liberation must be conceptualized as a part of a larger struggle for social revolution.

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The Other “Other”

By Vinamarata “Winnie” Kaur

I see people around me,
Trying to define race as white or Black,
And I look at myself…
Lurking in between the color codes of what’s deemed “normal.”
I turn to feminism,
To find the Western mainstream feminist movement still plagued with racism and speciesism.
I feel like an insider-outsider.
I get asked, “What are you?”
Am I white, or am I Black?
“Maybe neither, or maybe both; it’s none of your business,” I say.
Who am I, and what social justice movement(s) should I turn to?
Will the Others ever learn to look beyond my Brown flesh
And channel their chakras away from my external appearances?

I see people around me,
Smoking and drinking their health and lives away.
They socialize in the ecstasy of hallucinating drugs
And take pride in the grilling of their steaks at summer BBQs while shaming vegetarians and vegans for not sharing their carnal pleasures.
And I look at myself…
A decolonizing, teetotalling, fat, hairy, vegan feminist secluded and excluded from those circles,
Isolated in the company of my books.
I turn to TV and films,
And they still ridicule me with their colorblind eyes and their body-shaming ads…
Who am I, if not the Other “Other” in this United-yet-divided land of opportunities?

With liminal spaces to call “home”
I continue to be oppressed
By the layered shackles of binarisms entrenched in white cis-male heteropatriarchy,
Without a recognizable identity of my own…
And whom the Department of Homeland Security once called a non-resident alien
And now calls a permanent resident,
Still stripped of that full status assigned to its human citizenry.
I carry with me the spirit of the Brown subaltern,
And a body fueled by plants,
Spreading the word that…
I am different and disidentified,
I am both vegan and a non-Western feminist,
And that’s OK.

I occupy the in-betweenness and the Brownness of this flesh- and color- obsessed society,
Not just because of my culinary choices or the invisible purdah I wear on my skin,
But because of my subjectivity and lived experiences.
What gives anyone then the privilege to exclude me from bounds of “normalcy,”
And to force me to classify myself as either white or Black / feminist or vegan?
I refuse to pass as one or the Other…
Because #BlackLivesMatter, #BrownLivesMatter, #TransLivesMatter, #IntersexLivesMatter, #NativeLivesMatter, and #NonHumanLivesMatter.
And whiteness, colonialism, and speciesism should not be allowed to define our relations to our marginalized bodies anymore;
I am an intersectional, Brown, South Asian vegan feminist,
For these are inherent parts of my multivalent identity
That I will continue fighting for,

Until my last breath.

 


Winnie was raised in a small city in northern India and is currently a PhD candidate in English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. Her current research and teaching interests include South Asian studies, environmental literatures, critical animal studies, digital humanities, Sikh studies, queer thea/ologies, and feminisms in popular/counter cultures. She has always been passionate about social justice through expressivity and creativity.

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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.

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What’s Wrong with the Israeli Animal Rights Movement, 269?

Content warning/Not Safe for Work: This article (and pages it links to) contains information about sexual assault and racial violence which may be upsetting. Some quotes contain strong language. Many images included are graphic and disturbing.

Arm being held down while branded with "269"
Photo credit Xandrah-Octopus

By shawndeez davari jadalizadeh

Last month, on September 26, people gathered in city centers to take part in the international day of protest, Respect Life. Spanning across seventy cities worldwide, the Respect Life protest “is to bring animal liberation to the forefront of human consciousness.” The goal, as stated by the organizing group 269 Life, is to raise awareness about the “animal holocaust.” Many praise the group 269 Life for its daring animal rights activism and participate in their international calls to action. However, there is a growing consciousness in the broader animal rights movement that this group is in fact rooted entirely in unsound ideology. Only three years old, the Israeli animal rights group 269 Life is undoubtedly the largest animal rights group in Israel. With significant followership across the globe, understanding 269 is the key to understanding the Israeli animal rights movement more broadly.

The foundation of 269 is based on a Declaration entitled the Non-Humans First Declaration which unequivocally defines human oppressions, such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., as irrelevant and unimportant to fighting for animal rights. The Declaration consists of three main Articles, the first of which is that “no one should be excluded from participation in animal rights activities based on their views on human issues.” Making clear the disregard for human oppression, the Declaration specifically makes room for activists who have no interest in intersectionality. In particular, this defining Article condones racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia in the animal rights movement by allowing activists to enter without engaging a critical stance on systematic oppression. This type of mandate allows individuals who do not want to struggle against the arduous and complex network of oppressions to join a movement where they can participate in animal rights activism, while continuing to be racist, sexist, homophobes.

The second article states that “tactics should prioritise non-human animals” and that “no tactical idea should be excluded from the discussion based on its conflict with human rights ideology.” This point is imperative in understanding 269’s style of activism. Famous for their brutal and inflammatory demonstrations, 269 has a history of engaging in protest tactics which involve violence against human beings.

For example, the group conducted a “performance” in which a group of men wearing all black ski masks abduct a young woman, rip her baby away from her, and forcibly milk her like a cow while beating her, all on a public sidewalk. In yet another instance of senseless and offensive activism last year, 269 activists donned pointed white hoods covered in blood, eerily resembling the KKK. Corey Wrenn describes the problematic nature of one of 269’s branding demonstrations in how “these branded men in chains draw on a history of human slavery. There’s something disturbing about white skinned activists from a mostly white organization reenacting a history of racial oppression while simultaneously failing to acknowledge it in their narrative.” Triggering and traumatic, 269’s approaches to animal rights are perpetuating very real notions of violence against women, People of Color, and children.

The third and final article of the Declaration is a “call on human beings to free their own (non-human) slaves before demanding their own rights.” Building off of an embedded privilege, the language of the Declaration implies that humans are to give up concern and pursuit of their own rights. Evidently, individuals with identities which face more systematic oppression (People of Color, women, working class, queer, disabled, etc.) will likely not be able to get behind the concept of putting the animals’ first, nor should they, as simply surviving is often a struggle. It is in this Article where all the privileges apparent in the rationale behind the 269 Declaration manifest. It is also more than apparent in the title as well as the language of the Declaration that this is fundamentally an agenda to promote animal rights at the expense of human rights, under the guise of “urgency” for animals.

The central issue with the Non-Humans First Declaration is that it openly calls for classification of animal oppression as wholly more important and necessary to fight than human oppression, in addition to inviting racists and sexists to join the ranks. As a fixture of Israeli animal rights, we must note that the Non-Humans First Declaration is publicly signed by the founder of the group, Sasha Bojoor, as well as four 269 Life chapters. Therefore any group which supports the Non-Humans First Declaration, 269 Life in particular, should be seen for what it is – an anti-intersectional animal rights group, which not only accepts, but normalizes violence against humans.

269’s staunch Non-Humans First stance, as well as their sizeable global followership, demonstrates a structural problem within the animal rights movement today. Emblematic of the underlying oppressions embedded in animal rights activism more generally, 269 openly houses and nurtures anti-intersectional activists. In particular, their activism which champions violence against women, children, and People of Color, fortifies violence against traditionally oppressed bodies. Therefore, activists and groups which continue to collaborate with 269 should be rebranded as anti-intersectional.

Examples of Problematic 269 Activism

Because 269 uses the fundamentally problematic Non-Humans First Declaration as their manifesto, the activism which emerges from 269 is likewise deeply troubling. Almost all of their strategy is designed to evoke visceral reactions, generated in large part by acts of violence against humans. In performing these actions however, hegemonic narratives of violence against certain bodies are reified and therefore normalize those perceptions.

The following sections are designed to help outline the varying problems with 269’s attempt at activism. Due to the complex networks of oppression, it is entirely impossible to remove race analysis from gender analysis, so on and so forth. Therefore, I have chosen to place examples under general titles to which I believe they best fit. However there is an undoubtable overlap between oppressions and I acknowledge that certain examples could be placed in multiple categories.

Violence Against Women

One of the most basic violences which 269’s activism contributes to is their recurring activist theme of violence against women. Their activism entirely disregards historic and ongoing power dynamics of male supremacy. In fact, a majority of their actions rely heavily on the subordination, suppression, or violent attack of women, almost always conducted by men.

Female Activist Branded with 269
Street demonstration, men holding down a woman who is screaming as she is branded with a hot iron

Woman in cow mask and white dress led through streets by men with a lead
Street demonstration; two men lead a woman dressed in white wearing a cow mask, head down

Woman branded with 269
Street demonstration, woman winces as she is branded with a hot iron by a man

The repetitive performance of violence against women’s bodies is unhelpful, to say the least, in challenging the very real threats which women today face all over the world. In case it is unclear to 269, domestic violence, sexual assault, and murder are still rampant worldwide social ills. It is now well-known that one in three women globally will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. As 269 continues to conduct these demonstrations in city centers across the world, their “activism” actually works to normalize this violence against women.

By designing these deeply gendered performances, 269’s work supports the notion that violence against women is possible, and worse, acceptable.

Irrespective of the consensual nature of the act, meaning even if we are to assume that the woman has agreed to participate of her own accord in an action which deliberately brings harm to her body, the violence still occurs. And 269 uses that violence against her body as a performance by which to sell, or advertise, the idea of veganism. Through a deeper understanding of the gender violence perpetuated in 269’s activism, the parallels between their stunts and capitalist exploitation of female bodies becomes eerily similar. By designing these deeply gendered performances, 269’s work supports the notion that violence against women is possible, and worse, acceptable. The repetitive production of such gendered violence further supports that conclusion.

Considering that our society has conditioned us to accept violence against women’s bodies as a routine or nonsignificant norm, the recreation of this particular violence continues to enforce that understanding. The repetitive consumption of violence against women’s bodies works to make regular, or “normal,” the violence women experience. And any activism which contributes to these normalizations is incredibly dangerous.

In addition to their street demonstrations, some of 269’s poster designs are extremely troubling. One of the most egregious examples of this is a poster with the phrase, “Got Rape?” Wholly ignorant and disrespectful to human survivors of sexual violence, 269’s poster designs reify violence against women, with rhetoric indistinguishable from Men’s Rights Activists’. Their sheer disregard for the triggering aspects of their tactics and the violences they contribute to demonstrates either their overwhelming privilege, their ignorance, or a combination of both.

Milk carton with an arm shoved into it, reads, "Got rape?"
Gloved arm is forced into a milk carton that has bottom that resembles that of a cow. Reads, “Got rape?”

 

Maintaining Racial Hierarchies, White Supremacist Power Structures, and The Israeli Occupation

In addition to violence against women, 269’s activism contributes to maintaining racial hierarchies, white supremacist political power structures, and the Israeli occupation. Through much of their activism, 269 continues to circulate images which support existing racist structures. In one instance, the group used a highly offensive poster to advertise an event in March of 2014. The picture, shown below, situates an image of half of a Black male face adjacent to half of a white cow face with the words “Eradicating Human Supremacy.”

269life-human-supremacy
Poster for march, shows half of a Black man’s face juxtaposed with half of a white cow’s face

Firstly, given that this is one of the only, if not the only, times in which a Black individual is present in 269’s activism is a problem in an of itself, considering the severe anti-Blackness prevalent in animal rights activism. More importantly, the way in which they chose to depict this Black man’s face is wholly unsettling because it is not even designed to tokenize and represent this identity as a symbol of diversity for the group. Rather, the half-image is used to advertise for an event to “Eradicate Human Supremacy,” more clearly, to criminalize the Black individual as the symbol of wrongdoing in a speciesist society. The blatant insensitivity present in this photo demonstrates how 269 disregards the traumatic, horrific, and disgusting histories of worldwide slavery. Their choice of a Black man in this photo to visualize the eradication of human supremacy shows the complete lack of recognition of the ongoing human supremacy known as white supremacy.

An even deeper reading of the photograph allows for discerning the deeply embedded racist undertones by analyzing the juxtaposition of the Blackness of the Black face and the whiteness of the cow face. Given the said goal of the event and the ideology of 269’s Non-Humans First Declaration, animal life is seen as pure, sacred, and innocent as juxtaposed by the Black face, understood as the opposite of those qualities. Therefore, this construction of the Black face, seen as the human supremacist in the photograph, is defined in part by the contrast with the white cow face, seen as innocent and sacred. Additionally, the fact that the group leader, Sasha Bojoor, is responsible for circulating this image on social media as his Facebook profile picture further supports how the group leadership is oblivious to its perpetuation of anti-Black racism.

In addition to 269’s racist posters, one of their demonstrations for the Eradicating Human Supremacy Day in Italy exemplifies how ignorant and disrespectful they are with respect to race matters. Their description of the event reads as follows:

The 21st of March is the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. We have chosen this day to continue spreading our message of animal liberation and call for the complete eradication of human supremacy over all other life forms! We are acting in unity with the UN’s intention for this day. The following excerpt is taken from their website: “The theme for this year’s event is ‘Racism and Conflict,’ highlighting the fact that racism and discrimination often are at the root of deadly conflict.” …We believe that there cannot be peace, nor an end to human prejudice while our hands are wet with the blood of billions of innocent animals!

Choosing to organize their day of action on the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is in effect seizing and dominating the one space and time set aside specifically for the discussion of racial violence. First, we have to recognize the painstaking difficulty of successfully centering race, racial violence, and the systematic oppressions of white supremacy at the United Nations. Knowing that it took strategic organizing and dedication on the parts of People of Color to centralize a discussion on race at the international level, it is simply absurd for animal rights activists, white animal rights activists, to interdict, claim, and take ownership over that space.

Instead of organizing their protest on another day, which would have allowed the much-needed space for the discussion of racial violence, they decide to take over and monopolize the space for their own ambitions, all while ignoring systemic racism within animal rights movements as an anti-intersectional group.

This is an upsetting manifestation of white animal rights activists downplaying the severity of racial violence and co-opting a space designed to address racial violence to meet their own needs. Furthermore, given that the 269 group could organize its demonstration quite literally any other day, demonstrates the arrogance of their activism. Instead of organizing their protest on another day, which would have allowed the much-needed space for the discussion of racial violence, they decide to take over and monopolize the space for their own ambitions, all while ignoring systemic racism within animal rights movements as an anti-intersectional group. The photo below is a part of their action, disrupting the space in front of the building which housed the meeting.

Woman under plastic wrap like meat

Continuing the trend of co-opting “International Days,” 269 Czech Republic also designed an action titled “Slave Auction Event.” In this blatantly derogatory event, a group of white Czechs simulated a human slave auction on the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery.

269life-slave-auction
Advertisement created by 269 Life that is brown with old font made to resemble a slave auction notice; refers to nonhuman animals

269life-slave-auction-2
Live demo by 269life, shows white activists dressed as slaves on auction block

Drawing on the horrendous history of slavery, without due recognition, apology, or respect, this event is outright offensive. Again, co-opting a space which is not theirs to take and co-opting a history which is not theirs to reproduce, 269’s activism strategically swallows the space set aside to address the brutalities of slavery by staging a demonstration in front of the UN International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery Conference. In addition to being simply insulting, 269’s slavery-activism diminishes the material implications of slavery which still very much exist to this day. Shockingly self-serving, 269’s slavery-activism demonstrates how entirely clueless the group is to race, racial dynamics, and histories/realities of racial hierarchies.

Unfortunately, this is a recurring theme within 269 activism, in which white people repeatedly act as slaves, dawn chains, and get branded without taking any responsibility for their appropriative and insulting actions. As argued by contributors for Everyday Feminism, “comparing oppressions is violent and exploitative, particularly because black oppression isn’t over.” Exploiting Black history and recreating triggering visuals with an overwhelming degree of disregard for histories of slavery, 269 pursues its anti-intersectional activism while actively reproducing anti-Black racism within animal rights.

Another image circulated by 269 which fortifies racist hierarchies is an image of what is perceived to be a Person of Color over a slaughtered sheep.

269life-islamophobia
Picture of a Muslim man who has just slaughtered a sheep. The sheep’s corpse lays in the street in a pool of blood as he cleans his knife.

The iconography in the photograph, along with the rhetoric “When you eat meat you’re forcing others to die for your beliefs” recreates the recurring problem of white-supremacist animal rights work. This type of whiteness-centric activism can be defined as activism organized and designed by white people and white groups in demonizing and targeting People of Color. In this instance, 269, an overwhelmingly white group is showcasing an image which falls quite literally into the whiteness-centric, racially profiling setup of “animal whites.”

Islamophobia is increasingly on the rise and entirely unaddressed within the animal rights community.

Furthermore, the Orientalism at play in this photograph contribute to existing Islamophobic notions of barbarity and savagery of Middle Eastern peoples. This point is not to be taken lightly, as Islamophobia is increasingly on the rise and entirely unaddressed within the animal rights community. Photos such as this which get widely circulated throughout social media reinforce Islamophobic and Orientalizing perceptions of Middle Easterners. In addition to the Orientalizing nature of some of 269’s activism, it is fundamental to outline how their unsound ideology manifests in violence towards human populations, in particular, the Palestinian people. An interview with Santiago Gomez, one of the original group members who participated in the original “branding” event in Rabin Square of Tel Aviv, shared his ideological transition of once being against the Israeli occupation to now supporting it.

The concept of “normalization,” borrowed from the Palestinian issue and applied to human/nonhuman interaction, was another peppery eye-opener towards the end of my time as a human rights activist. For those not familiar with the political parlance, “normalization” refers to any organization, group or program that brings together Palestinians and Israelis under vague and nonpolitical banners of “coexistence,” without direct and explicit acknowledgement of the occupation, apartheid, histories of displacement and the overall oppression of the former by the latter, as well as the need to combat it. It is essentially a way to whitewash oppressor/oppressed relations through the creation of a false sense of symmetry and sameness. And I maintain that the concept of a “one struggle” is a mechanism which basically serves the same purpose.

In this instance, Gomez is arguing a very nuanced yet crucial point to understanding his transition out of an intersectional activist stance. After outlining his epiphany of realizing the contradictions in his stance against the Israeli occupation, Gomez articulates his non-humans first stance by claiming that the concept of “one struggle,” or intersectionality, is equivalent to human supremacy. Therefore, Gomez is arguing that intersectionality is fundamentally a human-centric cause and that he himself disagrees with the efforts to challenge the occupation, apartheid, histories of displacement, and the overall oppression embedded in the Israeli occupation. Rooting his rationale in the Non-Humans First rhetoric, it is evident that his logic strategically dismisses, erases, and removes any concern with Palestinian rights. More broadly, his analysis is based on erasing context, or histories of violence, in order to focus all efforts entirely on animal rights work.

Gomez goes on in the interview to explain how he now supports the Israeli occupation because the embargo limits the number of cows allowed into Palestine and because Israeli military attacks have caused the near collapse of the Gaza fishing industry. He details his rationale beforehand as an intersectional activist who was insulted at such an argument and how he now supports the Israeli military occupation and violence towards the Palestinian people.

Further emphasizing his point, Gomez claims:

The oft-repeated argument that the animal rights movement should concern itself with human rights because “humans are animals too” would be a prime example of such a linkage, as would any reference to the low wages or dangerous work conditions of those poor slaughterhouse workers. The chant “human freedom, animal rights, one struggle, one fight!”—an ahistorical, apolitical, decontextualized and across-the-board flawed syllogism if there ever was one—would be a close third.

Citing the crux of intersectional activism, concern for human struggles, as an antithesis to his activism, Gomez illustrates his aversion to intersectional activism. Ridiculing the notion that humans are animals too as an arm of whitewashing oppressed/oppressor relations, Gomez is again, reifying the Non-Humans First Declaration.

Emphasizing his stances, Gomez unashamedly points to the ability of 269 Life to make its unequivocal stances against human rights issues.

For all the faults you may find with 269, it is at least free of that pernicious political inferiority complex which plagues animal rights activism, in that it is definitely *not* about seeking validation through pathetic attempts at riding the coattails of “more pressing” (read: human-centered) causes. And that’s pretty rare in our movement.

Boasting of 269’s disregard with “human-centered causes” as a “freedom,” Gomez’s articulation demonstrates the utter aversion to human rights. Not only is the group relieved to boldly align itself as a Non-Humans First group, it has in fact taken this disregard for human life and human well-being as a political advantage and worse, something to be proud of.

Nonetheless, Gomez does articulate at the beginning of the interview that these are his thoughts and his thoughts alone, not to be held as the ideals of the entirety of the 269 Life group. However, we must not ignore that this individual was one of the original members of the group and therefore has an ideological base which matched up with the founding members. More importantly, it is of crucial importance to note that the transcript of this interview has been publicly endorsed and shared by the founder and leader of the group 269 Life, Sasha Bojoor. In his public endorsement of the interview, Bojoor writes, “A true [Animal Rights Activist], completely dedicated to the cause and true to himself. Only wish, more activists had an infinitesimal portion of his integrity and intelligence.” Directly upholding Gomez’s positions, Bojoor’s public praise for Gomez shows how even the leader of 269 comes to support and endorse these oppressive stances.

The group has effectively designed a logic, the Non-Humans First pro-Israeli occupation logic, which permits its followers to support the Israeli occupation in justifying their animal rights activism.

Gomez’s logic, publicly endorsed and validated by Bojoor, demonstrate how the group is fundamentally a zionist group. By claiming the Non-Humans First stance, disassociating with human rights causes (Palestinian rights) entirely, and arguing that the occupation is actually good for animal rights as Gomez does, 269’s ideology becomes synonymous with zionist politics. The group has effectively designed a logic, the Non-Humans First pro-Israeli occupation logic, which permits its followers to support the Israeli occupation in justifying their animal rights activism.

Indeed, there are a few instances, either two or three, in which animal rights activists from Palestine have been invited to join in an animal rights demonstration with Israeli 269 activists. In one particular demonstration in the village of Shefa `Amr, activists gathered to distribute leaflets about veganism.

However, in the description of the demonstration, the 269 Life activists reinserted their sheer disregard for human life yet again by claiming, “Politics and nationalism means nothing, as long as the animals are suffering and dying by the billions, all over the world.” This argument may seem less offensive had it been coming from Luxembourg or Nepal, yet when it is coming from activists physically located in a country which is militarily occupying another country, attacking and slaughtering its people on a daily basis, and systematically annihilating their Palestinian identity, the language carries another meaning. It is effectively a method to reduce the Palestinian struggle to nothing and erase its significance.

For an Israeli based animal rights group to claim that “politics and nationalism means nothing,” while their government continues its violent military occupation and attack on Palestinian people is situating its activism in support of zionism. Just because Palestinians join 269 in a demonstration for animal rights does not mean that the group 269 is not supporting zionist politics. The political stances of 269 unequivocally demonstrate how the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the ongoing slaughter of Palestinian people, and erasure of Palestinian identity is of no significance to them whatsoever. It is imperative to understand how 269’s activism, regardless of whether or not Palestinians may sporadically participate, systematically deprioritizes the Palestinian struggle.

Normalizing Violence

Overall, 269’s framework and activism are deeply problematic in that they wholeheartedly support hegemonic narratives of violence and power. In addition to the racist, sexist, and zionist themes which flavor a majority of their tactical approaches to activism, 269’s leader Bojoor is also an adamant voice for violence against humans as well as being publicly against intersectionality. He is often seen sharing images, memes, and stories which support physical violence against humans.

Although all animal rights activists can, to some extent, understand the anger and frustration with humans which cause violence towards animals, the idea of encouraging violence towards humans cannot and will not resolve the issue of violence against animals.

For example, in reference to Kim Kardashian wearing fur, Bojoor writes that he “hope[s] that obnoxious piece of shit dies a slow and painful death. #fuckyouKimKardashian.” In another instance of supporting violence against humans, Bojoor shared an image which read “Save an animal. Encourage hunters to drink and drive.” Although all animal rights activists can, to some extent, understand the anger and frustration with humans which cause violence towards animals, the idea of encouraging violence towards humans cannot and will not resolve the issue of violence against animals. Suggesting the death of humans, no matter how much we disagree with them, is a clear articulation of irresponsible, ungrounded, and irrational activism. More importantly, it cannot bring about nonviolence or compassion towards animals, as Bojoor’s posts suggest.

Even more problematic, Bojoor deliberately and unequivocally stands against intersectionality as a baseline for social justice activism. He writes, “Intersectionality is a bankrupt ideology, the proof is easy to see, its all around us.” Whatever proof Bojoor is referring to, I have yet to see it. The only proof I am repeatedly encountering is how pathetically bankrupt anti-intersectional activism is ideologically. In addition to his emphatic anti-intersectional stance, Bojoor aligns himself with animal rights groups known to belittle and disregard intersectionality, such as PETA, Gary Yourofsky, and Direct Action Everywhere. It is no secret that Bojoor heavily cites, references, and endorses activism by each of these entities mentioned, and in so doing, solidifies his blatant disregard for intersectionality.

Conclusion

Given 269’s anti-intersectional stance, it is crucial to locate their narrow-minded activism within the larger scope of oppressive animal rights work. Proudly Non-Humans First, 269 Life continues to perpetuate violence against marginalized groups through its theoretical basis, social media materials, and social activism stunts. Acting as the apex of Israeli animal rights, 269 boasts its non-human animals first rhetoric in a cyclical reproduction of oppressive ideologies, targeting women, People of Color, Palestinians, and other oppressed groups. By strategically placing non-human oppressions as above, and therefore the only relevant priority, 269 structurally attracts animal rights activists which contribute to oppressive systems in an activism design which continues to make the world unsafe for marginalized groups.

In addition, it is critical that we mark 269’s activism as co-optive and exploitative of marginalized groups. By creating visually striking stunts to garner media attention, traction, and popularity in the animal rights community and beyond, 269 is profiting off of violence against oppressed bodies. Using this violence and its circulation as a means of increasing support, the group is in effect exploiting the oppressed for its own personal advancement.

This is a call to the global animal rights community: if you support 269 Life, you are supporting the oppression of human animals. To support 269 Life means to disregard the oppression of Palestinians, women, sexual violence victims and survivors, and People of Color. This group is a dangerous, violent, cooptation of compassion. If we seek to be intersectional in our approach to animal rights activism, there is no room for 269 Life in the movement, or animal rights groups which proudly associate with them. As intersectional animal rights activists, we must not fall for the trap of supporting a publicly anti-human rights group. Rather, we must do everything in our power to distance ourselves from a group known to align itself with such violence and disregard for human life. Although it may be initially tempting for those untrained to detect racism, sexism, and white supremacy, 269 is nothing more than a group of offensive, yet passionate, human oppressors. We must make clear in the animal rights community, yet again – the revolution will be intersectional or it won’t be my revolution.

 


shawndeez is a PhD student in Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

whyveganism.com

Why Are White People Outraged Over Cecil The Lion but Not about Sandra Bland?

By Michele Kaplan

TRIGGER WARNING: The following article contains discussion of racism and police violence.

Author’s Note: This article is not suggesting that every white person is outraged over Cecil (let alone outraged over Cecil and not Sandra Bland). This article is also not suggesting that there aren’t any people of color who are outraged over the death of Cecil. However this question was asked by many people on the internet, and so thus the title, and thus the following is my two cents. 

Sandra Bland

Every time there is a trending topic, you can pretty much expect the following to happen. There will be a large amount of blog posts written about it. Some from the heart and some because people see an opportunity to bring more attention to their blog. Then, if the topic is trending long enough, there is the “inevitable” backlash.

Gorilla

You may or may not recall #Shabani, the “heartthrob Gorilla”, who was trending not too long ago but for a very brief period of time. So brief that there simply wasn’t enough time for a backlash to occur.

Sometimes the backlash is a reaction to a system that pins various groups against each other. A system that promotes the idea that there isn’t enough to go around, so you better get yours before your neighbor gets theirs. How often has there been situations where the powers that be say “Hey, specific oppressed demographic, you want your civil rights? We’ll give it to you, but it’ll be on the backs of these groups.”  (As if that was the only option. As if that was your best bet.) So, instead of intersectional activism (or realizing that all forms of oppression are actually connected and that we are far more powerful united, then we could ever be divided), it promotes Single Issue Activism, where every group is separately scrambling to be heard and to make progress.

For some groups, there is so much injustice against them, that they are on the constant verge of nearly drowning in it, and don’t even have the energy to then take on other causes than their own. The system loves this, because when the powers that be can keep us exhausted, the system can remain status quo.

The internet and the existence of trending topics is a prime example of that. Whenever there is a trending topic, other groups who perhaps do not feel heard, who are not getting the justice they deserve, see another cause in the spotlight and may start to feel angry or even bitter. Why are they getting all this attention but not my (worthy and valid) cause?! Some may start to panic that this will take away attention from their recent state of trending. Not because they are greedy for the spotlight, but they are validly desperate and know that the internet has a really bad habit of taking on a trending topic, utterly immersing themselves in it to the point of exhaustion, and then they move on. And if you’re aren’t directly impacted by a particular situation (like what’s going on in Palestine as one of many examples) then you have the luxury of moving on to the next trending outrage du jour.

Lion

Cecil, The Lion has been the latest trending topic that people are livid about, and like clockwork the backlash has started. However, there has been one legitimate question that is going around, that I would like to address.

Why Are White People Outraged Over Cecil The Lion But Not About Sandra Bland?  

And of course as a white person, I can not (and will not) say that I speak for all white people (seriously white bloggers, please stop saying that you do), and I certainly haven’t done an official survey by any means amongst all Caucasians, but as an animal rights activist and ally to the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, I do have some theories. Keep in mind, this is no way a comprehensive list and not necessarily in any order of importance.

1.) Because Racism. Let’s just get this one out of the way. The one we all knew existed. Some white people are livid about the death of Cecil, The Lion but do not give a crap about Sandra Bland (or any other innocent person of color who was physically harmed and/or murdered by the police.) because they are racist.

(On a side but related note, please refrain from using the hashtag #AllLivesMatter for Cecil. This is pissing some people off and rightfully so.)

Meme of Cecil the lion juxtaposed with a pig in a factory farm, both read, "I am Cecil"

The hashtag #IAmCecil and #CecilTheLion are popular pro Cecil hashtags that does not co-opt the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag nor does it have racist connotations like #AllLivesMatters. Image from TheirTurn.net

Having said that, here’s where it gets a bit more complicated.

2.) It’s A lot Easier To Get Pissed At That Hunter, Than It Is To Tackle Systemic Racism. It seems like this country can’t go a week without another innocent person of color being physically assaulted and/or murdered by the police. At times it’s just too much and a person may want to avoid (or at least take breaks) from the topic, because it’s so heartbreaking to see so much injustice (one after the other) and typically without legal consequence. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for people of color (particularly parents) to be inundated with bad news after bad news on a daily basis that directly and deeply impacts them on a very dangerous level.

That being said, sometimes humans (even though they care) start to shutdown and go numb in response to a mind blowing amount of injustice. Sometimes (especially if they aren’t aware of the importance of self care), people burn out and feel helpless in creating change for a particular cause. And then along comes Cecil, The Lion. So Cute and friendly. Plus he’s endangered! And he was killed how?!

Picketing outside the home of Cecil's killer. One sign reads, "KILLER"

And while said police brutality related deaths are often met with little consequence, Time Magazine recently reported that the government has introduced The CECIL Act which aims to “curb trophy hunters.” A baby step in the right direction, but progress nonetheless. The people have spoken and the government reacted in a pretty timely manner. With Cecil, people can be outraged and have way quicker results (at least addressing the immediate issue. The root of the problem? Meh. The nation is not as interested.) There’s no “Yeah, but what about Lion on Lion crime” or victim blaming, thus making the mainstream conversation really really easy. “Hey are you pissed off as to what happened to that lion?” “Yes!” “Great, me too!” “Let’s discuss and bond over our outrage” Done.

3.) The Hypocrisy Factor One thing that animal rights activists deal with (at least the ones who advocate for all animals, not just the Cecils and Shamus of the world) is the fact that our society is highly hypocritical when it comes to our compassion for animals. People are so pissed off at this hunter who murdered Cecil, to the point where some have adopted a mob mentality and are calling for harm to the hunter. They will frequently post about it, as they eat their chicken with bacon and cheese sandwiches and type with great fury while wearing their leather boots.

Piglet leaning on tiny guitar

“I will now play you the song of my people. It’s called “I don’t want to be your sandwich, dammit” off my latest CD “No Animal Wants To Die”

Meanwhile, this idea of selective compassion for animals is considered totally normal in our society, but for the animal rights activist, the hypocrisy can be frustrating as all hell, and this frustration often results in this particular issue becoming their main focus.

“But, question: how can people make an animal and not another human being their main focus?” This naturally is a touchy subject (and probably an article in itself) especially considering that historically humans have compared other humans saying they’re “like animals” (and thus inferior) in order to justify oppressing the living crap out of them. However, it should be noted (like all false ideas of superiority) that just because one group decides and declares themselves superior, it doesn’t mean that it’s true. That is why many animal rights activists reject the concept of speciesism (the idea that one species is by default superior over other species and thus it’s okay to oppress them), and go with the idea that we are all animals (which is actually scientifically accurate).

But why would an intersectional animal rights activist (who advocates not just for the non-human animals, but for the human ones as well) make Cecil their focus?

(See #4)

Window open to a blue sky

4.) The Small Window Of Opportunity. Even with the success and popularity of such films as Blackfish (which made a huge dent in Seaworld’s profits and challenged the way our society views certain animals), a conversation about animal rights (outside of the animal rights movement) is just not that common. Even more rare is when it involves “livestock” aka: the animals we have deemed as nothing more than “food”. We were raised to save the dolphins but eat the tuna. Cats are family but pigs are bacon. Thus when a situation like Cecil comes along, where an animal rights topic is actually trending? Small window of opportunity! (echo echo echo).

People knew when the news of Cecil’s death came out, that the animal rights community would speak out, but most animal rights activists did not predict people who normally do not take much interest in animal rights, to react with such outrage. This is a potential opportunity to expand the conversation, and deal with not just Cecil’s death but the root problem of speciesism. This could be the opportunity to show people that as long as any animal can be killed in the name of pleasure (whether it’s the “pleasure” of hunting or the “pleasure” of bacon), no animal (including Cecil) will be safe. Opportunities like this do not come very often and because any at moment in time, another topic could come up and wipe out Cecil’s popularity, soon to be forgotten, we must focus on this topic and give it the most attention on our social media accounts. What if people post about something else and that distracts people from this issue? People feel they must seize the opportunity before it passes (because it will.)

Like I said. Sometimes people are focusing on Cecil, The Lion and not horrific situations like Sandra Bland because they are flat out racist, and that’s all there is to it (and there’s no excuse for it.) But sometimes it’s a reaction to a system that has all of us desperately scrambling to be heard, and sometimes at the expense of hearing each other.

Bear

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on May 17, 2015.


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.

Of Breeders, MOOs and Overpopulation: Eugenics in the Animal Rights Movement

Trigger Warning: Post contains potentially upsetting discussion of eugenics, forced sterilization and racially insensitive commentary from the white-centric Nonhuman Animal rights community. Also references sexist, classist, and ableist positions that are responsible for considerable structural harm to vulnerable demographics.
Large crowd of people

By: Dr. C. Michele Martindill

Stories about overpopulation appear so often in the news and op-ed essays they are barely gets a second glance. Overpopulation is blamed for all the ills of the social world, everything from obvious social problems such as poverty and hunger to less known concerns such as climate change and deforestation of the planet. Rarely is the concept of overpopulation questioned or defined beyond citing the overall population of planet earth or particular nation states. It is easy enough to find the figures—earth now has an estimated population of 7,318,275,998 as of this writing (Current World Population, 2015) and the United States has an estimated population of 324,907,247. Whenever news stories question how to dispose of the vast amounts of garbage generated by such numbers or to address an environmental hazard such as carbon emissions the first thought is to reduce the population that is destroying the planet. Sociologist David L. Altheide, author of Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis (2002), argues that such stories are morality plays that unfold in “news reports, reality TV shows,…and documentaries,…it is the world of predators and prey, criminals and citizens,…Stories tend to be told from the perspective (voice) of the victim or criminal justice agents; seldom do we see or hear the accused outside of a prescribed role, for example, in handcuffs (193).” In many respects overpopulation is a morality play, pitting the dominant elite white culture against Persons of Color, women and anyone living in poverty, those who are handcuffed.

Vegans are divided in their response to overpopulation stories, but they seem to agree something must be done to save the planet and the lives of animals. Some vegans are vocal in their belief that if the human population was reduced or even eliminated then animals would no longer be slaughtered for consumer products, and the environment would heal. In an effort to counter overpopulation scare tactics, there are other vegans who quickly assert how livestock production contributes to water pollution, desertification of the land, displacement of Native populations and carbon emissions, but they become mired in point-counterpoint debates over environmental science, giving scant attention to the human groups most affected by the overpopulation morality play. They suggest the solution is more education and accessible birth control so that women can make better choices and stop having such large families. The problem in each instance is the absence of critical thought regarding the use of the term overpopulation. Specifically, as long as the vegan animal rights movement frames the discussion about human procreation as a choice argument grounded in pseudo-concern for the fate of the planet and economics, the movement ignores a far more serious threat and deep contradiction to veganism: the advancement of eugenics, the belief that the human gene pool can and should be improved through selective procreation and forced sterilization.

Any overpopulation claim that fails to address eugenics and simply demands that humans have to stop procreating because the planet and its resources are threatened is nothing more than a pseudo concern for the planet, a concern meant to disguise racism, classism and sexism. Overpopulation is a socially constructed concept with a long history of being promoted by the white man cis gendered elite scientists and corporations of the world. Stripped of polysyllabic terminology and statistical arguments about environmental damage, overpopulation is nothing more than a nameless, faceless scare tactic. Its aim is to objectify the so-called unruly masses, to deny them their rights, and to glorify the wealthy elite by encouraging them to procreate and populate the world with their precious gene pool. Those who assert that no one should procreate regardless of social status still fail to acknowledge the sexism and racism of such a demand.

Cartoon with oil well exploding with people, reads, "The well is dry, but we've got a gusher of new customers"

Certainly there is an element of truth to the overpopulationist propaganda, e.g. climate change is real, but it has little to do with the number of humans on the planet and everything to do with the overpopulation of cattle (McKnight, 2014). Oil spills, deforestation and global poverty are not the result of overpopulation; rather, they can be directly linked to corporate greed, capitalism that regards the earth as nothing more than an endless supply of materials for consumer goods and the military-industrial complex that values war over investing in real peace keeping efforts such as feeding the hungry. Arguments against these and other overpopulationist claims can be refuted statistic by statistic, but such debate will do nothing to reframe the issues in a way that accentuates the hidden agenda of overpopulationists—their racism, sexism, ableism and classism. Any future dialogues need to focus on individualism, social darwinism and eugenics, the ideologies that underpin the entire overpopulation perspective.

The rift between overpopulationists and social justice advocates both within and outside of the vegan movement is growing, thanks in large part to the hatred of humans so frequently espoused by animal rights leaders such as Gary Yourofsky and his loyal followers. Off-hand comments about humans not deserving to live because they are responsible for all of the suffering brought on other animals are expressions of the overpopulationist dogma and based in individualism. In order to understand how social darwinism and eugenics work it is necessary to first look at the concept of individualism (see Note 1).

Individualism is the belief that each person is only responsible for their own self and will receive rewards—wealth, salaries, social position, education, access to medical care—based on individual merit. This belief system is used to support capitalism and to keep the working class motivated while performing mundane tasks in dead end jobs. As long as workers believe if they work hard enough they can rise in social class and accumulate wealth, they will continue to show up for work, not complain about working conditions and tell anyone who will listen that the company owners are heroes. Those who do not succeed are easily dismissed as individuals who did not work hard enough or long enough; it is their own fault for being failures. After all, the evolution of society can be summed up as survival of the fittest, just like in nature, right? Well, no.

Ever since the work on evolutionary theory by Charles Darwin became known there have been attempts to identify patterns of evolution in society similar to those found in plants and other animals. Policy makers have long thought it obvious that those living in poverty or with mental health problems were not as evolved as the wealthy elite class. Such a belief depends on a misinterpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution. While Darwin was interested in how plants, for instance, adapted to a changing environment and described the process as natural selection (not to be confused with artificial selective breeding), he also observed how such processes occurred slowly and could not be seen in any one generation. He did not initially see the processes as some sort competition in which only the fittest survived or were rewarded in some way by nature. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) is credited with coining the term survival of the fittest in relation to society, and then Darwin later used the term to refer to local, immediate adaptations to a given environment. As time passed, Darwin’s theory became equated solely with survival of the fittest rather than natural selection, and sociologists tagged the phrase survival of the fittest as social darwinism, usually used as a pejorative term. Sociologists were pitted against politically conservative policy makers who were trying to justify discriminatory legislation by claiming only the fittest humans should survive. Social darwinism—a pseudo-scientific claim—thus became the rationalization for individualism and the social policies that were based on individualism.

Darwin

Individualism also decries charity as unnecessary for the lower classes since they are responsible for the consequences of their own laziness, for financial troubles and for having big families or too many children. While capitalism depends on having a ready supply of workers willing to accept low pay and to sing the praises of the economic system that entraps them, capitalism bears no responsibility for the hardships related to poverty. What a perfect economic system!! The wealthy elite exploit the workers, cast aside the humans deemed unfit and manage to get the exploited masses to defend the entire system by keeping the hope alive that anyone can achieve THE AMERICAN DREAM!!

This whole notion of individualism or the American Dream, which is now a global belief system, can be seen throughout the industrialization and modernization of the States. Eugenics, the belief and related practices that any animal population, including the human population, can be genetically improved through controlled reproduction, dates back centuries, but became closely linked to individualism in the 19th century. Scientists who promoted eugenics or the eugenics movement of the 20th century were at first interested in controlled reproduction as a way to eliminate mental illness and other hereditary diseases. After all, if scientist Gregor Mendel could trace patterns of inheritance in pea plants in 1865, later scientists reasoned similar patterns might be traced in humans. Eugenics was the cornerstone of the Immigration Restriction League which was founded in 1894 to prevent those of certain races who might contaminate the superior American gene pool from entering the country. Literacy tests were proposed as early as 1897 to help identify inferior immigrants. In 1910 Charles Davenport founded the Eugenics Record Office and within the next twenty years the goal of the organization became preventing unfit humans from having any children.

By the late 1920s forced sterilization of those deemed unfit was widely accepted and laws based on a 1914 model statute were passed:

Advocacy in favor of sterilization was one of Harry Laughlin’s first major projects at the Eugenics Record Office. In 1914, he published a Model Eugenical Sterilization Law that proposed to authorize sterilization of the “socially inadequate” – people supported in institutions or “maintained wholly or in part by public expense. The law encompassed the “feebleminded, insane, criminalistic, epileptic, inebriate, diseased, blind, deaf; deformed; and dependent” – including “orphans, ne’er-do-wells, tramps, the homeless and paupers.” By the time the Model Law was published in 1914, twelve states had enacted sterilization laws (Lombardo, n.d.).

It is estimated that between the early 1900s and the mid-1970s over 60,000 people were involuntarily sterilized. Women were the main victims of forced sterilization, and at first many who were sterilized were already committed to mental institutions and labelled imbeciles. As sterilization became the norm, some victims were taken from their homes and reasons for sterilization included pregnancy while unmarried, general promiscuity, having a sexually transmitted disease or being a pauper. The reasoning by the thirty-three states with forced sterilization laws was that it was a way to prevent people from becoming a burden on society, especially if they had to be housed in a state run mental institution, receive some kind of public aid or be held in prisons. Also, at this time in history more and more immigrants were arriving in U.S. cities and they were being blamed for the rise in crime and poverty. Eugenics was heralded as a solution by medical professionals and city officials alike (Norrgard, 2008).

The majority of the country is shaded to indicate presence of laws

It is an understatement to say racism and eugenics are historically and inextricably linked. Throughout the eugenics movement Black women were regarded as responsible for passing traits to their daughters that would lead to a future of doom, lives of “poverty, delinquency, and despair (Sebring, 2007).”

During the 1950s in the US South white women faced economic, legal, and medical obstacles to their access to reproductive services such as contraceptives and sterilization procedures. During this same time family planning initiatives targeted women of color (particularly black women) encouraging the use of contraceptives and sterilizations in the interest of reducing the growth of the black population. Family planning initiatives were politically espoused by conservatives such as Strom Thurmond, as a racialized form population control in the interest of limiting black voter strength in the US South. State funding for family planning clinics frequently received popular support when associated with women of color, though the same was not true when associated with white women. Or, in the words of Louisiana judge Leander Perez, “The best way to hate a nigger is to hate him before he is born.” (Sebring, 2007)

Who were the women who were involuntarily sterilized? The overpopulationists have managed to objectify them as populations, robbing them of their names, faces and voices in the process. Efforts to compensate victims were and continue to be met with disdain as well as arguments that the state funds are better spent elsewhere. Such was the case in North Carolina until 2013 when the victims were awarded $10 million dollars after a prolonged battle with legislators. Elaine Riddick is one of the victims.

Elaine Riddick and Son

Riddick and Son

Elaine Riddick was raped and impregnated at 13 years old and, after giving birth to her baby boy Tony, she was sterilized against her will. Afterward, she lived for years in shame, but had something to prove.

“People need to know that injustice was done towards them and they need to be compensated for that,” said Riddick,…

Riddick has been a formidable advocate for her fellow victims, pressing North Carolina to make amends. But multiple attempts at compensation have not come to fruition.

On Thursday Riddick said she was amazed to learn of North Carolina’s plans to compensate victims.

“I tip my hat to North Carolina, finally they came to their senses and decided to do what’s right,” she said.

Still, Riddick added, the money isn’t enough.

“You can’t put a price on someone taking your womb or castrating you, it’s humiliating,” Riddick said (Naggiar, 2013).

It was not until after WWII that forced sterilization began to fall out of favor with proponents in the United States. People learned that Laughlin’s Model Sterilization Law was the inspiration for the law adopted by Nazi Germany in 1933, a law that legally sanctioned the sterilization of over 350,000 people. Laughlin was even awarded an honorary degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1936 for his work in “the science of racial cleansing” (Lombardo P. A., 2008). So, it was not the racism of sterilizing Black women that launched the move to halt the sterilizations, nor was it forced sterilizations of girls as young as ten. Furthermore, the laws were not changed based on the lack of informed consent. No. The laws were not challenged until it became embarrassing to be associated with the genocide carried out by the Nazis, a genocide that ran concurrently with a genocide of POC in the states.

Eugenics and forced sterilization remain in the news today. In 2013 it was revealed that 148 women prisoners in California were denied their right to informed consent and sterilized between 2006 and 2010. On September 25, 2014 California passed Senate Bill 1135 to “prohibit sterilization for the purpose of birth control of an individual under the control of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or a county correctional facility… (Senate Bill No. 1135, 2014).”

In September of 2014 the vice chairperson of the Arizona Republican Party and former state senator resigned his position after making comments about the sterilization of Medicaid recipients:

“You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I’d do is get Norplant, birth-control implants, or tubal ligations,” Russell Pearce said on his radio show, according to a transcript from the Arizona Republic. “Then we’ll test recipients for drugs and alcohol, and if you want to [reproduce] or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job (McDonough, 2014).”

Similar stories continue to be reported from around the world, including comments by self-described vegans. A recent Facebook discussion among vegans on the topic of over-population shows how someone in a position of privilege can become defensive at the mere suggestion of racism in the language they use to discuss procreation:

Commenter #1: I am always skeptical around blanket statements about procreation. For too long it’s been a form of racism to talk about POC women as “breeders” or “welfare queens.” Demands to end procreation also come from a classist perspective in that rural white women and POC women have been targets, including decades of pressure to be sterilized or in some cases being sterilized without consent. Which leads to the observation that arguments against procreation contribute to sexism when they silence the voices of women. Yes, women should have access to information about birth control and adoption, but not at the expense of a patriarchal society doing so simply to perpetuate patriarchal values. What we’re really talking about here is the need to realize how corporatism and capitalism combine to create all of these products that are destroying the environment and marketing them to the point people think they can’t live without them. It’s not procreation that is the issue, but rather how consumption is promoted as a way of life

Commenter #2: Everyone should stop breeding imo. Every color, rich or poor. Birth control should be free & always available worldwide imo.

Commenter #1: …did I really just read these words? ” Everyone should stop breeding imo. Every color, rich or poor. Birth control should be free & always available worldwide imo.” I’ll play nice and ask: Why in your opinion should everyone stop “breeding”? Also, the word “breeding/ers” is problematic in terms of socially reproducing racism.

Commenter #2: The world is severely overpopulated period. We need to give it a rest. Too many ppl too many unnecessary selfish problems. Breed means procreate nothing racist. [emphasis added]

It is common to find the words breeders and moos used among certain vegan overpopulationist factions in reference to women who give birth to children, and there can be little doubt those terms are both racially charged and sexist.

Banana Girl Freelee, a self-described vegan, uses similar racist, sexist and classist language in a recent YouTube video:

We need drastic action or else we’re goin’ down the shitter and we’re takin’ the rest of the species with us. We’re destroying all the other species, including ourselves. So obviously the load needs to be lightened on Mother Nature. We need to stop draining the f*cking resources until they’re all gone and so here’s what I propose: is that people have a test. They need a license, a permit before they procreate, before they have children. They need to pass a test…So, what does that test consist of?…They definitely need to have a stable income so they can actually look after children…have money in the bank that’s for sure (vegan, 2015).

Freelee Banana GirlAt a time when voting rights for Persons of Color are being challenged with voter identification laws and literacy tests, it is not surprising to find the script for the overpopulation morality play includes a test for the right to procreate.

Ironically, members of the upper class are encouraged to have as many children as they want, as shown in a recent story about how large families are now “the ultimate status symbol” among wealthy women from New York City’s Upper East Side. Wendy Martin, Ph.D., author of Primates of Park Avenue, is quoted as saying:

When you think about it, it’s logical that a big family equals a big status symbol: It’s expensive to raise kids anywhere, and especially in New York City, where full-time nannies, private school, and summer camp are standard expenses. In the US, the average cost of raising a child is $245,340, according to a recent government report. But that figure more than doubles — to $540,514 — when that child is being raised in Manhattan (Zeveloff, 2015).

Thin white women in a park tending to childrenClearly, as long as the interests of the upper class are at stake, they must be defended and presented in a way consistent with individualism, with the notion that they earned the right to have as many children as they want and can afford. There are no suggestions that the wealthy need more education about birth control, nor is there any implication that they somehow are not smart enough to understand how large family size must surely lead to poverty. And what about all of those scarce resources that these children will consume over the course of their lifetimes? All is well as long as they can afford the steaks, fur coats, servants and fancy cars that burn an exorbitant amount of fossil fuel? Population expert Fred Pearce argues that rising consumption is the real problem, not overpopulation:

“Rising consumption today far outstrips the rising head count as a threat to the planet,” Mr. Pearce wrote in Prospect, a British magazine, in 2010. “And most of the extra consumption has been in rich countries that have long since given up adding substantial numbers to their population, while most of the remaining population growth is in countries with a very small impact on the planet.”

“Let’s look at carbon dioxide emissions, the biggest current concern because of climate change,” he continued. “The world’s richest half billion people — that’s about 7 percent of the global population — are responsible for half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile, the poorest 50 percent of the population are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions (Haberman, 2015).

Maybe the time has come for vegans who double as overpopulationists to think critically about whether they want to continue supporting a racist, sexist and classist ideology or consider how consumerism and consumption impact planetary resources.

Even if all the eugenics laws in the world are struck from the books, the ideology of individualism and the American Dream will continue to drive our social world and a large segment of the vegan movement. It is far easier to hate all humans for what they are doing to other animals than it is to examine how we all participate in systems of oppression. Go ahead and blame oppressed and exploited humans for speciesism, for rampant consumerism and for being selfish. Individualism tells us we have no responsibility for other humans, so why not hate them and objectify them? Know this one thing and know it well: We all serve the interests of the white man dominated elite class as long as we do not take the responsibility to challenge the racism, sexism and classism of the overpopulation myth. As long as we are preoccupied with directing hate toward other humans, we will not be demanding accountability from the capitalist leaders and major corporations that are responsible for environmental degradation, the murder and torture of animals for profit, the formation of the school to prison pipeline and the growth of the military-industrial complex.

Being against eugenics is NOT taking anything away from working for the animals or ending the oppression of other animals. BUT ending speciesism will not end the hatred of humans for other humans, the bigotry directed toward Persons of Color or the ideology of individualism that tells everyone to turn their backs on those deemed unworthy. The ultimate manifestation of speciesism occurs whenever humans objectify and dehumanize other humans by denying them their rights while at the same time claiming they are anti-speciesist because they think the rights of all animals must be respected. What a contradiction in terms!! Humans will work to universally grant rights to other animals and simultaneously direct hatred and blame toward other humans, toward breeders and MOOs, unless every effort is made to expose the overpopulation morality play for what it is: unadulterated bigotry.

The words of writer and animal rights activist Christopher Sebastian (personal communication, 2015) offer an eloquent summary of how individualism works and how deeply racism strikes in the animal rights movement:

Animal Rights Friends:

How come when I am talking about human privilege, most of my vegan friends understand I’m talking about living in a society structured to advantage humans…where humans are granted greater levels of access based on arbitrary biological distinctions outside of their control? Indeed, they’re even quick to abdicate such privilege and discuss ways in which we need to alter our society for greater levels of inclusion and sensitivity to our nonhuman animal brothers and sisters.

But when I start talking about how white privilege disenfranchises people of color in the same way, it’s a goddamn showcase showdown. Suddenly, my white vegan friends are quick to point out how they worked hard and sometimes they experienced adversity. None of this matters!!! You still hold power in a structure dominated by and cultivated to center whiteness. Some days, I’m just so damn tired of having to talk about this. But seriously, can we not make a space to understand how life operates differently for POC animal rights activists and allies? Damn.

 

Note 1: Individualism is not to be confused with individuality. The former is an ideology that supports capitalism; the latter refers to someone’s personal preferences and tastes.

References

Altheide, D. L. (2002). Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

Current World Population. (2015, May 31). Retrieved from Worldmeters: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

Haberman, C. (2015, May 31). The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/us/the-unrealized-horrors-of-population-explosion.html?_r=0

Lombardo, P. A. (2008). Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v Bell. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lombardo, P. (n.d.). Eugenic Sterilization Laws. Retrieved from Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement: http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/essay8text.html

McDonough, K. (2014, September 15). Arizona GOPer quits after disgusting comment — but there’s a catch . Retrieved from SALON: http://www.salon.com/2014/09/15/arizona_goper_quits_after_disgusting_comment_but_theres_a_catch/

McDonough, K. (2014, September 15). Arizona GOPer quits after disgusting comment–but there’s a catch. Retrieved from SALON: http://www.salon.com/2014/09/15/arizona_goper_quits_after_disgusting_comment_but_theres_a_catch/

McKnight, T. (2014, August 4). Want to have a real impact on climate change? Then become a vegetarian. Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/04/climate-change-impact-vegetarian

Naggiar, S. (2013, July 29). Victims of forced sterilization to receive $10 million from North Carolina. Retrieved from the Grio: http://thegrio.com/2013/07/29/victims-of-forced-sterilization-to-receive-10-million-from-north-carolina/

Norrgard, K. P. (2008). Human Testing, the Eugneics Movement, and IRBs. Retrieved from

Scitable A Collaborative Learning Space for Science: http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/Human-Testing-the-Eugenics-Movement-and-IRBs-724

Sebring, S. (2007, November 19). sterilization — black women. Retrieved from mississippi appendectomy, a developing online archive of information about women of color and coercive sterilization: https://mississippiappendectomy.wordpress.com/2007/11/19/black-women-in-the-1960s-and-1970s/

Senate Bill No. 1135. (2014, September 14). Retrieved from California Legislative Information: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB1135

vegan, p. a. (2015, May 14). Why “overpopulation” isn’t the real problem (Freelee response). Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nulTqmHH7eg&feature=youtu.be

Zeveloff, J. (2015, May 25). The ultimate status symbol for millionaire moms on New York’s Upper East Side is not what you’d expect. Retrieved from Yahoo! Finance: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/ultimate-status-symbol-among-millionaire-164732256.html

 

Michele Spino MartindillDr. Martindill earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Missouri and taught there in the Sociology Department, the Peace Studies Program and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Her areas of emphasis include political sociology, organizations and work, and social inequalities. Dr. Martindill’s dissertation focuses on the no-kill shelter social movement and is based on ethnographic research conducted during several years of working in an animal shelter. She is vegan, a feminist and is currently interested in the stories women tell through their needlework, including crochet, counted cross stitch and quilting. It is important to note that Dr. Martindill consistently uses her academic title in order to inspire women and members of other marginalized groups to pursue their dreams no matter what challenges those dreams may entail, and certainly one of her goals is to see more women in academia.