Lessons in White Fragility: When Vegan Abolitionists Appropriate Intersectionality

By: Dr. C. Michele Martindill

A recent blog post essay by Unfriendly Black Hottie (Hottie, 2013) should have prompted an open discussion of the appropriation of intersectionality in the so-called vegan abolitionist animal rights community. So far, that discussion has yet to happen. Why not? Is it another case of a white-centered social movement making Blacks invisible and silencing their voices? Are movement members who use the concept of intersectionality unwilling to or afraid to critically examine their understanding of the concept? To what extent does white fragility (Diangelo, 2011) (see definition of white fragility below) come into play as an explanation for the lack of discursive dialogue? Under the best of circumstances it is painful to examine values and beliefs we hold close to our hearts and to do so with the knowledge we may be wrong. Critical analysis can lead to that feeling of sickness in the pit of the stomach or an unwelcome feeling of embarrassment. It can lead to disorientation and loss of control, rare feelings for those who have long benefited from white privilege and who have the power to define concepts such as intersectionality, appropriation, racism, sexism and feminism to suit their purposes. It can alternatively lead to learning, to growth and the impetus to make social change happen.

Intersectionality is one of the current buzz words in the vegan abolitionist animal rights movement. Some people love it, others hate it. The meanings are varied, confusing and debated across countless online discussion threads. One vegan blogger tells us that, “…intersectionality does not mean that all forms of oppression intersect” and they go on to define it as, “in specific situations, multiple forms of discrimination can create specific situations for a group not described by the forms of oppression that intersect. The primary example is the failure of racism and feminism to describe their intersection for women of colour” (Unknown, Intersectionality and Abolitionist Veganism: Part 1, 2014). The reader is left to wonder if the blogger is suggesting that racism alone or feminism alone cannot explain the “discrimination” experienced by women of color so then it is important to look at the interactive effect of these oppressions. While the blogger provides a brief history of how intersectionality “started to be used frequently in the 1990s and has become something of a fashion in academic circles, rather like “queer theory” in the 1980s,” no direct connection is made to Patricia Hill Collins and Kimberle Crenshaw, the originators of the concept, and queer theory is shoved to the background as nothing more than a trend.

Patricia Hill Collins - "Black Sexual Politics" cover

Random comments sprinkled throughout the rest of the essay serve mainly to keep any discussion of intersectionality white-centered and to argue that veganism will bring everyone together to end all oppressions:

If people are really interested in intersectionality and ending human-on-human oppression, it seems to me that sexism in developed countries might be less urgent (and I say this as a woman) than wholesale slaughter of people, men, women, and children, in Gaza, Afghanistan, Yeman [sic], Syria, and Iraq and the culture of hatred that supports this destruction.

So, intersectionality in this instance becomes a method for rank ordering the form of oppression that most needs to be addressed, but in the next breath all of these oppressions are dismissed in favor of getting people to understand how only a commitment to being vegan will stop the large number of deaths:

Ending war, sexism, racism, oligopoly is important but change will only happen when society as a whole is affected. Veganism is something we can do now, and convince others to do now. It will only result in large social change when there are enough of us, but every single vegan has an impact on how many deaths occur, and it is something we can all do, right now.

Our blogger leaves us with a rationalization of how and why veganism is white-centered and why it such white-centeredness is not a problem:

Veganism is not the province of any race. Just because a majority of online vegans are “white”, that does not make it a “white” issue. I’d guess the majority of people commenting on police killings in the US are also “white”, even though the victims are generally “black”. I’d guess that’s an artefact of internet participation and availability of time, …and it’s changing.

Apparently, if Blacks are not visible online it is simply an “artefact of internet participation and availability.” White centeredness is not a numbers game. It specifically refers to how whites dismiss, ignore and otherwise make invisible the presence of Blacks. Did this blog author even look online for Black vegans? Our author continues:

I look at this issue, the current scurrying to shame abolitionist vegan advocates as racist, with dismay. The promotion of the idea that there are “exceptional” circumstances for people of colour, and that it is racist not to address these circumstances, is not helpful, …and I think it holds a certain contempt for people of colour. The issues of veganism are not different for people of colour. Our thinking is not different. We either recognise the autonomy, the moral personhood, of other animals, and respect them enough not to use them as things, or we don’t. There are no “special” economies for people of colour. Plant-based diets are cheap diets, and traditionally the diets of the poor. There are no “special” cultural conditions for people of colour in most parts of this global consumer world. [emphasis added]

Never mind that Black men are being murdered by the police, that racial profiling is rampant or that poverty rates are at an all-time high among POC, the message here is we can and should ignore intersectionality and just go vegan. Indeed.

Another vegan animal rights Facebook page that was created specifically to promote intersectionality is The Vegan Intersectionality Project (Unknown, Vegan Intersectionality Project’s Photos, 2015). A single meme effectively sums up their definition of intersectionality:

Vegan Information Project poster about intersectionality

Anyone researching intersectionality on this Facebook page will learn via bullet points it is “a tool for understanding the entanglement of all privilege and oppression, a way to break down the barriers that isolate us from one another, a new, holistic, and all-embracing way of thinking about the struggle for justice, [and] living our values with consistency.” Nowhere on the meme is there mention of or credit given to Patricia Hill Collins or Kimberle Crenshaw, nor is there so much as a tip of the hat to the notion that the concept of intersectionality was never meant to be white-centered. The meme concludes with a statement that is perilously close to the white-centered claim that all lives matter:

Intersectionality in practice means…an intersectional understanding of veganism means an end to selective compassion and indifference to suffering, it means everyone matters equally and everyone’s struggle for freedom is ours [emphasis added]

The author ignores the #BlackLivesMatter campaign which aims to center the discussion of racism with persons of color, and then the author proceeds to suggest that the Black struggle for freedom is the property of whites, that the struggles of others are shared or even owned by whites. How is that even possible? Are whites now being pulled over by police for the crime of driving while white? Are white men now being incarcerated in the prison industrial complex at rates that exceed those of Black men? Whites can never know or share the struggles of Blacks. Also, whites seem incapable of acknowledging the Black discourse on intersectionality, much to the detriment of veganism.

We are at a point now where we have to ask what white vegans are missing when they close their ears and minds to the Black understanding of intersectionality, when the result is the erasure of the lived experiences of Black women. In the essay on intersectionality from the Unfriendly Black Hottie blog the author describes a meeting with Patricia Hill Collins, a Distinguished University Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland and the first to theorize intersectionality (Collins, 2005). Collins was asked, “How do you feel about the ways white feminists have taken your work on intersectionality as a feminist way to be more inclusive while erasing the creations as part of a Black feminist tradition and without a dedication to Black women’s lives in any way?” While Collins did not use the word appropriation to describe what happened with her work, she related a story of how white musicians took the works of Black jazz and blues artists and imitated them without having the lived experiences that inform the music. Technically, the music is similar, but in the process whites erased Black lives from the music, the very heart and driving force of the music.

Nina Simone

The Unfriendly Black Hottie author goes on to summarize how Patricia Hill Collins views intersectionality:

intersectionality is meant as a bottom up approach, not a top down approach. those with power cannot be “intersectional”. you are also not living intersectional experiences. intersectionality was always about exposing the ways Black women are caught up in multiple systems of oppression, namely race, gender and class, but often many more. it is meant to help Black women understand their experiences in a white supremacist patriarchal culture like the U.S. or much of Western nations that have applied this model onto most cultures from the outside. most importantly, it is meant to help Black women see the ways their experiences are connected to one another and not a product of self-deficiency but structural real systems that have cultural and economic benefits for ruling/dominant classes. [emphasis added]

understanding Black women live intersectional experiences gives us insight into the ways race, gender and class, heterosexism and more all work together in ways that restrict Black womens access to resources. and access to resources is what is really one of the most important things needed in Black women’s lives. which white feminism is not committed to in any way. when Black women learn more about classism, sexism, racism, heterosexism and more (such as transmisogyny, islamophobia, convicted felon status, etc) and how they work, we learn more about how we can define ourselves without those systems imposing our identities onto us.

In other words, the white-centered, man-dominated leadership of the vegan movement cannot and should not be dictating the meaning and use of the concept of intersectionality. Vegan leadership has no direct experience of intersectionality. White men are a part of the very “white supremacist patriarchal culture” intersectionality is meant to challenge and thereby allow Black women to define themselves sans the systems of classism, racism, sexism and other oppressive systems. Whites are simply wrong to take intersectionality as their own:

when you’re white saying your an intersectional feminist, you are wrong. you are the white boy singing sad songs to a blues twang claiming to be a Blues artist. you are the miley who wears black womens bodies and perceived sexualities as fun identities to put on and off, without living within those experiences always and forever. it is erasure, it is warping, it is the continual narrative of whiteness as a dominant force, in opposing the creators and destroying the creators while then attempting to re-create those creations with whiteness firmly installed inside of it. which is false, warped, fake and without heart and soul. it is a lifeless imitation. and mostly, it isn’t REAL.

So, what is “REAL” as vegans come to terms with the white fragility born of realizing they appropriated a concept and misrepresented it? So far, silence or defensive posturing are the ‘go-to’ responses of vegan leadership, essayists and Facebook responders. They spout clichés such as “all lives matter” or “just go vegan” or “veganism is not about race” or “intersectionality shows the interconnectedness of all oppressions.” When anyone in the animal rights movement claims they are practicing intersectional veganism, defining it merely as wanting justice for all and being against all exploitation and oppression, they are operating under a misguided act of cultural appropriation. They are also working to insure that an upper class white cis gendered ableist man dominated ideology remains at the center of the vegan abolitionist animal rights movement. Intersectionality or pro-intersectionality is not a let’s-have-a-group-hug approach to social justice, nor is it simply a path to growing a revolution—increasing movement membership–that will end all oppressive social systems. If vegans want to be pro-intersectional, the term for those who support Black feminist intersectionality, then they have to acknowledge the history of the concept, stop trying to dismiss intersectionality as a distraction from veganism, and put an end to any practice that de-centers Blacks and inserts white dominance. Specifically, stop the following kind of commentary:

Abolitionist vegans are not being speciesist when they don’t let those raising issues of human oppression hijack a vegan forum. Abolitionist vegan advocacy forums are “non-human animal space” (Unknown, Intersectionality and Abolitionist Veganism; Part II, 2014).

The net effect of this message is to exclude Blacks from yet another white centered organization in much the same way they have been excluded for centuries and by making the all too familiar comparison of Black lives to those of animals, only this time Blacks are not as welcome as the animals.

Shouting Intersectionality

It is no wonder that veganism is now seen as an apolitical mish-mash of diet fads. When people are told to just go vegan or that veganism is only for the animals, then what they are really being told is vegans are not serious about pro-intersectionality, about becoming an inclusive movement. The whiteness of the abolitionist vegan movement isn’t an illusion based on white online involvement—the whiteness of the movement happens because vegans are known for their appropriation of Black culture and history, e.g. abolitionism was taken without permission:

Abolitionism as it was first conceived was built and mobilized to free oppressed humans who continue to be oppressed. For vegan advocates to completely appropriate the language and ideas of this movement and then forsake suffering humans, abandon them in their time of need, aggravate their hurting, benefit from their hurting, and then accuse victims and survivors of selfishness is deplorable. Without a doubt, this approach will only further alienate anti-speciesist efforts, tarnishing it as yet another a space of violence, oppression, and white male Western privilege (Wrenn, 2014).

Dismissing and ignoring the suffering of humans makes a mockery of anti-speciesism, of its aim to stop rank ordering others based on their perceived value. Vegans need to stop putting whites at the top of the ladder, granting them the power to tell others who matters and who doesn’t, who should be heard and who shouldn’t. White fragility, that roller-coaster-whooshy feeling in the pit of the stomach, can be a signal to stop rationalizing the status quo and to stop colonizing Black spaces in order to appropriate their language or whatever else abolitionist vegans deem useful. Stop appropriative behaviors. At the same time, know it is not putting humans over the animals when we practice pro-intersectionality; rather, it is centering and respecting the resistance of Black feminists, resistance to the racism, sexism, ageism, classism, ableism and speciesism of a white man dominated patriarchal society. Veganism was never meant to be a justification for white dominance or appropriation.

 

Definition of White Fragility:

White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. (Diangelo, 2011)

 

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 ethnographical 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.

 

References

Collins, P. H. (2005). Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. Routledge.

Diangelo, R. (2011). White Fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 54-70.

Hottie, U. B. (2013, November 6). Unfriendly Black Hottie. Retrieved from Unfriendly Black Hottie: http://femmefluff.tumblr.com/post/66233480328/like-being-very-clear-when-i-asked-patricia-hill

Unknown. (2014, December 14). Intersectionality and Abolitionist Veganism: Part 1. Retrieved from Abolitionist Veganism: Issues in the Movement: https://veganethos.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/intersectionality-and-abolitionist-veganism-part-i/

Unknown. (2014, December 26). Intersectionality and Abolitionist Veganism; Part II. Retrieved from Abolitionist Veganism: Issues in the Movment: https://veganethos.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/intersectionality2/

Unknown. (2015, April 17). Vegan Intersectionality Project’s Photos. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/774093712704517/photos/pb.774093712704517.-2207520000.1430768357./774431842670704/?type=1

Wrenn, C. (2014, December 13). Intersectionality is a Foundational Principle in Abolitionism. Retrieved from The Academic Abolitionist Vegan: http://academicabolitionistvegan.blogspot.com/search/label/Intersections

Celebrating a Racist, Abusive Sheriff is Not Vegan

Pamela Anderson and Joe Arpaio inspect bags full of vegetarian meals that are being packed into boxes. A Hispanic inmate in the foreground smiles.

By Prison Isn’t Vegan

PETA and their celebrity spokesperson Pamela Anderson made headlines this week by traveling to Pheonix to promote Sheriff Joe Arpaio. For those that don’t know, “Sheriff Joe” has been widely criticized for racial profiling of Latinos, racist discrimination against inmates, abuse of power, illegal arrests and deplorable conditions in jail, including numerous wrongful deaths under his watch.  This criticism has come from traditional human rights organizations like Amnesty International and ACLU, along with the New York Times (who called him “America’s Worst Sheriff“) and the U.S. Department of Justice who sued him for “intentionally and systematically discriminating against Latinos.”

So why exactly did Pamela and PETA decide to showcase “Sheriff Joe?” Because he serves vegetarian food to the inmates at Maricopa County Jail.

Sheriff Joe and Pamela Anderson

PETA is trying to spin it as a way to protect animals and promote health, but it’s clear Arpaio’s decision to serve vegetarian food is because it’s cheaper. In attempt to save money, “Sheriff Joe” has moved toward only serving two meals a day,charging inmates for their own meals, serving green bologna and has cut out salt, sugar and condiments from meals.

Examples of Arpaio’s abusive treatment of inmates are too extensive to list here (including “Tent City” in 135 degree heat, use of chain-gangs, and many others). While Arpaio’s specific form of racist abuse makes PETA and Anderson’s gesture of support particularly egregious, support for any jail or prison is problematic for an organization promoting veganism from an animal rights perspective.

Veganism rooted in a desire to liberate all animals from captivity and exploitation is inconsistent with supporting prisons. Prisons encage and exploit human animals.

This is particularly true in the context of the prison-industrial complex. Inmates (human animals) are held in captivity and forced to work against their will, while others profit from this captivity and forced labor. Arpaio’s use of chain-gangs is an excellent example of this. Inmates are forced to work in order to get out of lockdown. They do not get paid, providing free labor to the County. If another species were exploited for the financial benefit of humans, animal rights organizations would actively oppose it (as they should). It would be easy to imagine PETA criticizing animal “chain-gangs” given their opposition to animal-based industries and their position on chaining dogs.

A likely response will be that the people in prisons did something to be there, unlike animals on farms or at zoos. As part of the press release, Pamela Anderson said “I believe people can be rehabilitated from the inside out. Jails are full of people wanting to change, to make amends, to learn healthier habits and understand compassion and empathy.”

But there are two things to consider about this:

First, PETA and Pamela went to a jail, not a prison. There’s a difference. The majority of people in jail are pre-trial, meaning they have not been convicted and are presumed innocent in our society. Those in jail are people awaiting trial who could not afford to post bail. So overwhelmingly, the people in Maricopa Jail and county jails like it are poor and working-class people who have not been convicted of any crime. The small percentage who are in jail after a conviction have been convicted of misdemeanors – lesser crimes including traffic violations, vandalism, minor drug possession, etc.

Second, incarceration doesn’t rehabilitate. The disconnect in the analysis of some animal rights activists is striking when comparing anti-social behavior among humans and non-human animals.  One example is Tilikum, the Orca held at SeaWorld who has killed three different trainers. The animal rights perspective has been to look at the trauma Tilikum suffered by being captured and held in captivity. No animal rights organization or activist would claim that the appropriate response is to continue to hold him in captivity in order to “rehabilitate” him.

Image of orca in aquarium

Similarly, animal activists embrace a thoughtful, nuanced and empathetic approach toward problematic behavior in dogs. (Something I’m familiar with from fostering and adopting rescued dogs). In addressing dog behavior, animal advocates encourage looking to the socialization, history and experiences of each individual animal: What in their background causes them to behave (or misbehave) in a particular way and how can you deal with the underlying cause? No dog trainer would suggest that locking a dog in a cage for years would be an effective way to get a dog to end their bad behavior. (Note that PETA takes a strong position against using dog crates) Yet PETA and other animal welfare organizations perpetuate the myth that caging humans leads to “rehabilitation.”

Embracing a radical social analysis means challenging and critiquing all societal assumption. And supporting liberation of all living things means freeing all humans from the cages of prisons.

 

This essay was originally published by NoCages.org on April 14, 2015.

 

Editor’s Note:

Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society argues that veganism is a practice that refers specifically to Nonhuman Animals. While supporting racial profiling and the imprisonment of humans is certainly inconsistent with the social justice ethic that undergirds veganism, veganism is an ethical position that directly and exclusively represents nonhuman animals.

The Dangers Of Hero Worship In An Activist Movement

By Michele Kaplan

Trigger Warning: Discussion of rape and racism; contains extremely offensive racist and ableist comments about Palestinians and Muslim culture.

Gary Yourofsky

Have you ever been in a situation where people wish you would just shut up?

It all began back on March 19th , when some vegans in my social media circle were talking about Gary Yourofsky’s anti-Palestine rant. Naturally, those in the animal rights community (myself included) who support the plight of the Palestinian people, were horrified at what he said.

Gary Yourofsky's Facebook statement on Palestine.

This post was apparently deleted from his Facebook. For disabled visitors, you can listen to the post read by Plant Powered Activist on Youtube.

Who was this Gary Yourofsky? I heard his name here and there in various animal rights circles, but was not familiar with his contributions to the movement. I began to google his name and found out that this rant (that was just dripping with discrimination and privilege) was not a one time incident (not that that would’ve  made what he said okay).

Gary Yourofsky, is a controversial and passionate figure in the animal rights community, with a history of on one hand, making powerful speeches that have inspired people to go vegan, and on the other hand making derogatory statements that have alienated people within and from the animal rights movement.

Such statements as his infamous quote (and you can read the full interview here):

Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.

As a vegan, as a woman and as a human being, I was shocked that he said this, and felt nothing short of disturbed (and a little less safe) when some people in the AR community made excuses for his behavior.

“Oh, that’s such an old quote.” they said, as if time makes it somehow untrue. Or as if he had since apologized for this statement, or changed his ways. He has not.

I felt heartbroken because I devoted so much time and love to the cause, and now I was questioning my future in it. I knew there was this old school (and not so intersectional) wave of AR activism and the next wave animal rights activism (which typically is very intersectional), so I didn’t think that everyone would support the letter, but when some people in the next wave were making excuses, even though it was “only” a couple of people, it was incredibly disheartening.

The next morning, a small group (3 to be exact) got together and put out a statement to let the community (and internet) know that our veganism has zero room for discrimination and oppression of others.

A woman who was a survivor of rape came forward and said that reading this letter was very healing for her. Another person said “I’ve been stuck without support on making these points about him many times. So glad this exists to show other vegans feel the same way!” (and this sentiment was repeated by a number of people). And so for a moment in time, we felt like whatever happens, this was all worth while.

And then… the backlash kicked in.

“Why are you attacking Gary?”
“Why are you being so mean?”
“Gary does so much for the animals, why are you focusing on this?”
“I think the good outweighs the bad.”
“Are you guys for real? … Premature April 1st joke? Trying to get an attention attacking Gary or just plain stupidity?”
“You’re being really judgmental.”
“So he made a mistake. We all make mistakes.”
“You’re taking things out of context!”
“He needs support, not stabbing in the back.”
“He does not condone actual, literal rape in any circumstance. Do more research.” (As if that was said in the statement? It wasn’t. As if just talking about it was harmless and without consequence? It’s not.)

It was incredibly confusing and draining. I mean what the hell is going on?

And then it dawned on me. Could this be a case of hero worship? Something that I have certainly done in the past.

I remember when I had heroes, and I heard something damaging or negative about them, I would get defensive and protective, because that was my hero. A symbol. Hope. Part of me needed to believe that a hero exists.

These days I do not have heroes, because to have heroes is to place someone on a pedestal. I admire people and their work. I appreciate them, but at the end of the day, we are on the same level. Human and human.

And I get it. Advocating for veganism and animal rights is going against a deep rooted social conditioning, where even though factory farms is one of the largest contributors to climate change, where even though the conditions in which the animals live are so horrific and unethical, it is the vegan diet, it is the idea of animal rights that is “extreme”.  And once you know the truth behind the animal agriculture industry, you can’t un-know that. And knowing how much the animals suffer, if people don’t take proper self care (which is not always promoted in the movement. “The killing doesn’t take a break, so either will we!”), it can all get to you.

But does that justify discrimination in the movement? No. Furthermore, let us not forget that unless you were born vegan, there was a time, when you were not vegan either. So is it okay to advocate for violence against people (who were just like you) simply because they haven’t un-learned the social conditioning at the same rate that you have?

At the end of the day, the statement that we put out there was not about attacking Gary for the mere sake of attacking someone. At the end of the day, it was about saying “No, just because a person is vegan does not give them a free license to discriminate against others (and without consequence), regardless of how revered they might be.” At the end of the day, it is very dangerous, especially within an activist movement, when a person is placed so high on a pedestal, that they become untouchable and can do no wrong.
This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on April 21, 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.

Editor’s Note:

Interested in learning more about the problems with hero worship in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement? Check out the work of Marti Kheel, co-founder of Feminist for Animal Rights. Some of her writings on this topic are hosted on the FAR website. Vegan Feminist Network has also written on this topic in regard to the celebration of male violence as vengeance. You can also read more about the problems with anti-Muslim rhetoric on the Academic Abolitionist Vegan. A number of Yourofsky’s essays on violence and rape are also available on Negotiation is Over; please be warned, they are very crude and offensive.

On Intersectionality in Feminism and Veganism

Akilah holding a piece of pizza

 

By Aph Ko

 

Dear Akilah,

I hesitated to write this open letter because frankly I think open letters can be corny and self-serving. However, after watching your intersectionality pizza video, I sincerely wanted to reach out to you to open up a conversation about a topic that is usually over-looked, or teased within mainstream feminist spaces: non-human animal rights. As a young black vegan feminist, I feel like I might be able to offer a different perspective on intersectionality, taking into account non-human animal bodies. I would urge you to at least consider checking out black vegan feminist literature in hopes that it might offer something new to your articulation of feminism and intersectional activism.

As a fan of your work, I must say that my goal is not to be a hyper-critical asshole because I am very much aware of how much courage goes into putting your thoughts out there, especially through digital media and vlogging. In this letter, I hope to build on what you’re saying in your intersectional video.

First of all, I thought your video was pretty clever. I am constantly in awe of feminists who diligently attempt to explain how oppression operates to people who might not have the language to completely grasp it. So, kudos to you for taking the time to even focus on intersectionality.

However, I must say that intersectionality too often has been co-opted as a tool to explain oppression to white people, instead of being a tool for minoritized people to understand their social locations and to develop methods to navigate it. So, I’m going to take a slightly different approach to intersectionality.

Trust me—I understand the connections you make in your video. My main contention is with the props and metaphors you used to bolster your thoughts about intersectionality because I think they matter immensely.

Your use of cheese pizza, sausage, and burgers [to explain intersectionality] demonstrates how difficult it can be, even when you’re a feminist, to see how ingrained oppressive hierarchies are.

My goal here is to perhaps start a necessary conversation about the bodies we include in our discussion about intersectionality, as well as the bodies that are routinely excluded [that need to be included].

Your video demonstrates that despite the fact that “intersectionality” is one of the trendiest words in our generation, our social justice movements are still largely compartmentalized, which makes it possible for really awesome anti-racist, intersectional feminists to completely disregard non-human animal rights.

Species Intersectionality

The position that non-human animals occupy in our cultural imagination is proof for how easy it is to accept the lower status of some beings without even a second thought. I would assume that this should be concerning to you, especially since feminism is all about fighting for the rights of the minoritized and powerless.

Please understand this—incorporating animal bodies into your activism isn’t a distraction from anti-racism or sexism—it’s an extension of the conversation because in reality we’re not just talking about racism or sexism, we’re talking about white supremacy and patriarchy. We’re talking about capitalism and other discriminatory systems of domination that operate off of exploitation. Therefore, although our bodies might look different, we must all come together, not to show how we’re similar, but to demonstrate how these systems negatively impact us all.

So many people shout that animal rights is a distraction from feminism and anti-racism…that animal rights “DERAILS” the conversation and to me, it sounds like people have absolutely no idea what the conversation is really about.

Dr. A. Breeze Harper [a prominent kick-ass black vegan feminist and creator of the Sistah Vegan Project] states:

“I simply cannot look at food as an ‘everyday mundane object.’ I understand the meanings applied to food as something that represents an entire culture’s ideologies around everything. For example, food can tell me a society’s expectations about sexuality, gender roles, racial hierarchies of power and ability.”

Our automatic cultural reflex to say “Well, they’re animals, who cares” demonstrates just how deep the roots of injustice run. You can look at the comment sections for some platforms that shared your video: people kept reciting the same scripts like they were on autopilot. People kept saying how they were “hungry” and wanted to go eat hamburgers and cheese pizzas. Many folks in the comments section didn’t seem to challenge themselves or even problematize their behaviors: they seemed comfortable which is generally a sign that their principles are not being challenged. As activists, we shouldn’t appeal to people’s comfort.  Despite the fact that people made the connections you wanted them to make, particularly to race and gender, I thought it was a missed opportunity to politicize non-human animal bodies.

Akilah-2

Oftentimes, when we talk about animal bodies, people get defensive because they don’t want to be “compared” to animals. [Most of us black feminists know the history of black people specifically being compared to apes and monkeys—you can think about the recent Michelle Obama incident] Again-the goal isn’t to “compare” us to non-human animals, it’s to show that the systems that rape and slaughter non-human animals benefit from the systems that exploit us.

The fact that being called an “animal” is even an insult speaks to the ways that animals-as-less-than has already been naturalized in our culture.

This is actually called speciesism. Speciesism is when humans deem themselves the most important and valuable species which allows them to give no moral consideration to other species. Because of this, humans are allowed to do whatever they want to other species Again—it’s another hierarchy socially constructed to explain away the exploitation of another group of sentient beings.

Speciesism isn’t *like* racism or sexism. I’m not here to make crappy analogies to already existing systems of oppression. It is its own brand of oppression that often intersects with systems that intimately minoritize us.

It’s unfair that certain bodies are automatically coded as “less than” and certain bodies are automatically coded as “superior.” We live in a white supremacist patriarchy where white, middle class, able-bodied men are the standard, and everyone else is less-than. Because of this unquestioned, rigged framework, many bodies exist in systems that thrive off of their oppression and exploitation. This is where feminists and social justice activists must intervene.

We can’t reproduce this same logic in our own circles, especially as feminists. To disregard the oppression of other bodies reproduces a Patricia Arquette-type of analysis.

We can’t have activists shout about intersectionality, only to get quiet when it comes to the actual connection-making part of it.

To use cheese, sausage, and hamburgers to “explain” how human oppression operates is nothing short of ironic.

Non-human animal bodies are exploited to such an extent that they are stripped of any type of subjectivity—they exist for us which makes it possible for you to disregard their structural exploitation in a video about oppression. You used meat products as de-contexualized props to talk about humans which made the analysis ironic for those of us who practice veganism and politicize the ways that non-human animal bodies are arbitrarily designated as less-than.

The problem with your video is that it didn’t make people question the structural abuse of animal bodies—or the fact that animal bodies are things for our use and consumption. If anything, your video supported the myth that non-human animal bodies are to be used for human consumption and entertainment. You inadvertently employed speciesism in a video about intersectionality which is kind of anti-intersectional.

Just replacing the meat pizza with a vegan pizza won’t do the trick either because veganism isn’t the cure-all to oppression, although it would have been an improvement. Veganism without politicization will only yield de-contexualized diets. It would have been powerful if you used a vegan product and included non-human animal bodies in your analysis.

We must actively politicize the abuse animals experience as well as the systems that benefit from it. In fact, in studying food politics, it becomes evident how all of these oppressive systems collide, and strategically impact poor folks of color. It’s no secret at this point that the meat and dairy industry in the U.S. exploits the hell out of its brown workers. [Even in some produce industries, this is a problem too which deserves its own post!] Folks of color also disproportionately live in food deserts saturated with unhealthy animal products.

We must seriously consider non-human animals in our intersectional analyses as feminists. We can’t have liberation when people “don’t care” about the exploitation of an extremely vulnerable group of beings.

When you make a video about intersectionality and oppression, and people want to eat hamburgers in response, you know they missed the point.

Sure—to your credit, your video wasn’t specifically about animal abuse. I got that—but your video was about how we can better understand the oppression of bodies that don’t look like our own and how we can build better social justice movements that can accommodate bodies that are routinely excluded from the mainstream social justice narratives.

Non-human animals *must* be a part of this conversation, but not as props to help bolster your other points about humans.

The fact that people even get upset when animals are brought up in feminist discussions is because there’s an inherent anxiety surrounding animal bodies. We don’t have a good argument for abusing animals or eating them. People generally bring up “other” cultures that can’t go vegan, or don’t have the privilege of caring about animal rights—but many of us live in a culture or geographical space where we *can* care and change our behaviors—and those are the folks that I focus on.

People are terrified to talk about non-human animal abuse because it reveals how contradictory our moral compasses are. When we don’t politicize animal suffering in our movements, we merely have people who are committed to social justice-so long as they are at the center of the analysis. This type of set-up can’t yield intersectional movements.

One of the most noticeable tenets of white feminism is the inability to understand how oppressions connect—therefore, some white feminists routinely exclude other bodies from their analyses [cue Arquette]. We shouldn’t use this as a template for our own activism.

So, overall, thank you for making a video and opening up another dialogue about the importance of intersectionality in our social justice movements, however, I would sincerely urge you to check out some material that incorporates vegan feminism. In fact, there’s a conference next week from the Sistah Vegan Project. It’s called “The Sistah Vegan Conference: The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter.”

I hope we can engage in a dialogue about the different bodies we talk about when we discuss intersectionality. I would like to highlight a quote that you said in your own video:

“I think it’s time we talk about feminism a little differently/more inclusively…”

I 100% agree. Understanding intersectionality isn’t about becoming a more “perfect” activist, it’s simply about understanding oppression a little bit better which is something that I think we can all be better at, myself included.

Thanks!

~Aph

 

This post originally appeared on Striving with Systems on April 16, 2015.

Aph Ko is a freelance writer and creator of the web series Black Feminist Blogger. You can check out a recent interview with her here: “Creating Revolution: Interview with Aph Ko.”

 

The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter, April 24-25

SVC15

FROM THE CONFERENCE WEBSITE:

Schedule (Tentative)

Final Schedule will be confirmed by April 5, 2015

CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS WILL ALSO BE RECORDED FOR REGISTRANTS TO ACCESS IF THEY CANNOT ATTEND IN REAL TIME

April 24, 2015

10:00 am. Introduction: Why a Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter? | Dr. A. Breeze Harper (Director and Founder of the Sistah Vegan Project)

10:20 am.”Dispelling the Myth of ‘Cruelty-Free’ Commodities Within the Context of Black Lives Matter and a Racist Food System: A Dialogue Between Lauren Ornelas (Director, Food Empowerment Project) and Dr. A. Breeze Harper

11:00 am. “Cooking Up Black Lives Matter: A Critical Race Dialogue with vegan Chef Bryant Terry” | Panelists: Chef Bryant Terry and Dr. A. Breeze Harper

11:30 am. “Locating Intersections and the Decolonization of Veganism through Black Womanist Theology” | Candace Laughinghouse, PhD Candidate (Regent University)

12:00 pm. Break

12:30 pm. “‘The Pig is a Filthy Animal’: Challenging Speciesist ‘Race-Conscious’ Black Liberation Rhetoric (Before, After, and Beyond Ferguson) | A. Breeze Harper (moderator) and Kevin Tillman (Founder, Vegan Hip Hop Movement).

1:00 pm. “From Critiquing Thug Kitchen to Revealing Vermont’s Speciesist White Agricultural Narrative: pattrice jones tells us about her Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter as a White Ally” | Speakers: A. Breeze Harper (moderator) and pattrice jones (co-founder, VINE Sanctuary)

1:45 pm. “Dear White People, Black Lives Matter: An Introductory Workshop For White Vegans on Being an Ally”| Speakers: Dr. Paul Gorski (George Mason University) and Dallas Rising

2:30 pm. “The Origins of the Criminalization of Blackness in the Context of a ‘Race Neutral’ Analysis and how it Helped Shape Policing Policies” | Speaker: Liz Ross (Founder, Coalition of Vegan Activists of Color)

3:20-4:00 pm. Funding Pro-Vegan Anti-Racist Projects: Challenges and Strategies in a ‘Post-Racial’ Era” | Panelists: Alissa Hauser (Executive Director, The Pollination Project) and Dr. A. Breeze Harper

 
April 25, 2015

10:00 am. “Animal Liberationists for No More Prisons and No More Police”| Speaker: Dr. Anthony J Nocella II (Institute for Critical Animal Studies and Save the Kids From Incarceration)

10:30 am “Black Lives [Don’t] Matter: Michael Vick and the Demonization of Blackness Among White Vegans and Animal Rights Activists”| Speaker: Harlan Eugene Weaver, PhD (Davidson College)

11:30 am. “Pro-Vegan Self-Care for Racial Justice Activists: Building a Long-Term Community of Support”| Speaker: Jessica Rowshandel, LMSW

12:00 pm. Break

12:20 pm. Announcement of the Anti-Racist Changemakers of 2015 Award Winners

1:00 pm. “Memory and Betrayal: An Inquiry into Race, Empire, and Relationship During an Era of Black Lives Matter” |Speaker: Martin Rowe (co-founder and senior editor of Lantern Books)

1:30 pm. “Why Non-Vegans of Color Should Consider Ethical Veganism as a Powerful Tool for the Black Lives Matter Movement.” | Speaker: Christopher Sebastian McJetters (Vegan Publishers)

2:00 pm. “We Need a Holistic Revolution: Vegan Ethics and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement”| Speaker: Nevline Nnaji (cofounder, New Negress Film Society)

2:30 pm. “Abolitionist Veganism and Anti-Oppression Within the Context of Black Lives Matter” | Speaker: Sarah K. Woodcock (Founder, The Abolitionist Vegan Society)

3:00 pm. “ALL Black Lives Matter: Exposing and Dismantling Transphobia and Heteronormativity in Mainstream Black ‘Conscious’ Plant-Based Dietary Movement” | Speaker: Toi Scott (Afrogenderqueer.com)”

3:45-4:45 pm. KEYNOTE ADDRESS (TBD).

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER AND PURCHASE A TICKET

For this year’s conference, we ask that participants support the ongoing work of the Sistah Vegan Project by paying for a ticket to access the event. A limited number of full and partial scholarships will be available to apply to, starting the first week of April 2015. Send an email to sistahveganconference@gmail.com for inquiries.

Your monetary support will help the many goals of the Sistah Vegan Project such as:

  • Supporting the groundbreaking book project by Dr. A. Breeze Harper: Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix)
  • Organizing yearly Sistah-Vegan conferences that leave participants with concrete tools they can implement into their personal and work lives to dismantle systemic racism with a pro-vegan/ahimsa foundation
  • Supporting the production of an edited volume of the proceedings of the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter conference which a publisher has already expressed interest in publishing
  • Provide financial support for operating costs for The Sistah Vegan Project (i.e. travel to conferences, utilities to run the project, internet and web technologies, editing services, design services, etc)
  • The creation of ongoing tools and resources, such as webinars, toolkits, and short publications that use critical race feminism and anti-speciesism to educate people about how to effectively dismantle systemic oppression and violence against people, non-human animals, and Earth’s natural resources
  • Food and Nutritional toolkits with an emphasis on marginalized populations.

On Swedish Veganism and Goodness: Intersections of Species, Gender, Race, & Nationality

By Anna Nygren

Oat Drink

I think about: Buying things, buying food, buying bodies, buying inclusivity and exclusivity and subjectivity.

In Sweden, in the fall of 2014: The company Oatly sells its oat based products with slogans such as “It’s like milk only made for humans” and “Wow, no cow!” which made LRF Mjölk (the national organization for diary producers) angry and they sued Oatly. In the end, I think Oatly won (I’m not very good at understanding trials and commercial law, but I read that the process raised the sales figures). OK, milk producers being upset about what should count as Real Milk is not really a new thing, but still, I think this thing with Oatly and LRF make visible something about the relation between drinking milk and being human…and being Swedish.

Dairy Farm

The dairy industry quite often sells their products using arguments like, “From Swedish farms.” They also work hard to produce a history of milk-drinking Swedish people, and a Swedish self-image that includes drinking milk from cows. It has worked so well so that “Landet Mellanmjölk” has become almost a synonym to Sweden, referring to a Swedish people as being moderate (“mellanmjölk” means pasteurized cow milk with 1.5 % fat).

mellanmjölk

Making milk-drinking a criteria for Swedishness not only make violence part of the Swedish history, but also creates a limit for who can be a “real” Swede. It is a definition that excludes everyone who doesn’t want to be part of the milk industry, and it also, very physically, excludes those bodies (for example many Asian-Swedish bodies) that are hurt by lactose and so on. So, LRF’s reaction to Oatly’s campaign also reflects the threat felt by an Astrid-Lindgren-blonde-healthy-good-racist Swedishness to the national self definition.

I hope my references concerning Swedishness are not too internal. I recognize the history of racism and racial biology in Sweden. I think about the “folkhem” (welfare state, literally translated as “the people’s home”), “folkhälsa”/public health, and the violence and exclusions in these concepts. I recognize how Lindgren’s books have been used to define real Swedishness and a romantic nationalism, something light and bright and fresh and white.

Image of Pippi Longstocking, white, red-haired girl with long braided hair smiling in the snow

Pippi Longstocking is perhaps one of author Astrid Lindgren’s most famous characters

I think I love Oatly for challenging this, for saying, “Hey, your products hurt, and that’s not a necessary.” Still, I have a problem with a lot of Oatly’s rhetoric. Because they, in many cases, use the same arguments for selling their products as the milk producers do. Take, for example, the Swedishness aspect. They not only write, “Wow, no cow!” on their products, but also: “No artificial badness,” “Swedish independent,” and “Packed with Swedish goodness.”

Firstly, in the end of 2014, Oatly launched Oatly Apparel featuring t-shirts with their slogans written on them. The photos of the t-shirts on their Facebook page show only white models. People have reacted to this, and Oatly writes that the models are their friends who did the shooting for free, and that they gladly show cool people of other ethnicity, gender and sexuality in other spaces such as Instagram. Looking at their Instagram, I can see that they might be sort of right, but mostly I see only the packages of the products. I think the whiteness of the models are also problematic and connected to “Swedishness.” Seeing a blonde girl dressed in blue jeans, jogging shoes, and a pink t-shirt saying “Packed with Swedish goodness” doesn’t really broaden the definition of Swedishness.

Several images of models wearing Oatly t-shirts. All are in their early 20s, male and female, and white.

Using Sweden in their rhetoric might be a sort of counter-strategy. For example, it is working against the milk industry, connecting the Swedishness, not with Mellanmjölk, but with oat. And for a buyer in Sweden, the ecological aspect of using Swedish (i.e. local) oat might be of importance.

However, consider also the name. I can only think of American Apparel (and I most often don’t want to think of American Apparel), and well, Apparel might have other connections than American Apparel, but it’s not very often used in Sweden, and I think the choice to use the word might come from a similar strategy as the Swedish-thing. It is a way of using words in a different way: I can think of sexist American Apparel pictures and all the debate about them, I can see non-pornographic pictures with the same word connected to them, and I can think, wow, words can have different meanings, or something like that.

But, I still think the Swedishness aspect is problematic because of the whiteness and because of the “goodness.” Lately, the “goodness” (the superiority, the equality and being-best) of the Sweden (or the [self] picture of Sweden, or of Swedish history) has been questioned in different ways. Recall that Sweden was the first country to have a national racial biological institute. Observe that “neutral” can never be neutral because neutrality can never exist. Remember that Sweden has also enacted war and colonization. Researchers like Tobias Hübinette discuss Swedish whiteness as a discourse of Sweden as the whitest country, with the Swedish whiteness as the purest. This discourse creates violence on a lot of bodies. This Swedish whiteness is what I think about when I see Oatly’s t-shirts. It is a violent whiteness and it hurts. It reproduces a picture of a white Swedishness and Swedish whiteness.

On their website, under the heading, “Swedish independent” Oatly writes:

We know how it sounds. Tall, blond, beautiful, hard to get, extremely liberal with no sense of attachment or responsibility whatsoever. Sorry to disappoint you, that’s just not us. We are the other Swede – somewhat boring, super practical, painfully honest, notoriously hardworking and independent not because we don’t want to be social but merely because we want to have the right to say what we think and do what we think is right. 

It’s like, they make fun of the Swedishness, but they hardly challenge the whiteness. They also keep the discussion somewhat middle class-bound (that can be discussed), within a hipster-ish circle, and in line with a discourse of superiority. And then consider the use of the language, the consciousness, the negations. I mean, I think you might only want to abnegate your Swedishness if you’re not really risking losing it, and it might be impossible to distance yourself from it if you’ve never really been included.

So, I think that using Swedishness in any way is problematic. Maybe especially at the moment, when the elections in 2014 gave at hand that the third largest party in Sweden is a racist, nationalistic and fascistic one. I mean, I don’t think that nationalism in any case can save the world, or do much good, because nationalism per se is based on excluding (but still, some sort of “nationalism” might be temporally needed to fight colonialism and so on, though, Sweden doesn’t really need that kind of temporally nationalism).

Secondly, the use of goodness is, I think, another problem. For me, goodness is closely connected to Christian ecclestical discourse, and in the name of that goodness a lot of violent actions have taken place, like missionary colonialism and burning women for being witches. I think: The most violent and cruel actions are often made for goodness sake. And I think: in order for the good to exist, there must be a bad, and for some people to be good, some must be called bad, this creates a dichotomy that will always hurt the Other.

Goodness is also related to the individualistic view of the world. The goodness is tied to the individual person, who, by eating and drinking and buying Oatly’s products will do a good action and become a good person. And the problem is: Not hurting other is something that can never be done for your own ego, because then it is easily the case that what will gain this ego is instead something that will hurt other.

On the webpage for a post-humanist seminar in Lund, Sweden (that I wasn’t able to attend and for which I am crying my eyes out!), I read about the research of Claire Molloy (of the UK). I want to cite it because I can’t write it better!

She also problematized the (at least in the anglo-world) ongoing mainstreaming of (celebrity) veganism, arguing that when veganism becomes another private consumer choice, a hobby to find easy pleasure and fulfillment in, it easily gets detatched from its ethical dimension and radical driving force. The risk is that  the long term goal of abolishing the use of animals in food industry disolves and disappears under the horizon. 

I think this can be connected to the goodness concept. There are a lot of “good” celebrities, and it seems to me that it is quite easy for them to be “good” because they have the money, the power, and the opportunity. Not everyone has this privilege. This is another reason why goodness is a problem.

So, I think about Oatly, about being good, about buying things and selling things and living in a nation and who could be a part of this nation. I think that the problem is probably the market and the commerce and the capitalism, and the language and discourse existing within these, and building these. I think about violence and veganism and goodness. And the problems of how things get connected. And then, I think, I still like Oatly’s product (maybe except for the t-shirts).

Oatly Vegan