Black Veganism and the Animality Politic

Why Animality Matters

In Ko & Ko’s 2017 publication Aphro-ism, the sisters critique popular applications of intersectionality theory, identifying that what has traditionally been defined as “human” has always been categorized as white, male, and European, while racial and ethnic minorities, women, and other marginalized groups have been dualistically constructed as “animal.” Thus, “animal” is not so much a catch-all category meant to refer to nonhuman species, but to all manner of disenfranchised groups, humans included.

Animality is, they insist, endemic to the colonialist project, providing justification for social control and suppression. The Kos argue that anti-racism activists, feminists, and vegans all have a stake in challenging the false divide between human and animal, and, more specifically, challenging the category of “animal” itself.

Without challenging this basic mechanism of oppression, activists are bound to fail in their efforts for liberation. In fact, they merely embrace the same oppressive logic by either ignoring (or rejecting) the relevance of animality or insisting that intersectionality praxis stop short of species solidarity. Doing so dangerously preserves hierarchies. As Aph warns: “What hasn’t occurred to many of us is that this model of compartmentalizing oppressions tracks the problematic Eurocentric compartmentalization of the world and its members in general” (71).

Why Race Matters

From the same reasoning, vegans who do not incorporate a critical racial lens are missing the entire point of speciesism: marking particular bodies as distinct from the dominant group based on perceived physical, cognitive, and cultural differences, and then employing this distinction to rationalize oppressive treatment. Racism and speciesism are inherently entangled. Explains Syl: “[ . . . ] the organizing principle for racial logic lies in the human-animal divide, wherein the human and the animal are understood to be moral opposites” (66).

The Kos are careful not to prescribe a “we are all animals” perspective to solve this boundary-maintenance, as this is poised to deprecate rather than accommodate difference. There is little need to push for sameness, and such a push usually maintains the dominant group as the standard to which others should aspire.

Read more of my review of Aprho-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters in Society & Animals here.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Dealing with Sexism Requires Initiative

Perhaps one of the most crucial rational strategies for achieving animal liberation which I explore in my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, is the firm rejection of sexism. In a movement that is mostly ranked by women but dominated by men, sexism becomes irrational in that it:

1. Counters social justice values
2. Disempowers 80% of the movement, and
3. Discredits the movement in the larger social movement arena.

Dealing with sexism requires initiative. Male-identified leaders must take their position seriously, and part of that serious consideration will entail ceding some or all of that leadership to marginalized demographics. Male leaders should take reports of sexism and sexual violence seriously and have absolutely no tolerance for it. It will take more than waiting for the marginalized to point out problems. Advocates with privilege must start identifying it and rejecting it themselves. They must create a strategy to prevent it from happening in the first place. Those in a position of power are those who must take the initiative to create a safer, just, and rationally consistent movement.

This is not to say that rank-and-file folks will not be involved in this goal as well. Neither is it only men who should pay attention to this problem. Advocates of any gender must take these reports seriously and support one another.

For further reading and inspiration, check out our essay, “Tips for Male Allies.”


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Uh Oh… Your Vegan Panel is All White or Male

A few  years ago, I was considering attending Colorado VegFest 2014 until I read the program and changed my mind. Almost every single presenter appeared to be white and male. I wasn’t the only person to notice this. Several concerned activists raised the issue with the program organizers, and were, to my dismay, met with strong resistance. Because we were critical of the program’s male-centrism, we were curiously accused of being sexist ourselves. Moreover, we were told we were ruining activism “for the animals.”

Because these reactions are so common to feminist critique no matter how politely or compassionately that critique is offered, it is worth exploring why these responses are both inappropriate and oppressive.

Gender Inclusivity is Not Sexist

When feminists ask that more women be included in speaking events, it is not an insinuation that men are not capable of having good ideas and should be barred from participation. It is only asking that women be actively included with the understanding that women have been consciously and unconsciously excluded from participating in the public discourse for centuries.

This is not sexism against men because, under patriarchy (a system of male rule), men cannot be victims of sexism. “Reverse sexism” is a trope designed to protect male privilege and deflect criticism, but it lacks empirical support. The institutions of patriarchy are designed to privilege men, therefore, men cannot be the victims of sexism when women challenge this privilege.

Gender Inclusivity is Not Speciesist

Lamenting “the animals” who are presumably hurt by efforts to improve diversity is another distraction technique.  It takes the blame away from those responsible for the problem (almost always persons protecting their privilege) and puts it on those who are drawing attention to the problem (usually marginalized persons). “Won’t somebody please think of the animals!” rhetoric protects structures of inequality.

Emphasizing the urgency of Nonhuman Animal suffering (“RIGHT NOW!”) eliminates the potential for civil discourse and careful thought, both of which are necessary for effective activism. No time to think, animals are suffering! This trope exploits the torture and death of Nonhuman Animals to maintain privilege and inequality.

Failing to Assume Responsibility is Sexist

Most gatekeepers in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement are unwilling to accept responsibility for institutional discrimination. To a point, this is understandable. Very few persons today are explicitly sexist or racist; most engage in implicit or unconscious prejudice and stereotyping. You do not have to identify as sexist to be sexist. In fact, many people who believe themselves to be champions of women are actively engaged in sexist systems.

The majority of us theoretically support egalitarian ideals, which is good news, of course. Yet, this superficial support also makes challenging the many barriers that remain all the more difficult. Marginalized groups today are harmed by institutional discrimination far more than interpersonal prejudices and discriminations. Even if you personally do not feel you are sexist or racist, that does not mean sexism or racism doesn’t exist.

Sexism and racism are both structural, but most interpret these systems as individual. In this case, VegFest panel organizers were confronted with the presence of sexism and racism and interpreted our feminist critique to mean that they themselves (not the institution they represent) were being labeled sexist and racist. They reacted with more individual-level thinking, reversing the contention by insisting that it was we the complainants who were the truly sexist and racist persons. By this schoolyard logic, any acknowledgement of white male privilege is inherently sexist and racist. But acknowledging gender, race, and difference in representation and opportunity is not bigotry. Such a framework invisibilizes the very real systems that insure that this panel and most panels in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement have a race and gender problem.

Solutions of Responsibility

Blaming the complainants is only one tactic. Blaming the disenfranchised is another popular approach.

Ignoring systems invites a deflection to the most vulnerable. Too uncomfortable to consider that their own biases might somehow be responsible for the lack of diversity, organizers lazily insist that it is simply the case that no women or people of color were available or interested. Again, this response inappropriately individualizes a systemic problem. Institutions wield incredible privilege in normalizing agendas and discourse. They also wield incredible privilege in acting as gatekeepers and setting standards and values for their audiences.

Men and whites (and especially a combination of the two) must take responsibility for sexism and racism in the movement. Even if these persons do not feel they are racist or sexist, they nonetheless benefit from these systems and are thus morally obligated to acknowledge and resist them. Allies should, first, contact organizers and express their disappointment with the lack of diversity. They should, second, withhold their services or patronage until diversity is improved.

In a movement that is 80% female, there is no excuse for an all-male or nearly all-male group of speakers, contributors, or leaders. Race is more complicated. The overwhelming whiteness of the activist pool indicates that many people of color–who also care about other animals and practice veganism–rightfully avoid the movement and either abandon activism or create independent collectives. Those who remain are vulnerable to exploitation, over-extended to fulfill diversity quotas and often used as tokens.

Conclusion

I am of the position that most of these events are wastes of precious few resources. I recognize that creating community is essential to retaining vegans, but conferences and fests are not explicitly “for the animals.” The majority of event goers, I suspect, are not uninitiated persons, but rather persons who are already vegan or vegetarian. These events are predominantly sites of fundraising, career advancement, personal entertainment, and celebrity worship. They are not “about the animals” so much as they are about humans.

Diversity disrupts the historical use of conferences as spaces to engage in and enjoy privilege. If these conferences were truly in the business of spreading vegan ideals, they would embrace diversity rather than accuse women and other disenfranchised groups of being discriminatory themselves simply for requesting representation. A movement that belittles and trivializes the marginalization of human groups will be unwelcoming and ineffective for other animals. If the community believes that conferences matter, then they must become relevant and inclusive.

 


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

whyveganism.com

Why Trump Veganism Must Go

trump-veganism

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

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

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

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

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

trump-fans

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

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

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

 


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

whyveganism.com

Sexism and Speciesism in the Not-So-Female-Friendly Hollywood

speciesism-in-hollywood
The lack of sexual diversity in Hollywood has been a critical issue that gained wide attention among movie lovers and researchers. But, as a recent University of Southern California report shows, a real change in the industry is still required. In particular, Dr Katherine Pieper points out “raised voices and calls for change are important, but so are practical and strategic solutions based on research.”

So how can we implement solutions based on research, such as the one that USC proposes? Is the research showing solutions for all female species?

Research often offers observations and critical analysis of existing case studies. There are several feminist cases to study, such as Julia Roberts not wearing high heels and Alicia Keys not using makeup on the red carpet. Publicity of Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy – the fact that breasts are not essential for her sense of being a woman – generated contested views in feminism. While Jennifer Aniston received attention for her feminist perspectives on the impacts of paparazzi photography, Keira Knightley posed nude to protest against the use of Photoshop and questioned idealistic images of women in Hollywood. Furthermore, Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra have successfully used media channels to represent themselves as women of color in Hollywood, thus resisting in a wider context of social justice.

What else can researchers do apart from studying actions that these female actors have already taken and have also inspired others to do?Well, being a living example of change and bearing witness of violence are essential for social justice. But most fans often shift responsibility to Hollywood actors as idols of our society.

Here, we are not talking about blockbuster films in Hollywood only. One must note that Hollywood is an abstract cultural space where filmmakers and film studies scholars co-exist through material and symbolic modes of communication in shared environments. Furthermore, critical questions on the female are not limited to humans but also apply to animals in our overall environment of social practices. In this respect one of the issues that is rarely addressed is how atrocity in ongoing circumcision of male pigs and grinding of live male chicks is overlooked while exploitation of female reproductive organs e.g., chicken breasts, milk, and eggs is glamorized. These practices lead to normalizing, naturalizing, and legitimizing exploitation of female body parts. The exploitations are completely overlooked in Hollywood representations of a ‘bacon and egg’ breakfast after a steamy sex scene, where female actors are far more exposed and consumed than their male counterparts.

Famous diner scene from "When Harry Met Sally" where Sally fakes an orgasm over a nonvegan sandwich
Now the USC report argues “women were over three times as likely as their male counterparts to be shown partly nude or in sexually revealing clothing”. Why?

In The Sexual Politics of Meat, feminist author Dr Carol Adams points out that sexism and speciesism have the same roots of patriarchal oppression in a class-based society. Unless we use verbal and non-verbal means to resist violence against all females, women will be not only underrepresented but also be animalized.

We cannot fight for the freedom of one while oppressing the ‘Other’ in discourses of the female body. The intersections in sexism show that there is no single issue cause in Hollywood and beyond.

Marilyn Monroe nude in bed wrapped in sheets

So how can we bring much-needed changes in Hollywood representations of women and feminists that fight for diverse social issues? And can we walk the talk?

We need to show intersections – not categorizations. That’s exactly the problem.

We need to show how sexism, classism, speciesism, and ableism among many other ideological practices are interconnected in Hollywood. Using the intersectional approach, we must be a living example of change and resist images and products that support exploitation. As Gandhi says, “be the change you want to see.”

 


samita_nandyDr. Samita Nandy is an award-winning academic, author and cultural critic on fame. With federal and provincial grants valued at $140,000, her research has developed with an aim to reveal meanings of celebrity culture, history of stardom, and celebrity activism. She is the Director of the Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) and author of Fame in Hollywood North.

whyveganism.com

Podcast #4 – Veganism & Capitalism

Vegan Socialism

In this podcast, Corey and Brian liberate a can of worms in discussing the many important overlaps and disconnects between socialist activism and veganism. Despite the relevance of Marxist critique, it seems that ideologies have gotten the better of us.

This episode is not safe for work (contains cursing).

Episode recorded on September 24, 2016.

Show Notes

Alexander Simon  – “Against Trophy Hunting: A Marxian-Leopoldian Critique” Monthly Review