Is Intersectionality Speciesist?

Vegan Intersectionality

With the growing popularity of intersectional approaches in vegan spaces, there is some concern about what this means for a meaningful anti-speciesist message. I have written at length on this topic in my book A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory, but offer this essay as a quick reference to readers. In short–intersectionality can be speciesist, but it need not be.

Developed in the context of Black feminism by Dr. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, intersectionality theory asks us to acknowledge how various forms of oppression are entangled with one another. Intersectionality theory insists that our struggle for social justice cannot be single-issue. For vegans, this means that we cannot advocate for Nonhuman Animals while ignoring (or aggravating) sexism, racism or any other “ism.” Doing so overlooks the root cause of injustice.

Intersectionality theory acknowledges that some individuals belong to multiple oppressed groups; their experiences cannot be fully understood with a single-issue analysis. For instance, Black feminists insist that any feminism lacking a critical race component is insufficient or incomplete: Black women’s experiences are not always comparable to that of white women. Women’s liberation efforts which fail to acknowledge this difference will be disjointed and fall short of success. Racism and sexism are not the same, but they manifest similarly. Thus, leaving any group behind leaves the system intact.

While intersectionality is a theory of Black feminism, it can also be applied to understand other complex identities. Consider how a dog’s experience is different from that of a human. Consider also how a disabled dog’s experience will be markedly different from that of an able-bodied dog in a human supremacist and ableist society. Intersectionality theory asks us to be conscious of differences in experience, and the complexities of oppression. Intersectionality is about awareness to difference.

However, some have suggested that intersectionality displaces the centrality of Nonhuman Animal suffering in the vegan movement. Some have also suggested that intersectionality somehow opens up the door for anyone and everyone to claim to victimhood, thus absconding them from their responsibilities for anti-speciesist political engagement.

This simply isn’t the case. A pro-intersectional approach acknowledges the reality of oppression and seeks to uproot it. Racism, sexism, speciesism, etc. all rely on similar mechanisms (in-group/out-group maintenance, stereotypes, objectification, etc.) and manifest in similar ways. A pro-intersectional approach only seeks to acknowledge and accommodate these unique positions in society in our collective journey to justice.

We may have cross-cultural moral universals (such as the renunciation of unnecessary violence), but there is no one-size-fits-all moral solution. In an ideal world, all humans would be vegan. But the world is teeming with intersecting oppressions, and veganism is not (or may not appear to be) attainable. It’s our job to make it so. Intersectionality is a political approach, not a hands-off, live and let live resignation.

Importantly, abetting oppression is never part of intersectionality’s accommodation of difference. This is why vegan pro-intersectionalists firmly reject all welfare reforms and single-issue campaigns, which have been shown to be ideologically problematic and empirically counterproductive. Some non-vegan/plant-based intersectionalists take no position on the capitalist co-optation of non-profits or the agricultural industry’s manipulation of post-speciesist ideologies. They may also suggest that veganism is what you make of it. But this position is not universally accepted.

Crowd of protesters leave animals behind

As I understand it, veganism is a political expression of anti-speciesism. It is not just about the personal; it is first and foremost about the collective. Plant-based diets can certainly be liberatory, anti-colonial, feminist, or anti-racist, but a plant-based diet without the anti-speciesist element ultimately stops short of our obligations to other animals.

I’m not the vegan police; I can’t tell communities living in life-or-death situations how to manage their scant resources and it’s not my business to tell others how to self-identify. Nonetheless, it is important to be clear: eating plant-based foods while still engaging in speciesist actions is problematic. It is ethically problematic to wear “leather” or “wool.” It is ethically problematic to vacation to Seaworld or buy “purebred” dogs. It is ethically problematic to support PETA and the HSUS as well, because these organizations promote institutionalized violence against animals.

So, intersectionality can be speciesist if it fails to meaningfully incorporate a vegan ethic. But then, intersectionality theory in practice has never been perfect. There are lots of non-vegan feminists, heterosexist anti-racists, sexist gay liberationists, etc. Many activists claim to both understand the connections and live by them, but research indicates that all social movements are grappling with internal discrimination. This is not good, of course, but there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We must still be accountable to the marginalized. For those of us identifying as “vegan,” we must be vigilant in our obligation to embrace an anti-speciesist position so as not to aggravate systemic violence against Nonhuman Animals. To do so, we must first live up to our own potential. Second, we must also use whatever privilege we enjoy to help others do the same. Recognizing that oppression impacts some communities in ways that makes their participation in social justice difficult, it’s up to activists to find solutions to break down those barriers.

Perhaps most importantly, we should be listening and lending platform to those folks engaging this difficult work who are themselves part of those communities. If marginalized human groups were given support, encouragement, and resources instead of being hassled, derided, and patronized by wealthy white vegans, we could see some serious change. Vegans with relative privilege should be wary of imposing their unique worldview unrealistically on vulnerable groups (who, by the way, became vulnerable in the creation of said privilege; this is no circumstance of chance). White-identified vegans in particular should beware of the white savior complex, as this mindset can replicate patterns of oppression. Privileged people will need to get comfortable with relinquishing control. After all, equal access and equal representation will be the new status quo in a liberated society, will it not?

We need to promote veganism for Nonhuman Animal liberation, but we can’t do so if we build a wall between ourselves and our audience. The anti-speciesist vegan movement has much to inform other movements, but we must remember that other movements have much to inform us, too. This is how bridges are built, solidarity is nurtured, and oppression is dismantled. If we want liberation, this step is not optional.

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement must prioritize coalition-building. In doing so, however, we must be clear about our obligations to other animals. Veganism should be encouraged and engaged when possible, and single-issue campaigns that compromise the well-being of Nonhuman Animals should be firmly rejected.

Some activists working in vegan spaces come to the table from other movements and do not include Nonhuman Animals in their advocacy, or, they may promote speciesist non-profits or speciesist tactics. I am sensitive to the fact that some people occupy more precarious social positions and must prioritize other justice campaigns. I am also deeply committed to supporting the efforts of others wherever it is ethical to do so. Raising anti-speciesist awareness in sister movements is a worthy goal, as is raising our own awareness to the struggles of others.

The only vegan pro-intersectionality I condone is that which embraces and acknowledges other forms of oppression without undermining our obligations to other animals. Indeed, a position is hardly intersectional if it works to ignore, invisibilize, or further marginalize any oppressed group–human or not.

 

You can read more about the importance of species-inclusive intersectionality in A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave 2016).


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

whyveganism.com

Veganism, Degrowth and Redistribution

Bird subsumed in oil spill

By Marv Wheale

The Vegan Feminist Network is dedicated to scrutinizing the interconnections among speciesism, genderism, heterosexism, colonialism, racism, poverty, disablism, ageism, sizeism, ecocide…..  Today I would like to concisely examine some related elements that could exercise a role in overcoming these structures of subordination.

We know that veganism is the credible stance to take against the ideology and praxis of human  supremacy.  Yet when we practice and promote a vegan way of life within capitalism, veganism stands unopposed to the continuation of economic inequality, middle class values/lifestyles, the larger systems of animal use and ecological erosion (obviously vegans do mitigate these troubles to a limited extent).

Chicken corpses on conveyor belt

For veganism to succeed and not be isolationist it must be anti-capitalist and degrowth.  Though socialism may resolve economic class divisions, it’s emphasis on growing the economy puts a strain on ecosystems, nonhuman species habitats and climate (possibly as much as capitalist development).   Mining, industrial agriculture, intensive logging and fossil use are integral parts of many socialist agendas, except  the green kinds.  Perpetual production growth is a dead end for a liveable planet.

Compulsory societal wide frugal living is required for securing biosphere sustainability and enhancement.

We could call it “revolutionary simplicity”. But how do we end indigence with economic contraction?  Don’t the poor need growth to have a dignified life?  

Not in the conventional sense.  Improving employment, wages, living conditions, local vegan food production, education, public health and transportation and providing clean water don’t have the same devastating impacts on nature as aggregate expansion for private or government gain.

Free vegan food being offered at a Food Not Bombs tabling

Dispersing wealth evenly, vegan living, green energy, social housing, workers’ cooperatives, working less hours, men care-giving instead of worshipping porn and sports teams, cultivating talents, idle contemplation and revelry are types of progress that don’t ravage the earth and living beings like commercial extractivist societies do.

Redistribution, economic democracy,  animal/human animal equality, producing and consuming less, and post-growth economies would be powerful forms of intergroup solidarity and justice for all.

Veganist degrowth and redistribution is not a full-grown theory, plan of action or affiliation.  It is nonetheless worth exploring and perilous to dismiss.  Something nonvegan socialists and capitalists should adopt as well.   

SoaringFrigateBird

Dreamer?  Climate disruption, environmental despoliation, destitution and war may force us to take radical measures.  Now is the time to spread the conversation to raise consciousness to act for a nonviolent transition.

 


Marv is a moderator for the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page.

El Veganismo no es “La Ética de los Alimentos”: El Veganismo tiene que ver con la Justicia Social

Translation by Mariángel Villalobos. You can follow her on Twitter @mvillabe. The original English version of this essay can be found here.

Mother cow and calf nuzzling

Por Syl

Me quedé más que decepcionada después de leer el reciente post de Olivia (de Skepchick) y la discusión que le siguió en la sección de veganismo. Primero que todo, no hubo en absoluto una conversación sobre las conexiones entre el ateísmo y el veganismo. Siempre me parece una pérdida completa de tiempo tratar de explicar la falta de interés en el veganismo en espacios ateos. Los ateos parecen ser suficientemente críticos siempre y cuando ellos permanezcan en la pequeñez de la conversación relacionada con la creencia de que el veganismo es una acción basada en la acción ética del individuo, en lugar de una posición propia de justicia social y un movimiento fundado en ciertas creencias éticas. Algunas de las características clave de esta construcción miope del veganismo son:

(a) Fundamentalmente, el veganismo es un asunto ético fundado en el individuo.

(b) El veganismo es un ideal inalcanzable. Es una guía en lugar de una meta realizable.

(c) El veganismo es una práctica relacionada con la alimentación, una ética de alimentación, y/o una dieta.

(d) El veganismo consiste en intentar hacer “lo mejor que se pueda”.

(e) Naturalmente, el veganismo conlleva momentos de “culpa” porque uno no puede ser un “vegano perfecto”.

(f) El veganismo es una práctica aislada conceptualmente de otras prácticas de justicia social.

En su post, Olivia se refiere consistentemente al veganismo como “ética de la alimentación” o una “dieta” (c) y resto de (a) a través (f) se puede ver en solo un pasaje:

Podemos ver que no todas las conclusiones éticas abstractas demandan una perfecta conformidad, porque nuestro propio bienestar debería ser parte de nuestros cálculos éticos. Cada uno de nosotros tiene una cantidad limitada de tiempo, dinero, y energía, y tenemos que decidir en cuáles áreas vamos a concentrar esos recursos. Hay una sorprendente cantidad de cosas que podemos hacer para mejorarnos a nosotros mismos y a nuestras comunidades, y simplemente no podemos cumplir con todas. Si cambiar nuestra dieta agota nuestros recursos profundamente, nos puede lastimar, o dejarnos ansiosos, enojados, infelices, e incapaces de actuar éticamente hacia las personas que están a nuestro alrededor (como un ejemplo, yo sé que soy una perra irritable cuando no consumo suficiente proteína). Si una preferencia ética en particular nos deja sin más energía o recursos, puede que no sea la manera más efectiva para mejorar el mundo.

Déjenme referirme de (a) hasta (f).

(a) El veganismo, fundamentalmente, es una posición de justicia social basada en el colectivo político. Esto significa que la explotación en masa y la tortura de los animales solo puede ser erradicada con la reestructuración política y social. Demandamos reestructuración política y social para también dirigirnos a las situaciones de otros grupos oprimidos… porque ser anti-racistas, anti-sexistas, anti-homofóbicos, etc., es tomar una posición de justicia social. Estas no son posturas éticas del individuo (aunque ellas son fundadas en preocupaciones éticas e implicaciones éticas le siguen). No hay charla sobre “y tú!” (“do you!”) cuando se trata de posturas de justicia social, porque adoptar una postura de justicia social es hacer cierto reclamo sobre tus propios derechos. Los derechos son un concepto universal, no un concepto de “y tú!”.

El veganismo no es solo una postura de justicia social sino que también se basa en una postura crítica. Es una postura fundada por la crítica de nuestra heredada narrativa de consumo con respecto a los animales. Tomamos la cuestión con la suposición de que los animales deben pertenecer a nuestra narrativa de consumo y nosotros mantenemos que es en parte por esta fallada suposición de que los animales deben permanecer sin derechos. Si los animales simplemente son seres para que nosotros consumamos y usemos, ya sea como alimento, vestimenta, entretenimiento, sujetos de investigación, etc., entonces es contradictorio también mantener que ellos son seres que merecen ser protegidos de los abusos. Mientras asumamos que los animales pertenecen a la narrativa de consumo, a ellos nunca se les concederán derechos. (Les remito a mi post anterior).

(b) Alcanzar metas veganas es sin duda un proyecto que se puede realizar. El único obstáculo en el camino para ver esto es la tendencia a reconstruir el veganismo como un proyecto basado en la ética del individuo! Obviamente, los esfuerzos éticos hechos por individuos aislados no podrían desmantelar el mito sobre el papel de los animales en la narrativa de consumo actual. La narrativa de consumo es una historia sistémica completa con fuerzas económicas, culturales y políticas; entonces, si vamos a encontrar una buena estrategia para embestir el problema, va a tener que ser a un nivel sistémico. La abolición de la esclavitud no fue simplemente la suma de proyectos basados en la ética del individuo. Más bien, fue el resultado de llamadas hacia la reestructuración social y política. Ciertamente, la abolición pudo haber sido un ideal inalcanzable si los abolicionistas no hubieran conseguido ver que la raíz de esta tradición opresiva estaba basada en una narrativa sistémicamente sostenida. En otras palabras, nuestras grandes injusticias sociales no existen simplemente porque hay personas “malas” que no están dispuestas a luchar por ideales abstractos e irrealizables. Las grandes injusticias sociales existen porque hay estructuras construidas y mantenidas que funcionan para perpetuar esas mismas injusticias. Estas estructuras son lo mismo que alimenta la ilusión de que deshacernos a nosotros mismos de ciertas injusticias sociales son ideales “abstractos” desprovistos de realidad o simples fantasmas del optimismo que la naturaleza humana nunca puede acomodar.

(c) El veganismo no es una simple práctica alimenticia, o ética alimenticia, o una dieta. Esto no es para decir que las prácticas alimenticias no son asuntos de justicia social. Ciertamente lo son y merecen más atención. Sin embargo, el veganismo es una posición de justicia social con la meta de asegurar los derechos de los animales y, como tal, no se agota por lo que comemos o vestimos. Me disgusta hasta escuchar los términos “veganismo”, “prácticas alimenticias” y “éticas alimenticias” en la misma oración. Si, como hemos argumentado, los veganos propiamente llegan a la posición de justicia social criticando la suposición de que los animales deben pertenecer en la narrativa de consumo, entonces le sigue que los veganos no miren conceptualmente a los animales como comida. Llamar al veganismo “ética alimenticia”, o una “dieta”, o una “práctica alimenticia” es un perezoso nombre errado.

(d&e) El sentimiento de culpa solamente tiene sentido cuando se ve el veganismo de forma miope como un proyecto ético del individuo. Voy a tener que apoyar este argumento con un ejemplo. Una de mis películas favoritas por desgracia tiene una corta escena con una innecesaria estupidez misógina. Cuando la temida escena se acerca, yo -como una firme feminista- no me siento culpable. Más bien, me siento frustrada y –como mucho (y a lo peor)- impotente como un individuo. Como vegana, soy consciente de que en la actualidad no puedo vivir una vida libre de explotación animal. Como he mencionado anteriormente, nuestra sociedad ha sistematizado e institucionalizado la dependencia humana de animales y de la explotación y tortura animal. Cuando aprendo que las paredes en mi casa (muy probablemente) contienen productos de animales explotados, parece inapropiado sentir culpa. Yo no soy culpable en este caso. Más bien, me siento frustrada por lo penetrante que el problema es y como mucho (y a lo peor)- impotente. El sentimiento de impotencia disminuye después de un rato y la frustración que queda me recuerda cuál es el lugar correcto para mi activismo: en el nivel sistémico. Sentimientos momentáneos de impotencia, que son naturalmente fundados en la impotencia individual, y la frustración, son emociones productivas porque indican que el problema trasciende al individuo. La culpa no es productiva porque indica que el problema deriva del individuo.

Shakespeare character holding a bunch of carrots asks, "To vegan or not to vegan?"

Algunos podrían objetar que yo he prestado poca o nada de atención al sentirme culpable cuando se trata de algún “desliz” o de ser “flexible” en cierta compañía, o de aquellos en ciertas situaciones quienes -independientemente de posiciones de justicia social- debemos depender de los animales para alimento y vestido. Con respecto a lo primero: como ya he manifestado, creo que el veganismo es debidamente entendido como una crítica a la narrativa de consumo y del lugar de los animales en ella, lo que significa que un vegano o vegana realmente cree que los animales son sujetos que merecen derechos. Creo que adoptando una posición crítica hace que los “deslices” o la “flexibilidad” sean imposibles. (Polémicamente), creo que los fenómenos de los “deslices” y la “flexibilidad” tienen mucho que ver con adoptar la posición ética del individuo, la cual se basa en nociones vagas de estatus morales y “crueldad” y no hace mucho para alterar conceptualmente o críticamente a la persona.

(De nuevo, polémicamente) no considero que situaciones que involucren dificultades extremas sean de preocupación inmediata para los veganos. Como veganos, debemos estar preocupados por la narrativa de consumo; estamos preocupados por la historia que nosotros como sociedad contamos sobre los animales y el lugar que ellos ocupan en nuestras rutinas de consumo. Cuando las personas usan animales para la supervivencia básica, ellos no están interesados en crear una narrativa de consumo en la cuál los animales son los perjudicados por algún privilegio percibido. Ellos no tienen el poder para institucionalizar estas nociones. Ellos simplemente están tratando de sobrevivir. El profesor Will Kymlicka se refiere a esta situación como una que reside fuera de las “circunstancias de justicias.” Este es un caso diferente a lo que debería preocupar a los veganos. (Similarmente, cuando rocías un insecto en tu cocina con un spray para cucarachas, consecuentemente matándolo, esta es una situación diferente de las que a los veganos les debería preocupar. Tales incidencias aisladas no tienen nada que ver con mantener la presente narrativa de consumo, de la misma manera que rociar la cara de un intruso con el mismo spray para cucarachas no tiene nada que ver con actuales violaciones a los derechos humanos.)

(e) El veganismo no es un asunto de justicia social aislado de otros asuntos de justicia social. Olivia declaraba anteriormente, “Cada uno de nosotros tiene una cantidad limitada de tiempo, dinero, y energía, y tenemos que decidir en qué temas enfocar nuestros recursos.” Tal punto de vista es rampante entre veganos y no-veganos. Conforme a esta mentalidad de “asunto-único” (“single-issue”), los activismos son estructurados para referirse a un asunto y se refieren a este asunto como siendo fundamentalmente independiente de y diferente de otros asuntos. Como resultado, tenemos que priorizar asuntos. El enfoque de asunto-único oscurece la realidad de cómo el racismo, sexismo, clasismo, discriminación en base a la diversidad funcional, homofobia, especismo, ecocidio, etc. no están solo conectados pero son dependientes el uno con el otro para formar lo que yo llamo un “holismo pernicioso”. Si uno ve esta realidad, el enfoque de el asunto-único parece complemente incoherente. Si todos estos asuntos contra los que luchamos están enredados en una profunda, interconectada red, entonces no tiene nada de sentido estructurar nuestro activismo como si ellos no estuvieran conectados o como si no fuesen interdependientes. Aislar un asunto de esta red es equivocarse sobre la raíz y profundidad del problema, por lo que cualquier activismo que siga de este aislamiento es fútil. La mayoría de las veces, los enfoques de asunto-único son desposados simplemente por la falta de diversidad. Puede ser difícil descubrir cómo ciertos asuntos en particular están conectados si no se tiene en cuenta con las experiencias relevantes.

Por ejemplo, históricamente, los movimientos feministas en su lucha se han centrado solamente en el aspecto de género, simplemente porque sus miembros y las mujeres a las que convirtieron en su objetivo y por las que hablaron fueron todas mujeres blancas de una clase en particular. Hasta hace poco, nunca se les había ocurrido a las organizaciones feministas convencionales que la raza y la clase sean fuerzas sociales que dan forma al género.  Aunque a las organizaciones veganas les guste comparar entre las similitudes de la explotación humana y animal, raramente lo llevan al siguiente paso lógico, concluyendo que estas similitudes tienen algo que ver con la misma estructura que apuntala estas explotaciones. La anatomía de esta estructura en la cual todas las explotaciones giran es el holismo pernicioso que existe entre todos los -ismos regresivos. Entonces, adoptar un compromiso en el camino correcto hacia el veganismo, no significa quitar tiempo, dinero y energía de otros compromisos valiosos.  Tener un compromiso con el veganismo es solo comprometerse en atacar la subyacente estructura del especismo, que está estructuralmente incrustada en todos los otros –ismos regresivos.

Como he mencionado en otro lugar, esto no es decir que el activismo vegano sea feminismo, sea activismo anti-racista, etc. Sin embargo, luchar contra la fuerza que le da forma a la explotación animal también requiere luchar contra las fuerzas sociales que le dan forma y se cruzan con tal fuerza. El género, la raza, la clase, las capacidades, la orientación sexual, etc. Este es el enfoque del asunto-múltiple o como a veces se le denomina “activismo interseccional”. Para una buena demostración de este enfoque, considera este punto que la Dra. Breeze Harper hace cuando ella argumenta que hay algo incoherente en llamar a los productos veganos “libres de crueldad” si han sido hechos por niños esclavos!

Conclusión. La moraleja de todo esto es que el ver el veganismo desde la perspectiva del individuo como una práctica que se agota a sí misma en tu ética personal es diametralmente opuesto al objetivo del veganismo, que es erradicar el mito de que los animales pertenecen a la narrativa del consumo. Puesto que las protecciones legales son las únicas cosas que podrían prevenir significativamente la explotación de seres vulnerables y puesto que el lenguaje de los derechos es el único lenguaje que puede asegurar la vulnerabilidad formal de los seres, nuestra tarea como veganos es asegurar los derechos de los animales si vamos a alcanzar nuestra meta. Las implicaciones éticas que siguen a este punto de vista son solo eso: ellas siguen la posición crítica que aumenta nuestra postura de justicia social y consecuentemente define nuestras prácticas. Necesitamos insistir que estamos involucrados primero y más que nada en el negocio de justicia social. El discurso de la moralidad meramente nos dice algo sobre nosotros– sobre nuestro carácter, sobre si nosotros somos buenos o malos. El discurso sobre los derechos nos dice algo sobre los animales– acerca de que merecen lo que aún no tienen.

 


Syl is a local activist and PhD student in philosophy in Chapel Hill, NC. She is currently working on her dissertation, which posits the “human” in the human/animal binary as a location of naturalized whiteness and in which she argues for an interpretation of the human/animal binary as racist. Syl also has secondary interests in black feminism, the history of philosophy and philosophy of animal death.

Lack of Intersectionality: A Moral Inconsistency of the Animal Rights Movement?

Woman brandishing a large rainbow flag with a vegan symbol in the middle; appears to be at a gay pride festival

By Raffaella Ciavatta and Lilia Trenkova

Animal rights activists are often accused of not caring about humans. We can argue that usually these accusations come from people who have just had their speciesism challenged and who feel attacked, so they’re reactionary statements. We can obviously also argue that we do indeed care about other humans. Yet this happens so often that even people who’ve never faced their speciesism have come to believe that animal rights activists simply do not see humans as important as non-humans.

Facebook post responding to Yulin Dog Meat Festival (image shows a man tending to caged dogs awaiting slaughter): "I WOULD LOVE TO BE THERE I WOULD PUT BOMBS TO KILL ALL THESE SICK PEOPLE"

How can we change this view? There are among us those who truly believe we cannot fight one system of oppression (speciesism) by supporting another system of oppression (sexism, for example). It is morally inconsistent to claim we care about the bodily autonomy of hens but to oppose the bodily autonomy of women, just as it is morally inconsistent to say we care about equality but exclude certain species who are worthy of that consideration.

According to Javed Deck, for animals rights “[…] to be a movement that actually transforms relationships between humans and animals it needs to take seriously issues of race, class, and gender, and the ways these impact animal systems. Just like the transformations feminist and queer struggles have undergone as they crossed cultural boundaries, so must animal struggle change across these boundaries.”

>In the 70’s, black feminists who worked both for women’s rights and civil rights, started to look at gender and race as connected issues. The feminist movement back then wasn’t talking about race, and the civil rights movement wasn’t addressing gender. They developed a theory and practice called intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in her insightful 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”.

Applying Crenshaw’s frame of intersection to other systemic oppressions, we can no longer see discrimination based on gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, species, et al, as separate and independent from one another. Axes of identity interact on multiple levels, contributing to systemic injustice and social inequality.

Oppressive systems also share the same roots. They not only have the same strategy, the same tactics, but they also share patterns of behavior and thought. In her essay, Crenshaw uses an analogy to a traffic intersection, or crossroad, to concretize the concept:

“Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them.”

So why should we care about others’ struggles?

  1. Because it is the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong with choosing to be morally consistent.
  2. If we want animal liberation, then we had better build bridges. According to professor Will Kymlicka, 99% of the intersectional analysis that is done by the left today completely ignores the intersection of species. He adds, “I think there’s no way for the animal rights movement to possibly succeed without the support from other social justice movements.”
  3. Being able to create a safe space for activists and potential supporters is key to grow our movement. If we choose to ignore the intersections of oppressions, we run a great risk of turning people away from our cause.

The word intersectionality currently seems to be getting a lot of attention as well as confusion. Quite often there isn’t a mention of the originators of the concept, leaving it to be a white-centric circle, as explained here. Love it or hate it, the concept is challenging all of us, and we shouldn’t turn away from it.

We would like to share our view about it and how we are learning to apply it to Collectively Free. When we first started CF, our dream was to create an anti-speciesist group that embraced the intersections of oppression, both internally in our community and externally in our actions.

Within our community, we strive to create a safe space for activists to express themselves and for potential supporters to join us. We have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but we have also tried our hardest to remain humble enough to recognize our mistakes and implement prompt changes to repair them. A great example of that was when the amazing activist, Heather P. Graham, felt triggered during one of our protests after hearing an activist use the word “rape” trivially.

We reached out to her, heard her concerns and asked her to do a panel discussion about the “Importance of Language In Our Movement” followed by a Q&A. We learned a lot from Heather that day. It pushed us forward to officially retire a poster we hadn’t used in a long time, part of our early days, which had the r-word in it. The decision wasn’t because of personal purity, because we care more about what other people may think, or because we don’t believe that mother cows are truly sexually assaulted – it is because we learned that we can achieve the same result in making people understand our message without running the risk of triggering them. Lesson learned: always listen when people who have been hurt share their stories, and always listen when someone brings up issues to your attention.

In terms of delivering an effective message for our activism and building bridges, our first big effort was at NYC PRIDE 2015 (here’s a YouTube link if you don’t have Facebook). We wrote a speakout and chants that reflected the common goal of anti-speciesist, anti-heterosexist and anti-cissexist struggles – liberation from oppression and equality of consideration. Feedback on our video from that day was overwhelmingly positive, from both animal rights and LGBTQ rights activists. Another lesson learned: participate in different movements’ protests and support their causes.

It wasn’t until we launched the campaign against Starbucks that we had the opportunity to really bring that concept out in our actions. We spent several months trying to convey a strong message for the animals while highlighting Starbucks’ exploitation of coffee workers. We have never felt so listened to in any action we ever participated in as on our first day of action, and we are certain it was because we carefully brought together human rights and animal rights.

Our community is not perfect, and we’ll surely continue to make mistakes and learn from them. But if we all stay open to ideas that challenge us we’ll also make strides. Don’t worry, our community will still be hard-core, progressive, envelope-pushers – but now with a bonus! Our activism will no longer appear as a one-way street but as a lane on a highway, a highway shared with other fighters for liberation, equality and freedom.

 

Raffaella

Co-founder of Collectively Free, Raffaella Ciavatta is vegan animal liberation activist, art director, poet, photographer wanna-be, DJ in some past live and most importantly… a big dreamer who makes things happen.

 

Lili

Lilia Trenkova is an activist vegan, set designer, fabricator, organizer and musician.

Sustainability If

Painting of two bluefin tuna surrounded by swirls of hundreds of little fish

By Lisa Kemmerer

All oppression creates a state of war.

– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

 

“Sustainability” refers to an “ability to endure across time.” In the environmental movement, “sustainability” statements always entail an unstated “if.” In this usage, a particular action is deemed unsustainable if we value and wish to protect and preserve certain aspect of the natural environment.  Certain actions/consumer options are considered sustainable if they do not cause worrisome environmental problems.  Environmentalists who note that our beef habit is unsustainable are really saying that our beef habit cannot be sustained if we are to preserve rainforests and freshwater, if we are to arrest dead zone growth and climate change.  In these instances it is readily apparent that sustainability rests on common shared moral commitments to protecting the environment on which we depend. In this context, if we were to make a full and complete statement with regard to sustainability, we might say:

  • Eating bluefin tuna is unsustainable if we intend to protect endangered species.
  • Eating cheese is unsustainable if we hope to arrest the spread of dead zones.
  • Eating shrimp is unsustainable if we value ocean ecosystems, including essential, fragile deep-sea reefs.

In each of the above cases the “if” is rarely stated, and what we are likely to hear or read would look or sound something like this:

  • Bluefin tuna is unsustainable.
  • Cheese is unsustainable.
  • Shrimp is unsustainable.

When we finish the sentence, stating clearly the unspoken but essential “if,” we realize that statements of environmental sustainability rest on a moral commitment to make selections that decrease, rather than increase, environmental degradation.  In short, we come to see that sustainability statements rest on commonly held moral values.  We also come to see that our responsibility as consumers is often omitted—the product is labeled “unsustainable.”

What is most interesting about the missing “if” in the environmental context is that reinserting this conjunction allows us to see that sustainability is the key not just to environmental justice, but to social justice more broadly. Sustainability can fruitfully be employed in any social justice context. Consider in these more diverse applications of the term:

  • It is unsustainable for racist police to brutalize Black civilians if we hope to arrest the spread of hatred and violence.
  • Forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term is unsustainable if we value self-determination.
  • Permitting only heterosexuals to enjoy the financial and social benefits of legal marriage is unsustainable of we intend to protect human rights.
  • If we are committed to an ethic whereby we value justice and protect the vulnerable from the exploitation of the powerful, eating chickens is unsustainable.

 

Landscape view of a cattle herd in a cleared rainforest area

Sustainability is not just about cycling and recycling, it is also about redistributing wealth, yielding wrongly-gained power to the disenfranchised, and protecting all who are vulnerable from the miseries of exploitation and oppression.  Unsustainable behaviors—racist, sexist, homophobic, speciesist, ableist, ageist, and consumer behaviors—ought to be avoided not only if we value clean water and forests, but also if we value justice and peace.

At the end of the day, these unsustainable behaviors are interconnected. For example industrial fishing is unsustainable not only because it harms ocean ecosystems, but also because it is unjust—industrial fishing harms indigenous communities dependent on depleted ecosystems for subsistence survival.  Industrial fishing is therefore unsustainable if we intend to protect the comparatively powerless—ocean ecosystems, indigenous peoples, and fish—from powerful corporate interests and their indifferent/uninformed consumers. Similarly, factory farming is unsustainable if we value rainforests, fresh water reserves, and the earth’s present climate, and also if we value worker’s rights, the protection of defenseless farmed animals, and the health of unsuspecting consumers who suffer from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and obesity because of animal products they consume. These practices are unsustainable if—but not only if—we intend to protect the natural environment from horrendous environmental degradation. They are also unsustainable if we value justice and peace—if we intend to protect the vulnerable, whether minorities, the disenfranchised, or other species.

 

Further Reading

Kemmerer, Lisa. “Defending the Defenseless: Speciesism, Animal Liberation, and Consistency in Applied Ethics.” Les Ateliers de l’éthique/The Ethics Forum 9:3 (2015).

Kemmerer, Lisa. “Ecofeminism: Women, Environment, Animals.” DEP: Deportate, Esuli, Profughe. Ca’ Foscari University of Venezia, Italy, 23 (2013).

Click here to download the introduction to Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Voices

Click here to download the introduction to Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice

 

KemmererDr. Kemmerer is a professor of Philosophy and Religion and a prolific author in animal ethics.  Her books include In Search of Consistency: Ethics and AnimalsAnimals and World ReligionsSister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice, Call to Compassion: Reflections on Animal AdvocacySpeaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Voices, and Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education. She is particularly interested in intersections of Nonhuman Animal advocacy and environmental advocacy in the spirit of Marti Kheel, as is evidenced in her 2015 publication Eating Earth: Environmental Ethics and Dietary Choice and her editorial work for the 2015 anthology Animals and the Environment: Advocacy, Activism, and the Quest for Common Ground.

 

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