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

Essay Reading – Why Trump Veganism Must Go

trump-veganism

Donald Trump’s campaign built on hate and fear-mongering is a tactic all to familiar to vegan mobilization. This essay identifies the dangers to social justice and social movement stability that Trump veganism presents.

Reading by Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn; music by Lucas Hayes.

This is an installment of Vegan Feminist Network’s podcast series, making popular essays more accessible through audio recording. You can access the original essay by clicking here.

Archives of this podcast can be found here.

Podcast #5 – Trumpocalypse

In this podcast, Corey examines the personal and community grief associated with the 2016 American election. This episode also identifies a number of important parallels between Trumpism and veganism. Aggravating human inequalities in a hasty and desperate push for change is an ethical concern.

Episode recorded on November 13, 2016.

Scroll down to listen.

Show Notes

Brookings Institute | “What a Trump presidency means for U.S. and global climate policy

MSNBC | “Michael Moore joins wide-ranging election talk

Public Radio International | “Gloria Steinem says Donald Trump won’t be her president

Saturday Night Live | “Election Night

Vegan Feminist Network | “Why Trump Veganism Must Go

Vegan Feminist Network | “LUSH Cosmetics: Kind(ish) to Animals, Not to Women

Podcast #2 – Black Lives Matter, Period.

BLM Vegan

Corey and Brian return with our second podcast of the series to discuss recent racial turmoil in online spaces of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. What does it mean when white activists insist that “All Lives Matter” or that “Black lives matter, too“? This episode challenges the white-centric status quo of the movement, white entitlement to leadership, and white opposition to intersectional approaches.

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

Episode recorded on July 27, 2016.

Show Notes

  • Review of Michael Lundbland’s The Birth of a Jungle (academic text exploring the white supremacist roots of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement)
  • Animal Whites and WrongsVegan Feminist Network
  • Sistah Vegan (the go-to source on critical race theory as it relates to veganism)

Animal Whites and Wrongs

animal whites

For a movement built on racism and white-dominated in leadership, theory, and rhetoric, it is all too common for Nonhuman Animal rights activists in the age of “colorblindness” and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaigning to fall back on white fragility and open hostility to people of color and their allies when challenged on their complacency with racism. I think it is fair to say that most animal whites activists are happy enough to identify as “anti-racist,” but when pressed into action, most will find themselves on the defensive, worried about their identity as a “good” person, and positioning themselves as uncompromising saviors to other (seemingly more deserving) animals.

This is most glaring when racism-apologists shut down Black Lives Matter activism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement with “ALL LIVES MATTER” or “Black Lives Matter, too.” Indeed, the rhetoric and ill-conceived rationalizations used to justify this intentional misappropriation often read eerily just like that of America’s conservatives. How very strange given the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s claim to liberal, inclusive values.

The “color-blind” “all lives matter” approach is racist. It intentionally and consciously ignores difference. More than ignoring it, it aggressively seeks to stomp it out. White activists do not like to be reminded of their privilege. Being an activist “for the animals” allows them to take on a sense of heroism, goodness, and superiority. Acknowledging racism in the ranks challenges that self-image.

But, white vegans, this isn’t about you. Ignoring difference (and violently rejecting its existence or importance) is one of the main reasons why the Nonhuman Animal rights movement struggles with diversity. It is one of the main reasons why the movement is not taken seriously. The exclusionary actions and “All lives matter” rhetoric of “colorblind” activists and organizations demonstrates beautifully how and why people of color are actively marginalized in the  movement, even to the point of squeezing them out of leadership roles. What choice do people of color really have? A white-dominated space that can’t even say “Black Lives Matter” without adding conditions or making alterations makes for a hostile work environment. Especially for grassroots coalitions, the institutional channels for addressing racially antagonistic behavior are frequently non-existent. Aggravating this is the general failure for the Nonhuman Animal rights movement to adopt an intersectional understanding of oppression, choosing instead to support a single-issue approach. White protectionism thus prevails and contributes to the destruction of “the other.” How very antithetical to the liberatory message the movement espouses.

We have a moral duty to support justice where ever it is needed. The promotion of racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement divides in the most deplorable way. Bizarrely, racism-apologists insist that marginalized persons who push back against sexism and racism are responsible for this division, but that logic only makes sense if the Nonhuman Animal rights movement were a movement in support of social inequality, not one opposed to it.  Making the world a better, more safe and just place is not now and nor was it ever a single-issue endeavor.

I have also seen racism-apologists accusing activists of slander for the “crime” of identifying racism present in the words and actions associated with single-issue, “colorblind” organizations. This baffles me completely, as speciesists regularly engage this exact same pro-oppression tactic to silence Nonhuman Animal rights activists. There is no desire whatsoever to learn from others, only a prioritization of the ego. To be fair, this is a common enough psychological reaction, but activists are in the business of persuasion and behavior change, and should be more sensitive to the dangerous consequences of cognitive dissonance once aggravated.

I want to be clear that this is not a matter of “bad apple” activists organizations, but this is instead systemic to a movement that formulated its identity out of Jim Crow white supremacist ideologies, prioritizes a single-issue approach to activism, and tokenizes people of color. It is a movement that appropriates non-white experiences when convenient while simultaneously celebrating white leadership and white-centric, often racist tactics.

These are sad and scary times, and my condolences go out to all those who have been hurt by unfortunate (and unnecessary) diversity failures in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. It is demoralizing, but I ask readers to keep up the fight. We are on the side of righteousness. And, as they say: if you aren’t making white people uncomfortable with your anti-racism activism, you aren’t doing it right.

Cheers to the allies, who are doing what is right and taking the burden off of people of color who are too often unfairly expected to defend themselves, explain themselves, and dismantle the system that whites created. More importantly, cheers to activists of color who do not have to, but nonetheless go out of their way to explain racism to an audience that has already ignored so many opportunities to learn.

We can do better, and we must do better. For those privileged to do so, keep going. Let’s not give up.

 

 

You can read more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


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

whyveganism.com

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

By Michele Kaplan

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

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

Sandra Bland

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

Gorilla

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

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

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

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

Lion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piglet leaning on tiny guitar

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

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

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

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

(See #4)

Window open to a blue sky

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

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

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

Bear

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


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