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

By Michele Kaplan

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

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

Sandra Bland

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

Gorilla

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

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

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

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

Lion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piglet leaning on tiny guitar

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

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

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

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

(See #4)

Window open to a blue sky

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

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

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

Bear

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


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

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

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

By: Dr. C. Michele Martindill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elaine Riddick and Son

Riddick and Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animal Rights Friends:

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

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

 

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Dangers Of Hero Worship In An Activist Movement

By Michele Kaplan

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

Gary Yourofsky

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

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

Gary Yourofsky's Facebook statement on Palestine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then… the backlash kicked in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the end of the day, the statement that we put out there was not about attacking Gary for the mere sake of attacking someone. At the end of the day, it was about saying “No, just because a person is vegan does not give them a free license to discriminate against others (and without consequence), regardless of how revered they might be.” At the end of the day, it is very dangerous, especially within an activist movement, when a person is placed so high on a pedestal, that they become untouchable and can do no wrong.
This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on April 21, 2015.


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

Editor’s Note:

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

Vegan Moon – Food, Control and Masculinity

By Stevie LynneBook cover: White heterosexual in the nude embracing.

I read Vegan Moon so you don’t have to.

Trigger Warning: Abuse, racism, and sexual assault.Not Safe for Work: Contains graphic descriptions of non-consensual sexual encounters.

Note: If you’ve come to this post expecting romance fiction bashing, you’ve come to the wrong place. Romance fiction is important. Yup, that’s right: romance fiction is important. In arts and academic circles it’s a struggle to get this popular genre to be seen as anything other than some kind of fleeting triviality. Probably because it’s a genre dominated by women and prioritises women’s pleasure (both physical and emotional) and as we know, those things are “trivial”. This is not a space to dismiss the romance genre.

I was curious to pick up the novella Vegan Moon as it has a vegan werewolf as the hero. But it didn’t take me long to realise that this wasn’t the fun, sizzling, romantic romp I’d been promised…

Vegan Moon is a cis-het paranormal romance novella by American author Kerri Nelson. The central themes are masculinity, flesh-consumption, control and animality. The story follows the perspectives of Santiago Salazar, a Venezuelan dog trainer and werewolf, and professional chef Gabrielle (Gabbi) Connor as they experience instant steamy attraction to one another. Santiago’s plant based diet (there is no mention of veganism as an ethical system) is a source of conflict for the characters, along with the fact that Santiago is a werewolf.

The Hero and Heroine

Santiago is a werewolf who is struggling to control his urges for killing humans and part of his mechanism for control is his vegetarianism/veganism. Other examples of this trope are Munroe from Grimm as well as plenty of vegetarian vampires.

Santiago is described as a “a tall, dark mystery man… with pure lust in his eyes,” and as “[t]he tall, dark creature”.

The heroine of the story is Gabbi. She is described as “petite” and “blonde”, and although it is unsaid, she is probably white. She has a successful career as a celebrity chef, but finds her personal life a little lacking.

I won’t pretend to be an expert in race, but I think it is worth pointing out that constructing Santiago as “dark” and Venezuelan and as part animal in addition to making Gabbi as a pretty, petite, white woman, who spends a good chunk of the narrative afraid of Santiago, is problematic.

Veganism and Self Control

The novella’s thesis is outlined in chapter one. The hero, Santiago, as a werewolf has killed and eaten humans in the past. However, ten years ago, Santiago killed a drug dealer whom he says “deserved” it. But Santiago had a bad experience:

[ . . . ] the man’s blood was so full of chemicals that it had made Santiago sick for days. After that, he’d decided to turn over a new leaf…He’d become a practicing vegan with a new lease on life… Of course, since wolves were carnivores by nature, Santiago still had cravings that required serious impulse control management.

We learn a number of things about the premise:

  1. Santiago’s choice to go vegan has nothing to do with non human animals or systemic injustice
  2. Santiago’s choice is based on personal cleanliness
  3. It is against Santiago’s nature to not eat meat, therefore abstaining from it is a difficult exercise, showing him to be a strong-willed character.

The author has a foreword in which she explains her own desire and failure to go vegetarian (in the text, she uses vegetarian and vegan interchangeably):

I’ve always believed that I could be a vegetarian as I’m addicted to the crisp, delicious selection of produce that calls to me at the grocery story [sic]. However, there’s apart [sic] of me that still craves the juicy taste of a well-prepared hamburger… I’ll never truly be a vegetarian despite my best efforts.

Nelson then goes onto say that she wrote this novella while she was pregnant and explains how much food cravings, especially for the flesh of non human animals, took away her control when it came to food choices. (Now, I don’t know what the food availability options are where Nelson lives, I can only go from what she says in the foreword. It may be the case that she lives in an area where a wide variety of plant based foods are not available all the time.)

Nelson has provided us with a tool to help readers construct one possible reading of her novella: Santiago can be read, in part, as an exploration of Nelson’s own desires and struggles to go vegetarian. What both author and character have in common is that non human animals are missing from their reasons. Nelson in her foreword constructs vegetarianism as an addiction to produce and the ability to conquer cravings. For her character Santiago, it’s all about overcoming and controlling his craving for human flesh.

It’s worth noting that the hero’s perspective in cis-het romance novels is never just a masculine perspective. There is a complicated interplay between author, cis-het hero, and reader. Not to mention how socially indoctrinated ideas about masculinity, identity and action inform the construction of the hero in cis-het romances.

Food and Arousal

After the our two main characters hit it off on a coffee date, Gabbi offers to cook Santiago dinner to show off her super fancy professional chef skills. She decides to make… pasta primavera (Note to any pro chefs looking to impress a vegan: that better be one heck of a pasta primavera).

Gabbi’s cooking puts Santiago close to losing control of his “animal libido” and the sensations he feels remind him of “hunting” and “feasting on meat”:

… all the scents of herbs and spices wafting around them, he could barely keep his animal libido in check.

He’d never known cooking and eating a meal could be this sexually stimulating. Well, he’d felt similar surges when hunting his prey and feasting on meat back in the day.

Food, killing and sexual arousal are all melded into one here, already we can predict the not-so-nice pathway that we’re headed down.

Werewolf and woman

Consent, and Manipulation

Before we talk about the “sex” scene, there’s a bit of information revealed later in the story that is, I think, required to frame the “sex” scene. Santiago says:

Now that we’ve mated, you’ll continue to be drawn to me. You’ll slowly start to lose your mind if you don’t give in to the call. I’m sorry that this happened this way, but I’d like to help you. If you’ll let me.

In theory, Santiago knows prior to “mating” (here meaning a sexual act – presumably penis in vagina because of the way our culture prioritises this type of sex act as being “legitimate”) with Gabbi, that it will cause her harm: she will “lose her mind” if she doesn’t stay with him. In addition, if Gabbi were to find out that Santiago was a werewolf:

Their species code required that they either kill or mate [stay with for life] with any human who discovered their existence.

Essentially after “mating” Gabbi’s only option would be to stay with Santiago. If she finds out he’s a werewolf, her only options are to stay with him for life (made contextually obvious later), or the werewolves will kill her. This prior knowledge of Santiago’s makes all his actions suspicious. If he knows pursuing a romantic relationship with her might lead to “mating”, which will then forcibly make her stay with him (which he doesn’t tell her up front), that’s downright manipulative. Communicating any possible bad outcomes for your potential sex partner to them is something that you should do, full stop.

On one level Santiago’s inability to resist Gabbi, even knowing the harm it will cause her, both actual and potential, is also tied to the theme that animal flesh is irresistible (as seen in the foreword by the author). Neither Nelson nor Santiago seem aware/care about the harm their choices create and frame those choices in terms that remove their agency such as “addiction” and “craving”.

This knowledge, that we only learn after the “sex” scene, makes the violence and abuse in the “sex” scene even more shocking. At one point, Santiago shoves Gabbi. Gabbi protests to being shoved, but  he ignores her protests and continues without her consent: “his hand continued to stroke up the inside of her thigh…”

After he makes her orgasm through manual stimulation, he also does not seek any kind of consent before penetrating her, let alone put a condom on:

She felt dazed and confused in the aftermath of her passionate storm. She felt the cool night air on her ass as her panties were thrust downward, and then she gasped at the feel of his hard cock shoving into her from behind… He was almost too rough in his possession of her tender, swollen pussy, but she was so lost in the moment that she just submitted to the frenzy. As he drove inside her, she heard the wet sound of their carnal connection… She closed her eyes and tried to imagine what they must look like as they mated like animals.

A comparison of who is doing what in this scene shows that Santiago is described with physical actions: he removes her underwear, he penetrates her, he “possesses” her pussy, and he drives inside her. Gabbi is described in a primarily passive ways: she is dazed, confused, feels, gasps, submits, hears and closes her eyes.

Note: I know this is not really sex, it’s assault. Also I know condoms and other safe practices aren’t “trendy” in romance novels, but it still pisses me off when I see it, because c’mon writers, you’re a creative bunch; make safe sex sexy.

Craving and Abuse

As if to emphasise the twin themes of craving and abuse, afterwards Gabbi observes Santiago’s personality change:

She shivered at the now delicate touch. It was in such complete contrast to the rough way that they’d just had sex. This man was an absolute mystery.

The “craving” for flesh has been satisfied. As it often is with domestic abuse: “The abuser’s ‘good side’ can give victims reason to think their partner is capable of being nurturing, kind, and nonviolent.”

After what the author calls “sex”, what can go wrong, does go wrong: Gabbi sees Santiago transform into a wolf. It of course totally freaks her out. As we already know, this means one of two things for Gabbi; either become his mate – i.e. stay with him for life – or the werewolves will kill her. She, however, doesn’t know these are her only options denies his phone calls and refuses to see him, even briefly thinking that he may have drugged her. She holes herself up away from him and spends time in hiding.

The werewolf council (there’s always a bloody council!) find out that Gabbi has seen Santiago transform into a werewolf, therefore steps must be taken to either make her be Santiago’s mate for life or kill her. Santiago seems remorseful about this fact:

He ached for the pain that he’d caused Gabbi, and he didn’t know how he’d go on living day to day as if he’d never met her… never touched her… never possessed her body and made her his own.

But Santiago’s remorse has virtually nothing to do with Gabbi, but himself. This is especially true of the phrase “possessed her body and made her his own”. This verbally echoes Gabbi’s observation that he “possessed” her pussy. She is not an agent, she is a thing to be possessed.

The werewolf council send Santiago’s friend, Tenny, to assess Gabbi’s suitability as a “mate” for Santiago. During this time, Tenny manages to convince Gabbi that she should stop being scared of Santiago and become his mate. We never see how or why she changes her mind. This is highly suspicious and once again shows that Gabbi’s agency is not important.

At the end of the novella Gabbi’s only reservation about everything that has happened is: 

We’ve got to talk about this vegetarian thing.

Nelson’s construction of Santiago as a foil for her own relationship with animal flesh foods manifests as an abusive man who disregards Gabbi as an agent in her own right. Even Nelson’s construction of Gabbi is mostly passive to Santiago’s physical onslaught. The world building choices that Nelson has created makes Santiago into an abusive figure – he knows prior to any kind of sexual activity that Gabbi has to stay with him or else she will “go mad”. It’s difficult to excuse his behaviour in light of this. Thinly, the author suggests that Gabbi is probably his “soul mate”, but this is grossly inadequate.

There are a few things I think are worth highlighting in light of this novella: firstly, that even men who identify as “vegan” can be abusers; secondly, that the author constructs a world and characters where manipulation and abuse are considered okay in the pursuit of desire; and finally that the author believes abstaining from animal products is an act of immense control tying into how the abuse in the novel is symptomatic of the author’s view that cravings for animals’ flesh can’t be helped.

It was disappointing to see abuse and assault in this novella presented as sexy and desirable. It was also disappointing to see veganism misconstrued. It would have been nice for this to be a fun, romantic romp with a non abusive vegan hero, but alas, Vegan Moon did not deliver on that front.

Nazi Cake: As Long as It’s Vegan

Trigger Warning:  Dismissal of racism that may be painful for some readers.

Owner of "Cakes 'n' Treats Vegan Coffeeshop" poses in front of her store

There is an unfortunate tendency in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement to disregard human suffering as long as it is supposedly in the service of veganism.  This approach is extremely illogical for a movement that seeks to end oppression. For one, hoping to end nonhuman oppression by aggravating human oppression is simply hypocritical. We cannot work for peace by engaging violence.  Secondly, as evidenced in the research of Dr. Breeze Harper and Dr. David Nibert, human oppression and nonhuman oppression are heavily entangled. That is, you cannot separate the two and work against one and not the other. It doesn’t work because human and nonhuman oppression support and influence each other. Sadly, I have seen oppressive logic (“Nonhumans first” or “as long as it’s vegan”) engaged by a variety of grassroots groups and non-profits, abolitionist and welfarist alike.

There is a vegan cupcake shop in London that is well known to have ties to neo-Nazism and is under active boycott.  This has been covered by several media sources, including Vice, Libcom.org, and London Antifacists. The store is located in an area that is known to host white-power subcultures. From what I can gather, the woman running the store may not herself be a neo-Nazi, but she has many Facebook friends who are, and she is (or was) dating a man who does socialize with Italian facist gangs.  The woman herself denies the allegations of her affiliations and claims that she is being targeted by a jilted ex or someone with a personal vedetta.  Given the reality of patriarchy and violence against women, I am inclined to believe her. She has been receiving threats and hate mail since the allegations surfaced, and feminists are all too aware that men (and many women) will jump at the chance to demonize, harass, and attack women.  However, the purpose of this essay is not to determine guilt, but rather to highlight some problematic responses from vegans who promote the store, while simultaneously denouncing any critical discussion of the store’s alleged Nazi ties. As long as it’s vegan.

Facebook page, What FAT Vegans Eat, promoted the cake shop, making at least one reader uncomfortable. Shona passed on a screencap of the dialogue before it was deleted by the page:

Please email for transcription

Cakes ‘n’ Treats Vegan Coffeeshop is known to have neo-Nazi ties, is under active boycott, and What Fat Vegans Eat moderators respond to criticisms with appeals to depoliticized veganism. In so many words, Nazi cake is okay as long as it’s vegan.  Judith Barnes responds:

Your comments about the company are the same as someone’s comments about food that comes from any other company who’s practices you don’t agree with.  The rule is if it’s vegan it’s okay. The cake is vegan. That’s all we care about.

Nicki Teager writes:

This page isn’t for ethics, debate or anything else, whether it is merely informing or not. If it’s vegan it’s fine to post here.

Catherine McLaughlin Burt:

Using the group to promote a boycott is hijacking the purpose of the group. And saying that we support nazism if we don’t go along with what is being said is nothing more than bullying.

It is difficult for me to understand how, one, neo-Nazi baking can ever be considered vegan, and, two, why a vegan group would want to divorce itself from ethics.  Veganism is a matter of ethics. Discussing racism (or any other form of human oppression) is not “hijacking.”  When anti-oppression activists speak up against violence, they are often silenced with claims that this is neither the time nor the place.  I have seen similar silencing tactics used on women who have experienced sexism in the movement. Rather than engaging the criticism, the women were simply accused of “trolling” and using the page as a “soapbox.”

These uncritical and passively violent stances reflect the white-normativity of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. I can’t imagine that these criticisms would be characterized as derailments if the movement was led by persons of color, for instance. The damage that neo-Nazi alliances would cause to vulnerable communities would be self-evident.  White privilege distances white-identified activists from the lived reality of racism, ethnocentrism, and white power facism that really hurts real people.  Many activists are puzzled as to why so few people of color are interested in participating in the movement, but the answer lies in active dismissal of racial oppression that veganism abets.

The Misogyny of Animal Rape Imagery

Trigger Warning:  Discussions of rape.

Dear colleagues,
Many of you may have seen a meme that is floating around called, “Sexual Violation.”  It reads:

Sexual violation of female animal bodies for exploitation, murder and profit.

Animal Agriculture’s shameful standard industry practices.

It is time for the masses to reject these crimes.  LIVE VEGAN.

The image is not reproduced here because it is extremely triggering.  Several species of animals are shown in a variety of compromised positions, as men sexually violate and rape them, the point being that standard animal agricultural practices are similar to the rape of women.  In other words, Nonhuman Animal pornography is being used to promote veganism.

Cow's face is pictured, constrained by ropes and chains

Cow tethered to a “rape rack”

In the caption, the author writes, “I know this is difficult to see.  I take no joy in sharing it.” No joy in sharing it?  Well there’s something behind the rationale of those who have been sharing it…

The entire point of pornography is to titillate via the sexual degradation and humiliation of an oppressed body.  Those who consume pornography are consuming it specifically to “get off,” so to speak, on the demonstrated powerlessness of otherized bodies.  The relationship between the viewer and the viewee is one that reproduces and reinforces a hierarchy of domination.  Pornography users also report experiencing a “tolerance,” meaning increasingly degrading and shocking imagery is needed for them to feel something.  The pornography industry is happy to serve that need by producing increasingly disturbing media.

Male photographers at a pornography convention photographing a woman with  her legs spread

So what makes it any different for vegan advocates who share these images with the intention of shocking people with images of violated and degraded animal bodies?  And for that matter, what gives them the right?  What’s stopping them from using images of men raping women to solicit shock value?  Should we also recount graphic tales of other women’s rape to rally for veganism?

I argue that sensationalizing the rape of other animals feeds rape culture and revictimizes women.  While the public may not be aware of the institutionalized rape of Nonhuman Animals, most of us are aware of the epidemic of rape against human women.  Most of us know this from first-hand experience.

Knowing that about 1 in 3 women have or will be raped, I find it extremely inappropriate to utilize rape imagery to promote veganism.  First off, our primary audience is women.  If 80% of the movement is women, and 1 in 3 women are rape victims, that means that more than 27% of our movement (or more than 1 in 4 activists) are likely to have been the victim of rape.  Any rape victim can tell  you, seeing images of rape or reading graphic descriptions is extremely triggering.  It is also revictimizing when it is made obvious that our community doesn’t care enough about our safety to avoid using our experiences for animal rights claims on our behalf.

These types of tactics demonstrate tokenizing.  That is, they appropriate the experiences of an oppressed group for the movement’s purposes, while the movement fails to address the ongoing and continuing oppression that group is still experiencing. What’s worse, the movement itself is responsible for aggravating that oppression.  For example, PETA’s slavery and Holocaust analogies use the horrific experiences of oppressed people of color and Jews for their purposes, but, in doing so, they fail to acknowledge that these memories are not forgotten, but are still hurting. In addition to that blatant insensitivity, PETA is presuming that racism, slavery, and human genocide are things of the past, when they are actually ongoing injustices.  Furthermore, PETA fails to acknowledge the present-day needs of communities of color, often excluding them.  In other words, PETA uses the experiences of the oppressed when it is convenient for them to do so, but they simultaneously haven’t done anything to alleviate those injustices and actually aggravate them.

Outdoor display of several animal rights posters with passerby stopped to read them

PETA’s “Meat Equals Slavery” display

Likewise, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is a very misogynistic space.  Not only does PETA and other groups like Animal Liberation Victoria, LUSH Cosmetics, and Citizens United For Animals regularly aggravate sexism through their tactics (see our Organization Watch for more examples), but activist spaces themselves are rife with male-on-female violence (See Emily Gaarder’s 2011 release Women and the Animal Rights Movement).  If the movement isn’t going to take violence against women seriously, it has no business using our oppression for its gain.

Recall the author wrote, “I know this is difficult to see.”  The author knew exactly what they were doing.  They wanted to trigger.  Those who utilize memes and arguments that liken Nonhuman Animal rape to women’s rape seem to forget that many people exposed to those arguments are rape victims themselves.  Triggering these memories and trivializing these experiences does nothing to dismantle oppression.  Indeed, they only facilitate it.  It becomes one more means of alienating women from anti-speciesist work. It becomes one more means of solidifying male rule over advocacy spaces.  It works to keep women in a constant state of not-belonging, of victimhood, of hurt.

Recognizing the intersections between human and nonhuman oppression is important, but we have to practice sensitivity in doing so.  Blasting activist spaces with violent pornography is one example of how not to practice sensitivity.