Ethics / Everything / News

Creating Space for Blacks in the Vegan Movement

Note on this post: While I certainly interject my own thoughts and commentary in this post, I will largely be quoting others, mostly People of Color. This is because their voice is more important than my own on this subject. While I can (and should) speak out against racial injustice, I cannot speak personally about it and, let’s be honest, we don’t need another white girl ‘whitesplaining’ the issues.

Black Vegans Rock

Black Vegans Rock was created by feminist activist and writer, Aph Ko, following her publishing of the very first list of 100 Black Vegans in June 2015.

Like many movements, veganism had begun to acknowledge the #sowhite experience where veganism functions largely as a White space. People were criticizing veganism (though, rightly so) for focusing primarily on White vegans while ignoring the fact that there are so many amazing Black vegans to be recognized. Aph’s 100 Black Vegans piece was, as she explained, more of a performance piece than a blog post. Aph explained that her list was intended “to serve as a statement for anyone who says ‘veganism is white.'”

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Since there are obviously more than 100 Black vegans, Aph’s #BlackVegansRock website was later created to continue to highlight and celebrate Black vegans around the world. This mission of the website is as follows:

Black Vegans Rock is a digital space that seeks to spotlight everyday Black vegans who are looking to get their work, art, music, restaurant, book or other projects in front of other vegans. We seek to specifically cater to Black vegans considering we are regularly excluded or erased from mainstream spaces that deal with animal rights, food justice, feminism, and anti-racism.

We aim to bring the Black vegan community together by focusing on our diversity, rather than our differences.

While we might all be vegan for different reasons, and while we might each be at different phases in our activist/vegan journey, we aim to highlight just how powerful we can be when we unify and celebrate our brilliance.

I had the pleasure of hearing Aph speak when she came to Baltimore recently. She presented her “Veganism and Afrofuturism” talk at the one and only Red Emma’s radical bookstore. She was so inspiring. I was thrilled to meet her (totally fan-girling!), and to also meet and chat with another amazing Black, vegan, social justice activist, Christopher Sebastian.

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There are so many great resources available for Black vegans, and many are co-created by, or in some way affiliated with Aph Ko. These include Aphro-ism and The Sistah Vegan Project. (For more resources, refer to the list at the end of this post.)

Race and Veganism

As a White vegan, myself, I often take for granted that my privilege extends to my veganism. (Taking one’s privilege for granted? That’s odd….#sarcasm.) I am fortunate to find many who look like myself, who have similar interests and can serve as a support system, if you will. Actually, of all my real life vegan friends, only one is Black, and just two are of other racial minorities.

Why does this matter? For as important as it is to fight for equality among our races, it’s just as important to recognize and respect that different people like and need different things! I spoke with the woman behind SeaAir Apparel at the Baltimore VegFest this past spring. I complimented her “Black Vegans Exist” tee and referenced the Black Vegans Rock website. She explained that she created her Black Vegans Exist tee because she’d frequent all these veg fests and events, yet find nothing for her there!

A very similar motivation drove the creation of Baltimore’s Vegan SoulFest. Naijha Wright-Brown (co-owner of Land of Kush) and Brenda Sanders (executive director of Better Health, Better Life) joined together to create the first ever Vegan SoulFest, right in my backyard.

“We’ve had plenty of vegan festivals, but mostly in the suburbs,” Wright said. “You don’t see our demographic out there. So we wanted to bring it to the city.” (Source: Baltimore Sun)

It’s inspiring that these amazing individuals are able to draw attention to and begin to fill the void; but it’s the role of all vegans (especially White vegans) to create the spaces for and support the efforts of Black veganism.

Using Racial Oppression as a Comparison for Animal Suffering

More than just make room for and support Black veganism, we need to fight racism within the vegan movement. Though overt racism might be more of a rarity in veganism (most vegans are, after all, compassionate liberals; but this observation is still coming from my experience as White vegan), irreverence for Black lives reveal themselves in arguments against animal abuse. One such example is the use of Black oppression as a tool for comparing the violence of animal oppression.

I will not show the images here because I believe they are offensive. But for the purpose of explaining the scenario, please bear with me as I paint the picture. Imagine a photo of incredible violence. The photo itself is gritty, dark, and gloomy. The image conveys physical violence, or possibly even death itself in the form of a lynched Black person, hanging from a tree, or in a mound of frail Jewish bodies in Auschwitz. Now, the photo is juxtaposed against a photo from a slaughterhouse. An equally chilling portrayal of violence, of death; yet, a different scenario entirely. Both images are awful enough on their own. They’re heartbreaking. The images are painful reminders of the violence in the world. On their own, they speak loudly their messages of injustice, exploitation, abuse, cruelty . . . When placed side-by-side, however, the narrative changes.

For some, it might not seem immediately apparent why this is inappropriate. For me, the moment when I did finally understand was one filled with embarrassment, guilt, and shame. (I believe that Callie and Nichole of the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack blog dealt with this in their Vegan Vida Con episode.)

Vegans are looking for shock value. It’s not uncommon in the vegan community to see this sort of imagery or written comparison of animal abuse on factory farms with violence towards People of Color. (We see similar comparisons to the Holocaust, or to victims of domestic violence.) The issue is that these comparisons completely exploit the oppression of entire populations with no regard for how painful that is! It objectifies people, and when a photo is used of one specific victim — whether now deceased or alive — that person is denigrated to nothing more than an image. Actually, even with an image, these comparisons make the human victim invisible.

It’s also very dehumanizing! As vegans, we don’t want to get into an argument over whether or not humans are more important than other non-human animals, but we absolutely cannot remove one’s experiences as a human just to prove a point. Christopher Sebastian wrote on Striving With Systems:

As author Claudia Rankine would say, I was a black object immediately thrown against a stark white background. I was a prop in a discussion between two white people–one white person who was looking to use a history of blackness to make another white person understand a point he wanted to drive home and another white person who was deeply invested in not seeming racist.

Saying “All Lives Matter”

Another racist offender in the veganism movement: saying “All Lives Matter.”

This is so very not okay. Let’s just get this clear from the start here. In no circumstance is saying #AllLivesMatter acceptable. OF COURSE all lives matter, we know this — or, rather, we know that all lives should matter. But here’s the thing. Right now, that’s not obvious and actually not even true! With how quick police are to kill Blacks, with how systemic racism continues to oppress Blacks, with how a potential future president of the United States is prejudiced towards — well, pretty much anyone who isn’t a cisgender, heterosexual, White Christian — it’s not obvious that all lives matter because it’s not apparent that Black lives matter! We are concerned about this particular group right now because they need our support.

Now we find vegans are appropriating the hashtag to bring the conversation to our non-human animal friends. We find vegans saying all lives matter to mean that animal lives matter. Again, yes, of course animal lives matter. But please don’t take attention away from the #BlackLivesMatter movement to make that point. As Dr. Breeze Harper writes:

. . . saying things like “All Lives Matter” or “Everyone Matters” are actually called racial micro-agressions [sic] and really don’t help with our collective struggle with racial battle fatigue.

In short . . .

The racial microaggressions that Black vegans experience in the vegan movement are not limited to the challenges discussed above. As a currently very White space, veganism is guilty of a range of little racist faults. We need to address them all, one-by-one, until veganism is a safe space for everyone — both human and non-human. Rather than ignore and marginalize Black vegans, we ought to be elevating them. Rather than exploit the oppression of Blacks, we need to speak to the core behaviors that lead to oppression in general. Rather than appropriate #BlackLivesMatter, we need to rally behind the movement and make room for it, as it exists on its own, in veganism.

We can not expect to create justice by bringing others down. We need to rethink our tactics to be effective and clear in speaking out about violence towards animals. And we need to execute tactics that don’t bring others down. I respect that the goal may be to eliminate injustices. But as the great Martin Luther King, Jr. has said,

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.


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As always, I’d love to hear from you!

Do you have information to contribute? Do you believe something in my post needs to be modified? Or do you have a reaction to the above post that you would love to share? Please feel free to comment below. I will monitor these comments to maintain a safe and comfortable environment. Also, I invite you to reach out and connect with me on Instagram at @crunchyvegangal


 

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