Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Privilege: The U.S. Vegan Movement, Whiteness, and Race Relations (review)

Table of Contents

    Part 1:
  • Are Animals the New Slaves?
  • What Went Wrong?
  • Racism, Speciesism, and Cross-racial Misunderstanding
  • Are human-animal juxtapositions reductionistic?
  • Part 2:
  • Animal Rights or Animal Whites?
  • Animal White Supremacists?
  • Vegan Colonialism
  • One Word: Empathy
  • Part 3:
  • A Colorful Movement: Debunking the White Lie of White Exceptionalism
  • Making us Invisible: The Epistemology of Ignorance
  • The White Activist's Burden: Engaging the "Other"
  • Part 4:
  • Killing Us Softly: Narratives of Alienation
  • With Us or against Us –or- “Sit Down and Shut Up, Little Brown Girl”
  • Part 5:
  • Eating the Other: "Exotic" Food Fetishes
  • Are Vegans Oppressed?
  • The Police & White Privilege
  • Freeganism: The Privilege of Free Food?
  • Classism & Consumer Advocacy
  • Toward a Mutual Trust: Veganism as a Safe Place

Why analogizing human and animal exploitation/oppression often produces outrage and not empathy:

  1. aim to provoke people into debate in contrast to inviting people into a discussion
  2. are sponsored by organizations/people who have little or no history in promoting the “liberation” of the marginalized group whose oppression is being analogized to animals
  3. are insensitive to the existential trauma of and the meaning of “animal” to individuals of the marginalized group,
  4. assume that their oppression is history
  5. infer that their group lacks agency (just like "animals") and thus could not liberate themselves and depended upon an enlightened class of privileged citizens.

How do POC see vegans and AR activists (in general)?
The consequences of the aforementioned errors include the perception that vegans and ARAs

  1. exploit and appropriate the oppression of others for there own ends (without any prior request for consent and understanding)
  2. are racist because they fail to recognize the difference between human and non-human liberation (i.e. humans are self-organizing resisters, “animals” are not) and thus reduce the marginalized group to an “animal” condition of passivity
  3. cater to the white middle-class because they have taken no measures to make POC feel comfortable in their campaigns or abstain from consuming “cruelty-free” products that come at the expense of POC.
  4. care “more about animals than people (or color)” for the above reasons.

How do some white advocates alienate advocates of color from working together?

  1. Stereotype: “Have you ever eaten dog or cat?;” “Do you speak English?”
  2. Instrumentalize: “we need a black vegan for this event;” “if we adopt children of color, there will be more diversity in our movement”
  3. Exotify: “The best part of being vegan is getting to eat all kinds of exotic food”
  4. Marginalize: “Comparing human and animal oppression may hurt your feelings but it will help animals”
  5. Suppress: “Don’t criticize so-and-so because you’ll just be helping animal exploiters”
  6. Blame: “Don’t bring race into this! Why do you have to be so divisive?”
  7. Invalidate: “Get over it!” “You’re upset because you just don’t understand.”

How do (white) vegan and ARAs become better activists and allies?
The actions and their resulting consequences above serve both to hurt and alienate people of color from the animal/vegan movements(s) and construct the movement(s) as white middle-class, thereby creating a vicious cycle insensitivity and alienation. Therefore, a race-sensitive approach to promoting animal liberation and veganism ought to

  1. Be proactive! …don’t assume that POC are disinterested because they are not present
  2. Develop an understanding of POC’s existential condition and (one’s own) white privilege
  3. Humbly invite POC into a discussion (vs. use shock tactics and potentially offensive comparisons)
  4. Actively build bridges between movements and become an active ally in their liberation
  5. Engage with POC in issues they are already interested in (vs. using them as a means to your ends)
  6. Avoid language that alienates them by inferring that they are marginal Others (i.e. exotifying vegan food, homogenizing ethic groups, and scapegoating ‘foreign” cultures and nations).

Additional Resources:
I sincerely hope this series has been informative and influential. I have done my best to let the voices of vegans of color on the web speak for themselves, not only to persuade you that I’m not making shit up, but mostly because I’m not some omniscient white male authority. I have by no means covered everything on activism, white privilege, and coalition building in this series—I myself am very new to these issues—, so I encourage others to read more if they would like even more growth in cross-cultural communication. Below are a few great resources to look over for additional perspectives. Happy trails!

Blogs and other things related to Vegans of Color:

Notes and Acknowledgments
Though this series may frame veganism as a privileged political position and lifestyle, a careful reading of these posts (especially parts 3 through 5) ought to prove otherwise. As I have documented previously, historically within Western culture (especially in modern times) "meat"-eating corresponds with male, white/European, and class privilege;* and as I suggested in part 3, veganism should be thought of a socio-political justice movement that challenges all privilege that comes at the subordination of others.

Finally, I'd like to acknowledge all the intelligent posters and bloggers who participate on Vegans of Color for inspiring me to investigate and compose this series as well as the author of the Vegan Ideal for their original ideas that have consistently challenged me to question my accepted beliefs about and understanding of veganism and the animal rights movement(s).

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