There’s no easy way to say this…
White-centered, mainstream veganism has managed to alienate the very people they claim to want to go vegan by using veganism as an excuse to ignore their own hand in human oppression. Mainstream veganism continues to turn the world’s majority, people of color, away with the refusal to understand how the world works for people that battle systemic oppression each and every day.
“Animals FIRST!” is a sentiment openly echoed in cis white-led, mainstream vegan spaces, and while the sentiment should be true in a movement that claims to center nonhuman animals in their own movement, the reality is that mainstream veganism fails to put “animals first” again and again and again and again.
“Speciesists! They just hate nonhuman animals” is another sentiment passed on in vegan forums without realizing that speciesism is not experienced the same by all human communities. While the basic idea of speciesism works well as a description of how human supremacy is a concept that has ensured other animals experience their own oppressive hierarchy below humans, it fails to take into account how white supremacy is also part of the equation that upholds human supremacy. In their book, Aph and Syl Ko explained that the classification system of human vs. animal is an idea founded on white male rationale. The authors argued that we must finally oppose the idea that human and animals are opposite - that nonhuman animals are also individuals on their own instead of a lump sum group that we see collectively as “them”. Doing so would mean to begin to break the cycle of oppression that is kept in place through a system still purported by white supremacy.
Yet, there’s a layer of speciesism that I refer to as “racialized speciesism” which makes the task of opposing the “us” versus “them” dynamic much more complex for people of color (and of course, other marginalized groups):
Nonhuman animals have been otherized under human supremacy — upheld by white supremacy — and purposely used as a tool to oppress people of color and other marginalized groups. The “us” versus “them” dynamic has become about survival for those who have been pinned as “less than” in this cycle of oppression that is still very much used today. In a world where your proximity to whiteness means more safety and survival, assimilation, and the further otherization of nonhumans by those otherized through them, has become the established response for many.
I discuss this in a chapter titled “Making Connections…In the Name of Food” in Saryta Rodriguez’s new book, “Food Justice: A Primer” in relation to farm workers and current events where the otherization of nonhumans has been used to push the rhetoric that immigrants are “animals” and thus, “less than” as a way to justify xenophobia and racism — in 2018! While white vegans may have recognized this as a simple case of speciesism; it is about much more than that to people of color and other marginalized humans that have been the target of speciesism under white supremacy. Thus, there is a further layer that prevents those otherized through BOTH hierarchical oppressive systems from embracing comparisons to nonhumans and the idea that they are equal to nonhumans. This is what I mean by “racialized speciesism” — speciesism experienced by people of color upheld through white supremacy and the use of nonhuman animals as a tool to establish these hierarchies of inequality and oppression.
To expect, for example, people of color to simply agree and accept that there is no “us” versus “them” would mean to work against a very real barrier put in place by centuries of “animalization.” The mere idea that we, people of color, are on the same level of nonhumans creates automatic defensiveness upheld by very real and ongoing systemic oppression because of what it has meant and what it still means today since racism, xenophobia, colorism, anti-blackness, etc. are still ongoing and very much part of our experience.
This defensiveness is made even worse when a white vegan comes along and tells an otherized and systemically oppressed person of color that they “are the same and equal” to nonhuman animals since “same and equal” has meant “less than” — less rights, less protection, less humanity, less autonomy, “less than” cis, white, and male.
Even worse is the claim that white vegans dare make that going vegan automatically fixes racism and all other “isms.” To reduce complex conversations to a mere claim has proven detrimental towards our work on behalf of nonhuman animals.
Yes, it is speciesism, but it is much more than that, and this is why recognizing intersecting oppressions and how it shapes someone’s world experience is imperative.
Thus, I have said time and time again, vegans must let vegans from different communities address their own. You, white vegans, must work on your own communities in your own backyards and instead, SUPPORT the work that marginalized vegans are doing for their own, whether this be financially and/or through providing an actual equal platform that goes beyond superficial inclusiveness and tokenism. The book “Veganism in an Oppressive World” edited by Julia Feliz Brueck will help guide you through this and hear from vegans of color themselves. There is even a resource, veganismofcolor.com set in place to allow vegans of color to address people of color — use it.
White vegans will not win the fight for nonhuman animal liberation if they insist on ignoring human oppression, their hand in it, and what that means when it comes to vegan outreach.
White vegans must actively take down and speak up against the otherization employed by their own communities and explain how speciesism is used by their own to uphold sharp divides between human communities — and not just between species. As a tool, animalization is still quite powerful as we have seen by the current political rhetoric, and as such, it must be addressed by those that routinely still use it — speaking up against speciesist language is a good start. Actively speaking about animalization as a tool of oppression under white supremacy is another important way to start taking it down -within your own community.
Most importantly, as I have mentioned already, let vegans from different communities address their own. You don’t know more about their own communities and their relationship to speciesism than they do — understand and memorize that.
In essence, if mainstream veganism wants to put “nonhuman animals first”, then they must be open to a veganism that AWARE that marginalized people experience veganism and speciesism differently and act accordingly.
It is vital that mainstream veganism also become CONSISTENTLY ANTI-OPPRESSION. Only when vegans recognize that a movement focused on liberating nonhumans from oppression cannot do it by oppressing marginalized humans, then perhaps, we will become successful in what we are working towards.
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