“Veganism Should Always ‘Trump’ Intersectionality: Make Veganism Great [and White] Again!”

(Credit: Sistah Vegan Project 2016)
(Credit: Sistah Vegan Project 2016)

In 2005, when I first proposed to embark on my Black feminist vegan journey to learn how being racialized as Black women affected Black women vegans, I got a significant number of white vegans furious with the idea; an idea that eventually became the Sistah Vegan anthology, published in 2010.

In 2007, I completed my Masters Thesis at Harvard University that earned the Dean’s award for interrogating how covert whiteness operated amongst ‘well intended’ and ‘but I’m not racist’ white vegans on an internet site.

A few days ago on Facebook, it was posted that VegFest UK would be having their first ever conference on “intersectionality” within veganism. Shared on someone’s page, there were 5 comments– all negative and all written by white men (at least that is how I read them) who were obviously furious with the idea of ‘intersectionality’ being applied to veganism…and thought it implied that speciesism would not be part of the conference. Essentially, their responses implied that talking about how racism and sexism operate within veganism having nothing to do with veganism. They made a lot of assumptions and it was clear none of them had picked up Kimberle Crenshaw’s publications on intersectionality (nor picked up any other POC scholar engaged in holistic and intersectional approaches to racial justice, social justice, environmental justice, etc over the last 30+ years)… but these men were confident that they knew that ‘intersectionality’ has no place in veganism and that it was erasing engagement with speciesism.

It made me think about Trump and his, “Make America Great [and White] Again” rhetoric. These comments from these white vegan men made me think they were essentially saying, “Make Veganism [White &] Great Again.” This framework is cut from the same cloth, though I’m quite certain these men would never want to associate themselves with such fabric…

….that cloth is from the fabric of a white supremacist racial caste system. Really, it is no surprise that the same foundational thoughts I witness from Trump and his supporters can easily be found in the mainstream white vegan movement amongst well intended, mostly white, people who become upset and furious that “their” veganism is being “tainted” by folk like me/us (i.e. those non-white people crossing into your philosophical borders that you supposedly own as intellectual property and have always had the power to define). Aph Ko spoke about similar ‘border crossing’ within vegansim at the Whidbey Institute’s Intersectional Social Justice Conference in March of 2016.

I responded to the comments. I explained what intersectionality is and referred them to Kimberle Crenshaw (the woman who coined the term, though many people of color were engaged in the concept, long before). I then asked those who commented, what they thought about this literature and the canon developed from this. I asked them if they could tell me more of what they have learned from critical race feminism and critical animal studies which should enable them to tell me how they concluded what they have concluded about how ‘damaging’ intersectionality is, when applied to veganism … (Of course they haven’t read this canon, but I’m asking them to respond and engage because if you’re going to white mansplain ‘intersectionality’ to a Black woman with a PhD in it and a Black woman who is a vegan, you’d think you would have done some of the foundational readings to have a valid argument on why you disagree. For example, I would never jump into a conversation about a topic or discipline that I have NO FOUNDATIONAL knowledge in– just assumptions– and then confidently DEFINE what it is and should be.)

Just a reminder: You can have a vegan conference that successfully focuses on anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-classism, etc., without damaging veganism. Intersectionality (within the context of Crenshaw and similar scholars) is an enhancement to non-violence, compassion, and justice.

I personally have been written by countless numbers of non-white people over my last 10 years, who have told me that the reason they went vegan was because of how my fusion of anti-racism, critical race feminism, critical whiteness studies, and critical animal studies was more relevant and aligned more with their racialized embodied experiences; it helped to get them ‘woke’ about the importance of ahimsa veganism. That is what my intersectional scholarship and activism has done and continues to do: frame veganism in an intersectional way (using critical race feminism and critical animal studies– but not limited to) that is inclusive and inviting to a majority of non-white people who are trying to survive through and fight against systemic racism.


(Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen 2016)
(Photo Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen 2016)

About Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. Harper has been invited to deliver many keynote addresses and lectures at universities and conferences throughout North America. In 2015, her lecture circuit focused on the analysis of food and whiteness in her book Scars and on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix) which explored how key Black vegan men us hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies.Dr. Harper’s most recently published book, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014) interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town.

BECOME A MONTHLY DONOR. THE SISTAH VEGAN PROJECT ALREADY HAS SEVERAL THOUSAND FOLLOWERS. JUST IMAGINE WHAT COULD BE ACCOMPLISHED IF HALF OR MORE FOLLOWERS PLEDGED $5-$15 PER MONTH.

patreon

9 thoughts on ““Veganism Should Always ‘Trump’ Intersectionality: Make Veganism Great [and White] Again!”

  1. VegFest really has taken a different direction in promoting this. I’ve avoided it for a few years now, my decision compounded by issues like their decision to invite Thug Kitchen authors in to speak, and their awful treatment of anyone who tried to challenge them. But I decided I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see such an amazing panel of speakers so I’m coming along in October. I am curious about the reactions from a usually fairly politically-one-dimensional (speciesism) crowd. I really really hope that people are open minded and respectful!

  2. Gary Francione posted this comment today on his FB page:

    We cannot say that speciesism is wrong because it excludes nonhumans from the moral community based on the irrelevant criterion of species without applying that reasoning to *all* discrimination. All human discrimination is wrong because, like speciesism, it involves using some irrelevant criterion to exclude others from the moral community. So an advocate for animal rights must reject all human discrimination. An advocate for animal rights must be intersectional.

    What is troubling is that some who claim to be “intersectional” sacrifice nonhuman animals by having veganism be a matter of some “who you are space” or other relativistic thinking, rather than be a matter of a moral imperative. That’s just more hierarchy; that’s just more anthropocentrism; that’s just more speciesism. True “intersectonality” is egalitarian within the human community *and* across species lines. True “intersectionality” is abolitionist.

    He also added this in comments:

    For a discussion of “intersectionality” that is speciesist, see:

    http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/essentialism-intersectionality-and-veganism-as-a-moral-baseline-black-vegans-rock-and-the-humane-society-of-the-united-states/#.V0JPMWNnhtR

  3. “What is troubling is that some who claim to be “intersectional” sacrifice nonhuman animals by having veganism be a matter of some “who you are space” or other relativistic thinking, rather than be a matter of a moral imperative.”

    And what I find troubling is that so many people seem to think these are mutually exclusive ideas– that if veganism is a moral imperative it cannot be affected by the who you are space, and that by acknowledging the who you are space you reject veganism as a moral baseline. Is admitting that some folks will have a much more difficult time going vegan than others a rejection of our shared moral imperative to do it? Does admitting that one lapsed/regressed/whatever you want to call it, made a mistake and was temporarily not vegan, inherently nullify that same person’s agency to recommit to veganism and sentence them forever to being nonvegan?

    A moral imperative can be challenging to adhere to, and those challenges may vary from community to community and from individual to individual, but admitting to these challenges in no way invalidates the imperative. On the contrary, it is precisely by being frank about these challenges and raising awareness of them that we can better combat them.

    1. My understanding: Francione, like many academic ethicists including animal ethicists, works in a framework of moral objectivism which includes absolutes (Francione will “excuse” but not “justify” violations). Dr. Harper’s ahimsa veganism and use of critical race and feminist theory can reach an audience mainstream veganism (including abolitionism) seems less capable of reaching, an audience which all involved agree needs to be reached: non-white, relatively less-privileged people. However, Francione presents two risks of this strategy: that refusing to grant that killing animals is as absolutely wrong as killing, raping, or enslaving humans implicitly (or in some cases explicitly) justifies speciesism and animal exploitation, and that intersectional analysis can slip into essentialist prejudices, impeding substantive engagement. The challenge going forward, for both “sides”, appears to be a matter of outreach tactics: to find a way to make apparent the depth and moment of the wrongness of animal exploitation (Francione’s critique), which does not resonate with the aspects of moral absolutism which are (perceived as) a form of privilege (as by Carol Adams; related to Harper’s critique).

      A good preliminary question, closely related to Sarytar’s questions, would be to interrogate Francione’s assertion that “the morality of rape or child molestation [is ‘of course not’] a matter of the ‘who you are space'”. If these universalizable moral absolutes do exist within a racially- and gender-sensitive understanding of individuals’ experience of morality, can we understand how and use this understanding to craft improved pro-vegan dialogues?

      1. The thing is, though, Francione needs to be interrogated, not just his assertions. Francione is an extremely wealthy person (e.g. $400 million tax bill); he appears to have come from a fairly financially comfortable background; he has had educational privilege; he benefits from white and male privilege; he seems to benefit from able-bodied privilege; he has status as a professor.

        I think Francione is anchored in the presumption that because he is an academic, working things out logically, he is able to produce views that are objective and universal. The fact that his position as an academic rests on a lot of privilege and that academia is full of white, male, class privilege, is negated in his view by the “purity” of the actual academic exercise itself. I think this is one of the reasons he reviles intersectionalists like Dr Harper and Christopher Sebastian McJetter – because they threaten his power by saying there are a lot of things he doesn’t and can’t know and therefore his view is partial at best and skewed at worse. It really is about this when Francione talks about “essentialism” – that people are telling him that his multiple sources of privilege mean he isn’t the fount of truth about the world, thus threatening his power.

  4. Veganism is not about you or me – it is about the non human animals. I don’t care who you are, what you look like. Why is there a need to piggy back issues which I don’t deny exist but have nothing to do with the animals and aren’t helpful but damaging to their cause.

    1. Because veganism *is* a human movement – it is a human concept, practised by humans and promoted by humans. You just can’t leave the humans out – they are veganism. And since veganism is this human construct, it is inevitably going to reflect the society within which it operates – racism isn’t being piggy-backed on veganism, it’s already in it.

  5. I have recently been introduced to a lot of these concepts: veganism, specieism, the idea of intersectionality, and how all of that can be applied or at least understood through the lenses of anti-racism, feminism, and the like. My friend has been contending in the vegan community with the idea of intersectionality and the importance of ethical veganism with regards to race and systems of oppression through his primary medium: Youtube. He was even shamed in a followup video by another vlogger for this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0gS2kMAbLI

    Which, its click-bait title indicates: they hold Social Justice and the idea of Intersectional Veganism in some contempt. And frankly, having watched it, I cannot fathom…why. The notion seems to be that intersectional with regards to veganism makes no sense and more importantly is equivalent to the radicals and radicalism found in hyper conservative areas of thought. They quote Ms. Crenshaw very briefly in their followup video and seem to imply that the field of intersectionality has since expanded since the time of its conception, citing a cursory google search, which I followed, which has the very first post being

    http://www.intersectionvegan.com

    The site seems to support her idea that intersectionality and its purpose is to combat all social injustices at once, framing it as a fight against a root cause/matrix of domination, which Unnatural Vegan (rightly or wrongly) labels as preposterous. As I said before, I am new to these waters, but have always supported social justice programs (advocate) and want to one day graduate to warrior. What might you think about these concepts and how might you approach this type of rhetoric?

    Thank you for your kind attention.

Add a Mindful Comment (No Trolling Please)