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.
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.
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