Race and Ethnicity in Vegan Analysis — A BreezeHarper exclusive :)

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Race and ethnicity in vegan and animal rights Analysis….is it really a “feeble” matter? This young lady seems to think so

 

The other day, a freshman in high school contacted me. This is what she had to say. My response is after her message.


From: Clara ====

Date: November 8, 2007 7:58:54 AM PST

To: sistahvegan98@mac.com

Subject: from one vegan to another…


hello, my name is Clara.

i am a freshman in high school and while researching

animal cruelty, i came across your website about your

book.

i am very excited about the fact that you wish to

reach out to the african american female vegan

femists, but i was taken aback when i realized how

MUCH you related race and ethnicity to everything. I

would just like to say that i honestly don’t believe

that the race of a vegan should have anything to do

with the cause of saving animals and making others

aware of animal cruelty. You put out a lot of topics

that make me feel as if at one point in your life, you

were not proud to be an african american female AND a

vegan because of the depictions of most vegans and

that is rather disappointing because race, to me, is

such a feeble matter and there are more things

important in life than just recognizing race and

constantly putting out that racial matters are more

important than what you believe in seems ignorant to

me.


well, thank you for your time:

clara :)


_______________________


Wow, I am wondering how she misread my websites ( breezeharper.com and sistahveganproject.com). It could just be because she is a freshman in high school (probably USA). Am not sure how to respond to this message.

 

I’m impressed how she actually interpreted my website and my work.

Does my website really illicit this response that she has, in your head (of course, that depends who you are)?

 

My favorite part is, “I was taken aback when I realized how much you related race and ethnicity to everything.” I am not sure how she missed that the focus of my academic research is using critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, and black feminist theory to analyze the wonderful world we live in. So, I’m surprised that she is “taken aback.”

 

I am not sure how to respond to this since a) I don’t know her and b) she’s 14 or 15, which probably means, as a high school student (I’m assuming she’s in the USA), she’s only been taught the Eurocentric “colorblind” version of History, Social Studies, and English during her primary and secondary school experience, thus far.

 

Anyway, last time I checked, my work simply looked at analyzing veganism and animal rights from a critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, black feminist, Fanonian decolonial framework. Had I taken a Marxist, or a Foucaultian critique (and just looked at “power” without the whole “race and ethnicity” thing), would she have had the response she did? I am going to make the huge assumption that this young lady is not black identified but most likely white identified. Also my work has a class and gender analysis component to it but that didn’t seem to bother her.

 

Perhaps I’m missing something here, but how does one address situations like the below and ignore “race and ethnicity”?:

 

1. “Wow, interesting that this Vegetarian festival is 95% white though the city is very ethnically diverse?”, or

2. “Interesting that a majority of black people disagreed with the PETA Animal Liberation Project”, or

3. “Why have all the top selling books that have been written about veganism, ‘ethical consumption’, and animal rights, have been by whites (mostly male)?”

 

I repeat, how can one possibly investigate these questions without the “race and ethnicity” component? Personally, I think a “colorblind” approach to activism, within the USA, is dangerous– even if it has to do with non-human animal rights, simply because those who are speaking for non-human animals, within the USA, are human beings. They are not untouched by race/ethnicity (racialized experience) in this country. Whether this young lady wants to admit it or not, our consciousness and how we perceive our world is influenced by the language we were taught, our classes, racialized, gendered, ethnic, able bodied, religious, etc experiences.

 

Funny how she interprets that I was, at one point of my life, “not proud of being african american and vegan.” Where did she get that from?

 

Anyway, I know race is a social construction, but there have been obvious consequences to this construction.This is what I investigate, as it relates to animal rights and veganism. Her response is nothing new to me; it’s just rare that I have children writing me. I find it frustrating that there are many USA people (mostly white identified class privileged— not to say that she is, but yes, I’m making a huge assumption) engaged in veganism and animal rights that ONLY want to deal with animal rights from a USA “animal rights only” framework (in a safe little bubble). They are leaving out other interlocking systemic oppressions– mainly classism , globalization, neocolonialism, racism and 1st Worldism.

 

So, here we go as I quickly explain why I bring “Race and Ethnicity” into my vegan and animal rights movement research…. I have met plenty of people who will buy vegan chocolate . As long as there are no animal by products in it, they’re fine with this choice. However, when I ask them about the humans that harvested the chocolate, they are often ignorant (which I sympathize, because here in America U.S., we are rarely taught how the food and beverage we consume, get to us. I know we are intentionally taught that “freedom” is the right to buy whatever you want, regardless of how it got there). Anyway, I explain to my vegan peers that there are people in this world (outside of the USA) that harvest your vegan chocolate as SLAVES with no human rights. Children are involved in this process too. Yes, child slavery. And guess what? These slaves are brown, yellow, red, and black. I suggest, “Perhaps you should consider buying chocolate that is VEGAN and simultaneously encompasses HUMAN RIGHTS of my black, yellow, red, and brown brothers and sisters.” Same with people who identify as vegan who buy coffee and put soy cream in it to make sure there are no animal byproducts in it. However, once again, many times it isn’t fair trade coffee, so although they are saving the life of a non-human animal by not using cow milk creamer, their purchase of non-fair trade coffee is causing misery and slavery to Third World people who are enslaved to harvest coffee beans without human rights, with horrible working conditions, on a plantation being sprayed with cancer causing (and other ailment causing) pesticides and fertilizers. Do most of us know that those who are harvesting coffee and chocolate are what I would consider “people of color” and economically poor?. For me to NOT bring a critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, black feminist, Fanonian decolonial critique to this very obvious geopolitical racialized production of materials that allow 1st World Vegans access to vegan chocolate and coffee is absolutely insane.

 

Now, how do I explain this to a freshman in high school in the U.S.A?

 

———–

Reposted with Breeze’s permission. Check out her other work at BreezeHarper.com. She’s pretty brilliant. I know for me that I RARELY think of food production as a feminist or anti-racist issue. She always reminds me that privilege takes a variety of deeply corporeal forms, and that’s really deep.

Comments

  1. says

    I meant “Perhaps you should consider buying chocolate that is VEGAN and simultaneously encompasses HUMAN RIGHTS of my black, yellow, red, and brown brothers AND SISTERS.

    -Breeze Harper

  2. Arresi says

    Does my website really illicit this response that she has, in your head (of course, that depends who you are)?

    No. (Speaking as an American, female, white, vegetarian college student.) Given that the honestly stated point of the webpage was to examine vegetarianism through race/ethnicity, I can honestly say that you were not focusing too much on race/ethnicity.

    More to (I think) your point, animal rights/vegetarianism are actually a product of a particular worldview that tends to emphasize the value of nature/natural processes, the desire to end suffering for feeling beings, and the need to maintain logical consistency when considering rights and fair treatment. Logically, this must lead to a desire to protect the natural world wherever possible, to end suffering for other humans, and to treat all humans equally. That animal rights/vegetarianism are not associated with human rights (actually, in pop culture, it’s not necessarily associated with environmentalism either, which is also not associated with human rights) is therefore extremely troubling.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    one point in your life, you were not proud to be an african american female AND a vegan because of the depictions of most vegans

    That’s the part that totally mystifies me. It reminds me of how, if you say you don’t like how Girls Gone Wild portrays women, some people leap to the assumption you’re “ashamed of your body”. Like, WTF?

    Breeze, this is a great set of points you make about the intersection of various causes and how we need to look beyond one particular cause we champion to find the best wholistic solution. None of the causes are in a vacuum.

  4. says

    I’m really trying to understand this ignorance with compassion. It is very frustrating though.

    I’m always looking for excellent resources to understand “ignorance” — as it applies to oblivion to white privilege, systemic whiteness, and institutionalized racism that is practiced by a majority of white identified class privileged people that I have interacted with–within the Animal Rights and veg movement– these past few years.

    Well, I got this book the other day that I think will be very helpful to bolstering my argument and anti racist educational model for Animal Rights and Veg analysis. I thought that this would be helpful for some of y’all as well.

    Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance . edited by Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana. Here are the first two paragraphs to the introduction of the book.

    Epistemolgoy and ignorance-- how could two such different things to together? Given that epistemology is the study of how one knows and ignorance is a condition of now knowing, epistemology would seem to have nothing to do with ignorance. At best, it might appear that the two concepts are related in that epistemology studies the operations of knowledge with the goal of eliminating ignorance. But in either case, epistemology and ignorance seem diametrically opposed. What, then, might be an epistemology of ignorance, and what possible connections might it have to issues of race?
    The epistemology of ignorance is an examination of the complex phenomena of ignorance, which has as its aim identifying different forms of ignorance, examining how they are produce and sustained, and what role they play in knowledge practices. The authors in this volume examine the value of applying an epistemology of ignorance to issues of race, racism, and white privilege[intentional emphasized]...At times [epistemologies of ignorance] takes the form of those in the center refusing to allow the marginalized to know: witness the 19th century prohibition against black slaves' literacy. Other times it can take the form of the center's own ignorance of injustice, cruelty, and suffering, such as contemporary white people's obliviousness to racism and white domination. (Sullivan and Tuana 2007, 1)

    I hope some of you can find this resource helpful. There are about 13 essays in it by various authors. I just wanted to clarify that I know that not ALL white “looking”/identified people are oblivious to white privilege and institutionalized racism. I hate to essentialize or generalize and entire population. Also, when I write “white identified”, I’m speaking of white identified people in USAmerica whose consciousness have largely been developed within the USA (because they were either born and raised here or moved here at an early age). I know that whiteness DIFFERS in each country/region/time era. I do want to make it clear that a majority of the white class privileged people I have had interactions with, engage in this type of oblivion, but, that’s just MY experience and I understand it differs with everyone. I also have encountered people of color (but who are not black identified, curiously enough) who also are unaware of institutionalized racism and white privilege. I know this a complex subject. I’m learning something new everyday (including dismantling my own prejudices and assumptions). Hope you find this useful.

    hugs,
    Breezie

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    It’s also my experience (as a white-identified American woman) that most white people are ignorant of their own privileges. I think societies foster ignorance of privilege to perpetuate privilege. Then it’s very hard to dismantle your own privilege/ignorance because it pits you against everything you thought you knew, everything your society still insists is true.

    For me, I know it’s a lifelong journey, recognizing the privileges I have: to not think about certain things, or not even know that certain things go on.

  6. Gwen says

    My response can only be that the perceptions of each, 14 yr, any age, gender, race is so affected by the two forces of brain bio-chemistry/evolution and environment,e.g. family community and education,that any effort at comprehension and understanding is compromised. Seeing these intelligent comments offers a ray of “hope,” although I,sometimes wonder if that fable is a cautionary tale,on the ephemeral factor of “hope.”

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