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
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
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
well, thank you for your time:
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.