From Commodity to Absurdity: Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day and (Non) Flying Chickens

This past Saturday, 17 February 2018, the 35th annual Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day event took place in Ridgeland, Wisconsin. You probably haven’t heard of it, but let me save you the trouble and get to the point: along with a “greased pig” catching event, this celebration of “pioneer” spirit features a “chicken toss.”

The “toss” is not as banal as it might sound, though. Chickens, who have spent hours in cages with no protection from freezing weather, are carried up to the roof of a one-story building and thrown out to the crowd. Tossing isn’t enough entertainment, of course, so part of the fun is chasing the terrified chickens en masse and grabbing any you can. You catch ’em, you keep ’em.

I’m hoping at this point that you’ll grasp the severity of the problems wrapped up in the basic premise and plan of this “family” event. But let me clarify a few things that might help: 1) most chickens are not capable of flying very well or far, so being hurled from a high spot (onto concrete, no less) is not going to end well for them; and 2) chickens are prey animals, so being handled by strangers and landing in a scrambling crowd of large (mostly drunk, entirely clumsy) mammals is surely even more terrifying than hurling through the air as you struggle to “fly.”

My friend and colleague Quincy Markowitz took part in an effort not only to stop the event and protest as it went on, but also to save as many chickens as possible. They were able to wrest four sick, maimed, and stressed chickens from the crowd… Her firsthand account after the event and accompanying photographs are heart crushing:

Today, I am going to tell you all some horrible stories and share some awful images. I am so sorry to have to even make this post, as I know it will bring tears and frustration.

All four of our rescued chickens are doing well and recovering from their abuse. We will have more follow up on them this week.

For now, we need to talk about the victims we couldn’t save. I will tell some stories of pictures I did not get, and some that have pictures to accompany them.

We arrived yesterday at Ridgeland Pioneer Days at 11am. Almost immediately, I heard a child telling his dad about the chicken he will catch, and how he will feed him grass until he dies and they eat him.

We stood in the crowd as we waited for the event to begin. Most people were drinking beer, there were many children. Right as the throwing was about to happen, people started chanting “feed us!”

It was a whirlwind. The crowd was ferocious, battling for chickens, grabbing them by their necks and wings. When one would fly into the bar wall across the street out of panic, the crowd laughed.

I saw a rooster on an awning, terrified, trying to stay away from people. Children threw snowballs at him until he fell off.

I saw two children and an adult stuff their chicken into a plastic bag. These chickens are said to be pets and well taken care of, but we watched them die there.

I saw two women force-feed a chicken beer for a photo op before posing for the picture kissing her on the beak.

A friend told me of a rooster caught with a broken foot. I found the man who caught him and asked for him to be surrendered to us. The man told me that he will be kept if he can mate with his hens, and then he will be eaten. They would not give him to me.

My friend, Steph, saw a rooster with severely swollen feet and wattles consistent with fresh frost bite. These chickens suffered frostbite within the 24 hours before the event.

We have so much more evidence and so many more stories to be revealed, so please keep following us and PLEASE, start planning to come to Wisconsin next year and show up wth us to stop this event.

The icing on the cake was, as I was leaving with my sweet Dolly in my arms, crying and frustrated, a group of men catcalled me. They asked if I was single and what I was up to later. I should not be surprised at any level of degradation these monsters are capable of, but somehow I was taken aback, not expecting myself to be victim to their abuse.

This is a so called “family friendly” event. I feel sick for the children being raised in this environment.

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I’m grateful to Quincy and others for braving that horrible event and saving those they could.

Is any of this worse than what happens to chickens and other farmed animals in animal agriculture? No, it isn’t. Is it more wrong and violent and exploitative than so many other forms of so-called “entertainment” that use the bodies of animals for human titillation? No, it isn’t.

Still, I am utterly dumbstruck at this ridiculousness not just because it shows some of the worst side of humanity. Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day’s “chicken toss” event also reveals just how little value chickens have as commodities for humans; as commodities, there really isn’t anything humans can’t do to them.

If you look closely, what you see is that people who have already neglected their chickens (see Goby’s untreated sinus infection and Shrimp’s untreated frostbite?) dumped unwanted (not primarily useful/profitable) animals knowing full well what would happen to them…and not caring.

Not even not caring: DEFENDING what happens to them. As amusing as the flying, terrified chickens were to some people, even more hilarious was the effort to speak out against this absurd cruelty. Indeed, chicken farmers specifically wanted everyone to know how well the chickens are treated, and since they’re just food anyway what does it matter? That’s what chickens are FOR, right?

Human beings rationalize, justify, and excuse many of the things we do to animals via arguments about necessity–biological, financial, cultural, ecological. There’s no justification that holds water, in my mind, but ideally it’s a conversation that can happen with a reliance upon a wide set of facts and experiences.

It is also important to realize that an extension of our commodification of living beings under our domination for food (and so on) is a sense of free reign and impunity. We lock chickens and other “food” animals into the ontological position of being consumables, and doing so guarantees that many humans will feel entitled to use them in any way whatsoever, for whatever reason.

Shit like this “chicken toss” is scarily irrefutable, though, because its absurdity lies in the fact that it has nothing to do with our needs or the animals’ lives and everything to do with human callousness, with our willingness to abuse our power over others in ways that have no actual “value” or purpose other than diverting us from our boredom. This event is the equivalent of a child burning ants with a magnifying glass and sunlight.

There were children here, yes, but this time the metaphorical magnifying glass was being held by adults who bear the full moral responsibility for their actions. There is no situation in which this event cannot be considered cruelty to animals, something that would get you arrested had you been chucking chihuahuas onto the concrete below…

It’s worth mentioning that there were law enforcement officers at the event on Saturday.

They were there to monitor the protestors.

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“In a World That Is Half Asleep”: Interview with Lindsay Schoolcraft

By Justin Van Kleeck

It’s been a long while since I did an interview for this blog, and it was my interview with Samuel Hartman, formerly of Kentucky black metal band Anagnorisis, that prompted me to start this blog in the first place! Since then, more and more vegans are showing up in extreme metal, which I find both encouraging and interesting. There even seems to be a more vocal vegan fan base of metalheads. We’re everywhere!

I discovered Lindsay Schoolcraft in the usual way, a random click on social media, and realized she was a vegan in one of the best known black metal bands, England’s Cradle of Filth. She’s also busy with a solo project and a new venture, Antiqva, with fellow vegan, Xenoyr, vocalist of Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris. Lindsay is doubly unique for being a woman and a vegan in heavy metal, so I was interested to get her perspective on the scene and the movement…

When did you go vegan, and why?

I went vegan the few days been Xmas and New Years of 2012. The documentary Food, Inc. really gave me a good look into how demoralizing the industry is towards the treatment of animals for food.

A lot of people seem to think it strange that someone who’s vegan would also be into extreme metal. What connections if any do you find personally—are they two sides of yourself, for example, or is it more directly related?

There are quite a few people in metal who are vegan and it is really not uncommon or not unheard of anymore in this genre. I view myself more as a classical musician who fell into heavy metal.

Photo by Ya Cheng Photography, courtesy of Lindsay Schoolcraft.

How’d you fall?

Ha ha, well I was training to become a classical composer, conductor, and singer and at the time I was listening to more and more metal. Then Cradle of Filth showed up and I couldn’t say no to the offer.

I’ll avoid basic questions like how you eat vegan on tour…but I’m curious about other aspects of the “vegan struggle.” First, what sort of conversations about being vegan do you have with fellow musicians? Are they most often antagonistic, or congenial? And second, do you notice any differences of tone discussing your veganism with other metal musicians versus metal fans?

Since the lifestyle and diet is still completely unheard of to some it becomes hard sometimes to get the venue staff to be able to cater to you and make you the food you need. There are times when you’re stuck in remote areas, Texas being an example, and you have to settle for a basic salad that night. I’m not picky, I’m happy to take whatever I can get. The trick is to stock up on snacks like nuts and apples.

I don’t really have this struggle amongst my peers on the road. Since it’s so common now it’s not a problem for me anymore. I still get some shit online and in person from some fans. Some people really don’t like the movement and try to tell me I’m dumb or extreme. But I’m just trying to be peaceful over here and not contribute to any suffering.

It’s also unusual to be a woman in extreme metal, though thankfully that’s becoming less true with time. What’s your take on the role women have to play as metal musicians and key figures in black metal and other genres? Have you personally felt a change in the culture?

Women are a rarity in heavy music, but we are becoming a lot more common these days. There has been a change in the attitude towards the female gender, but we still have a long way to go before we are fully heard. I honestly would just like some equality and my gender not be something that divides me in any way from anyone else.

You’ve teamed up with another vegan, Xenoyr of Ne Obliviscaris, for your project Antiqva. What’s it like working with other vegan musicians? Have you collaborated with other vegans in the past? Do you up your advocacy game when you do? 😉

Our friendship has a long history and we did bond mostly over our veganism and our love of darkly things. When we toured together we were the only vegans in our traveling party so we would get away to find food we could eat, talk about the subject, and through there found a common ground for the art we want to create: which we are now creating together!

You’re also doing a solo project as well. Can you talk a little about that, and does your veganism influence your personal music writing in any way?

I’ve actually written a song on this album coming up as a political anthem with another guest vocalist who is a vegan as well. It touches on all the topics our world faces today. We are all no better than anyone else and we need to start seeing that more than ever. Other than that the album is very personal and really displays my vocals outside of Cradle of Filth. I’m excited for people to hear it. It should come out next year.

Vegan community can be really helpful in so many ways. Who are some of your best vegan music friends, and why do you think vegan musicians can be important advocates for the movement?

My biggest influence and help to go vegan is Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy. We’ve shared a lot of stories and experiences the past few years. She is really knowledgeable and has a big heart for animals. And of course there is Xen, The Vegan Black Metal Chef, and The Vegan Zombie who has been good friends and great support. Sharing recipes has always been our thing.

We have a platform which gives us a voice and it’s not just what we say but how healthy we become too and can show people our progress and hopefully inspire them to take better care of themselves too.

Lastly, why is being vegan totally metal?

It’s courage to stand up for something unpopular in a world that is half asleep. That’s pretty much some very metal lyrics right there.

Open Letter to an Open Wound

There have been times in my life when I spoke truth to power loudly and publicly. I felt my anger like a star, burning and bright. The embers are still glowing, but I have been tired. I am so much water.

Addressing the wounds of the world takes a kind of strength I started to lose as the wounds of my family and my own tender being burst open. There is no clear delineation between these pains as they’re felt – the pain of living with genocidal systems operating all around us, the pain of loss, of intergenerational trauma, illness, abuse… they bleed into each other. So many wounds eventually look the same regardless of how they were made or the intentions of those who made them.

Someone very close to me has been abusive for years. He is a writer too, and he sometimes sends long letters full of manipulative, threatening language. I have written countless drafts back to him, detailing everything he’s done to me and everything I’ve witnessed him do to people I love, foolishly hoping he will see the truth in my words and desire to make amends, my dream of restorative justice.

I learned the hard way that any communication with him backfires. He will select one word and twist it to suit his toxic narratives. My communication is an invitation for him to attack with more intensity, and he’s made it clear to me, at times even saying so explicitly, that he does not care to hear what I have to say. He is not interested in understanding or accepting responsibility. He has exhausted my anger.

I’ve found it difficult to write as a result. Not only have I felt on a deeply personal level a horribly frustrating futility in my words, but I am terrified of replicating the language of abuse. I share genes with this person. Our demons are close. The slightest hint of his voice in my own silences me quick. I have felt this in other ways. The poisons of our world infect and confuse. The fear of irrevocably fucking up, the fear of turning into the very thing I am fighting… it can be debilitating.

Even when I manage to move through those fears and channel again the righteous rager, I eventually come to a stillness that asks, then what? And the answer from the wise, always, that we need to heal and build.

I suppose in some ways that’s what I’ve been trying to do, starting small, starting with myself – build from the ground up, build something from a place of understanding and care. It’s not as glorious as the fire-breathing dragon I can be, so adored. Healing is not glamorous. It’s painstakingly picking through a trash heap. It’s all the things that no one is going to applaud me for doing, that no one may see at all. It’s having to just keep moving forward, keep waking up, keep doing what I have to do to stay alive despite the parts of me that feel defeated and despaired. It’s finding the good not just in spectacle, but in intimacy.

My abuser isolates himself, and I know it’s easier for him to maintain his illusion of power that way. At times when I have tried to reach him, I get a glimpse of someone vulnerable, and then that person is locked away, and the tyrant appears. This happens too when we create nations and borders and hierarchies, constructed inequalities to prevent the intimacy that would reveal our shared vulnerability: what it is to be alive on Earth, to feel fear and pain. Even the work of healing is painful. It can feel like there is no escape, no relief, and I too have chased those twin pillars to destructive ends, seeking power and simply finding more pain.

I cannot escape my fear and pain, but I can manage them. Just as I must continually combat manifestations of oppression in myself, the work of healing my own trauma and illness is an ongoing process. I can’t say I acknowledge my white privilege and understand the system of racism and then be done with it. I must be attentive, always listening, checking in, reflecting.

I have been writing this for months now. I keep coming back and making adjustments, but I know I am in many ways just avoiding the moment of reaching out. I am so practiced now in seeing my words atrophy, in reaching out a hand to have it slapped away. It’s heartbreaking as someone who cares so much about connecting and believes so deeply in the power of language to help us do that. I don’t want to let an abusive person take that away from me. I cannot write a letter to him, but I can write one to myself and to you. And my hope in this for understanding, connection, and healing is not so foolish.

 

How Pre-packaged Avocados Reflect The Way I Approach Social Justice

You might have seen this image floating around the internet for a while. It’s not a new image. But every few months, someone reposts it and it gets a new life.

Last week, it showed up again on social media and a few people had a good chuckle. Of course they were chuckling at the expense of middle class people with middle class problems. But several dissenting commenters also showed up to the discussion to present a different perspective. There were plenty to choose from. But this is one [very white] example.

At first, I conceded the point and flogged myself for being an ableist dirtbag who hates all people with physical disabilities and vowed to do better. But then I thought about this more objectively and came to a different conclusion. The church of social justice demands that we all share the same party line, and if we don’t we face immediate, harsh, and permanent retribution for that sin.

But I think there’s a better way to look at this. And here’s why.

First of all, I’m confused about why this commenter invoked food deserts. It seemed like a strange place to go considering that two of the key indicators for what constitutes a food deserts are based on 1.) affordability and 2.) lack of geographical access. The avocados in this viral image were being sold in Sobeys, the second largest grocery store chain in Canada, for more than double the price of an un-packaged avocado. Therefore, they miss the mark on both indicators. At best, I feel like we’ve just gotten comfortable with throwing the phrase ‘food deserts’ out there whenever someone is having a discussion even remotely related to food justice in some type of intersectional feminist jargon bingo.

These bad boys were being sold for 6 USD.

It’s like the recent pre-peeled oranges fiasco in Whole Foods. Sure, people with physical disabilities can benefit from them. But Whole Foods is a gentrifying organization who was selling those oranges at an extortionate price. The physically disabled were not collectively sighing with relief at their newfound good fortune. They were trying to pay their electric bill and drinking dollar store orange juice instead because Whole Foods was already stunting on them.

Second, there’s the claim that products like these avocados (broadly called infomercial products) are designed for people with disabilities but marketed to rich white people in order to make them available and affordable. And yeah, that would totally make sense…

except there’s no evidence that marketing infomercial products to clumsy white people with too much money was a noble effort to help people with disabilities. It’s most certainly true of SOME of these products but by no means all of them and not even the majority. Included in that claim is the urban legend about the Snuggie being originated for people in wheelchairs. But that’s been (repeatedly) debunked.

Third, I feel like we jump to apply the phrase ‘people with disabilities’ very liberally, but it doesn’t have a lot of value. No two people with disabilities are the same EVEN if two people have exactly the same condition.

Taking on disability rights advocacy is the right thing to do. But choosing which disabled group to prioritize is completely arbitrary in this circumstance. In the case of pre-packaged avocados, the people who benefit from them are already in a seriously privileged position versus the people who are hurt by their production. The amount of waste generated alone is a net fail based on the damage done to already overburdened ecosystems. And this has a disproportionate impact on indigenous human and animal populations, many of whom have physical disabilities themselves.

And I don’t mean that in a tangential esoteric way. I mean a direct and measurable real-time impact!

And in general terms, a huge number of infomercial products are manufactured in places where labor conditions are so abominable that they literally CREATE physical disabilities among workers and then lock those workers in cycles of poverty.

So when referencing ‘physically disabled people,’ it’s more productive to speak with greater intention and clarity about who we’re talking about instead of reaching for a hypothetical person. Because which people and what disabilities is so obscure here as to be completely lost.

Fourth, let’s talk again about affordability. The pay gap for people with disabilities in the United States alone is at least 13%, and I’m being generous for the sake of discussion. Some research places it at 37%, and the average pay gap climbs even higher still depending on what state you live in. In fact, people with physical disabilities often earn what’s called sub-minimum wages. And that’s before you factor in pay gaps based on race, gender, and type of disability. In short, these avocados are not the hill I want to die on.

If, as suggested by the screen-capped comment, you have some condition that allows you to dice onions and tomatoes and cilantro for guacamole…but lack the dexterity to cut an avocado…yet can still gnaw your way into this exceptionally restrictive packaging that would challenge a very able-bodied person, then I completely empathize with you. I won’t question your disability or interrogate your desire to make this bizarrely specific food. However, if you’re buying all these pre-packaged ingredients in order to enjoy the satisfaction of making your fresh guacamole (which was also a suggested possibility), I might ask you for a loan. Because I’m a baller on a budget, and you’re clearly a Rockefeller making the guacamole of millionaires.

And last but most importantly, I feel like we’re arguing for disability rights from the wrong perspective. If products like these are marketed to rich, clumsy, lazy, entitled white people in order to make them affordable to people with disabilities, then that plan isn’t working because 1.) most of those products remain inaccessible based on their price point and the low incomes of the people who need them and 2.) people with disabilities should not have to rely on the purchasing habits of incompetent white people who like mass-produced convenience goods frequently manufactured in slavery conditions by people in economically disadvantaged countries.

At the end of the day, we collectively want to do right by everyone. And that’s not a bad thing. But this whole situation reminds me that a lot of our activism is wrapped up in performance. And we are assuming a dangerously prescriptivist nature in our interactions with one another. We don’t need to be in a competition to appear to be the most woke, gang.

Taking an interdisciplinary approach to our food justice requires us to think more critically and investigate further than just outrage based on what we think is right. We should look past the immediate situation and see the global consequences for oppressed communities instead of just seeing at individual products through a strictly imperialist worldview. Sometimes a pre-packaged avocado is just a white people answer to a white people problem. Don’t believe me? See avocado hand. Apparently it’s a real thing and it’s hilarious…although considering that we’re calling it a medical condition, that’s probably ableist to say. Even if we’re talking about people who I guess cut their avocados like a serial killer.

P.S. I actually did run this by a friend of mine with multiple physical disabilities (including issues surrounding hand mobility). When I asked her if she felt like the lives of people like her were improved by pre-packaged avocados, she laughed in my ear. To quote, “Child, leave me alone. Avocados are the whitest thing you could be bringing in my face right now. You know what improves my life? Pre-made guacamole. You know what else improves my life? Jars of salsa. I don’t need to make that either. And nobody campaigning for my right to do it. In fact, I don’t need to cook any of my own food in order to feel validated as a person in a wheelchair. What I NEED is FOOD.”

For the record, she also tried a Snuggie once. And you know what she learned? That trying to operate a wheelchair while being draped in yards of fabric with sleeve holes is a goddamn catastrophe.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The One

As I type this, a weeks-old baby has snuggled up on my wife’s shoulder, where they (we’re not sure about boy or girl yet) had crawled up of their own volition in order to “perch” while also seeking comfort, warmth, and safety. All these are natural behaviors of a young one, though Angelica has never known their mother. All that Angelica has known of humans—up until a truly miraculous effort in the past few days—is at best horrifying. And yet now they find comfort while sleeping against a human face.

This is a life that was destined for death—that had nearly every cog of the human cultural machine turning against its continuance. And yet, here Angelica is with a future unfolding ahead of them.

While I was on a long rescue trip the other day, someone told me—commenting on a post I wrote to mourn the loss of another individual—that I had convinced them the emotionalism of individual animal rescue was fruitless, and general vegan education is what matters.

I sometimes wonder if veganism is just an argument to some people, a theoretical position in a field of debate, untethered from actual lives. I don’t see how any of this matters if we devalue individuals so much right now in the hopes of someday saving thousands from peril. I don’t see how we can have any actual attachment to thousands if we don’t want to see the one.

What is clear, at least, is that Angelica did not ask to be here but is, right now, and wants to be. I guess I’ll always prefer to respect that and see injustice in terms of individual harm, knowing all too well how much injustice we do to them…and how hard they fight simply to be, despite all of our nonsense.

Their desire to live and our connection with them are not phenomena that we can quantify, or measure for efficacy, and the reality of who they are is lost to us when stretched to billions and billions–to terms beyond our ability to viscerally comprehend. Connecting with individuals can greatly galvanize us as we fight for justice, building outwards from these relationships in ways that challenge the computational commodity-mongering of capitalism.

Justice is not a currency and will not be found in our wallets or our rhetoric. It is forged in the connections we make and the willingness we have to mediate our power by the sort of personal respect for others that directly challenges our wielding of it.

“Persistent Ovulator”

Many people who don’t understand why eggs can never be an ethical foodstuff for humans are surprised to learn that selective breeding for egg laying has made modern hens prone to cancer and other reproductive diseases. As such, medical researchers are using hens as models for studies into ovarian cancer in humans.:

The domestic laying chicken has been intensely selected to be a persistent ovulator. That is, the tendency for broodiness has been nearly eliminated and, given the appropriate lighting and nutrition, many strains of laying hens produce an egg on almost every day. […] Commercial laying hens also spontaneously develop ovarian cancer at a high rate, and susceptibility to this disease has been associated with ovulatory events in women.

Think about all that for a second.

Hens are forced by genetic manipulation to lay eggs so frequently that they are highly predisposed to reproductive cancers. The thing they were bred to do for humans will likely kill them.

Of course, hens die from lots of other things, too, as their reproductive system breaks down; this is why most hens do not live beyond 4-5 years…which is also the age they mostly stop laying. Those chickenly problems aren’t quite as useful for humans, apparently…

Equally awful, as the Poultry Science abstract cited above also makes clear, humans have bred OUT the mothering instinct in most hens because it interfered with egg laying.

Put another way, hens don’t even get the chance to experience motherhood…because nothing in their hijacked biology compels them to.

Every time someone eats an egg, these are the things that are being supported and normalized.

That’s part of why eggs don’t “just happen,” and why laying hens can never be truly “happy” when you steal the object of their suffering.

“…You don’t have a problem with trigger warnings.”

Jesus be a black woman smoking a cigarette in front of armed cops.

I’m in Chicago O’Hare airport right now, I’ve been on a trip that included New York, Philly, and suburban Illinois. This is the last stop. I’m on my way home. I’m about to catch my flight. But before heading out this morning I paid a visit to an old family friend.

An auntie as we say. Of course it’s always an auntie or a cousin. People who have been in your life for years, but don’t have a biological link, have to fit in some category. So if they’re close to us in age, they’re a cousin. But if they’re significantly older, they need some designation that establishes a type of respect. Hence auntie.

My auntie is in her 70s. Like my grandmother, she smokes Pall Mall cigarettes (and she pronounced them Pell Mell). And when she doesn’t have a good enough reason to leave her home, she wears her dressing gown all day.

As far as I’m concerned, #GOALS.

She muted the tv as we sat down and asked how I was doing. (I’m fine.)

She asked if I’m seeing anyone. (I’m still not.)

She didn’t ask if I was seeing a girl. She knows I’m gay, but we don’t talk about it. She’s not exactly homophobic. But she doesn’t really know what to do with this information. So instead of asking about boys specifically, she just plays the pronoun game. Which is hilarious considering where we collectively are with pronouns for trans people. But I digress.

We spent about 15 minutes with her getting me caught up on Days of Our Lives. Personally I gave up on ‘the stories’ in the early 2000s. But she keeps me in the loop so I’m not lost in case I come back to the fold. I was devastated when Stefano DiMera died. The actor’s death in real life reminded me that all my faves that I grew up will age and pass away.

Eventually we were both on our phones because ~21st century. I’m mildly surprised she uses her smartphone as much as she does. But auntie ain’t no goddamn punk. She might not own a computer. But she uses her phone nonstop, and she knows how to DVR better than I can.

Somehow we got on the topic of social media. She follows me on Facebook. She doesn’t know wtf I’m talking about half the time. But she thinks I’m pretty popular.

We talked about the piece I put up on Thursday. I told her the Internet was hauling me up over it. A couple of folks were pressed about the main gist of the essay, but mainly people took issue with the trigger warnings part.

Now all this social justice talk is pretty boring to her. So I did my best to explain in brief what all the terms and catchphrases meant and why I said wtf I said.

Not a week passes by in which I don’t have at least two messages from people either telling me that something I said in conversation online should have had a trigger warning, and two more messages from people telling me words that I should not say at ALL when talking about other animals regardless of the circumstances (btw, the list includes, among other words: slavery, rape, kidnap, abuse, captive, refugee, and prisoner).

At one point, I found myself trying to hold space in my head to accommodate this rapidly accumulating list of words while speaking and trying to monitor for anything that might remotely damage someone else. In some ways, it’s like my Czech language classes…except there’s a penalty for getting it wrong. And in some cases, that penalty is severe. Every single day, I could feel my anxiety peak with the understanding that I would inevitably fail and end up in an even worse depression than I am already experiencing (and for longer and longer periods, these days).

She sat calmly reading her phone, not even looking up. To the average person, it probably appeared as though she wasn’t even listening to me. But to a veteran smartphone multi-tasker, I knew she heard every word. Patiently she asked, “Sebastian, who are the people that are worrying you?”

“Intersectional vegans,” I answered quickly.

“No, I mean are they white?”

And I thought about it. Yes. Yes, they are white. Every single person rolling up through my DMs—of whom there are dozens—rolling up through my DMs with new demands is white. One hundred percent. And I don’t mean some approximate percentage that is close to one hundred. I mean every last one of them. I told her this.

Seemingly unsurprised, she asked further, “No black people at all?”

“A couple of black voices, to varying degrees, responded to my post that they had a dissenting position. But none who were particularly pressed. Mostly questioning or adding to the conversation. But no, I never actually received a message from a black person requesting a trigger warning or telling me what words I should use or avoid.”

“Sounds to me like you don’t have a problem with trigger warnings. You have a white people problem.

And right there was the crux of my situation in fourteen words.

She smiled that smile of people who BEEN knew shit that you just now finding out and said, “Sebastian, black people have been dealing with trauma in this country for hundreds of years. We know what it looks like. We’re used to managing it. Even if we didn’t have the language to articulate it. Unfortunately, we were never afforded the privilege of avoiding these ‘triggers’ that traumatize us.”

She said ‘triggers’ in that tone people use when they don’t know what in the hell you’re talking about and would just as soon use the word ‘who-zee-wutz-it.’

“What frustrates you,” she continued, “Is that white people are finding new ways to dominate the conversation by making demands upon blackness to make them comfortable while they are learning to deal with it.”

Well, okay…fuck!

She sat there staring at me like you’d stare at a child who is figuring out that there ain’t no damn tooth fairy. Like, “Come on. Did you really think some white woman was coming in your house to pick up body parts that have fallen out of your face and pay you money for them?”

It seems so obvious now that I think about it. Of course nobody deserves to deal with trauma. And everyone should be afforded the space to manage it. But what I didn’t like was whiteness appropriating the intellectual property of black women, i.e., intersectionality, to prioritize their needs or otherwise avoid feeling offended.

Not prioritizing the needs of black women. Certainly not prioritizing the needs of other animals. Themselves.

That’s not the fault of trigger warnings. That’s an issue of white supremacy and white entitlement.

And here before me was a black woman without the trappings of a university education. Who didn’t define herself as a goddamn intersectional anything. And who wasn’t even vegan.

And then I felt ashamed and angry with myself for relying on her counsel. AGAIN. I’m yet another person using the emotional and intellectual resources of black women to unpack my own struggles.

So two things I learned from this experience. Number one, I need to more closely examine what I’m feeling and why in order to write with greater intention. Number two and more importantly, always check in with black women. Not for myself, but for them.

And as I left, the television still sat muted in the background. On the screen, the news was reporting the unfolding story of white supremacists waging war in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The trauma doesn’t end.

Author’s note: To everyone who participated in the conversation on Facebook from a place of loving engagement, thank you. I’m sorry. I appreciate having a community that wants to build instead of promote toxic behaviors and for understanding that ALL YOUR FAVES ARE PROBLEMATIC. Even and especially me. So we have to rely on each other to get through this. And as with all things, I’m leaving that previous post as is. Because if we don’t fucking allow people the space to evolve and change (spoiler alert: we don’t), then basically we’re saying that oppressive behavior is the default position forever, which is of course absurd. Otherwise nobody would ever be vegan…and I wouldn’t have written this post.