A few weeks ago, I was privileged to have been interviewed by Marla Rose in the Vegan Rock Star feature on her site Vegan Feminist Agitator. In response to one of her questions I gave the following answer:
“Animal exploitation is the bedrock of imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy. You want to abolish oppression, you gotta include other species.”
Apparently that phrase is a trigger for a lot of white readers, including this one:
My question is—what is it about acknowledging the role of white supremacy in animal exploitation that strikes discomfort and (in some cases) outright rage in those white vegans? The history of white supremacy and western imperialism is the history of animal oppression. The shared traumas of black bodies and animal bodies make our liberation inseparable. Let’s examine the above comment in parts.
“Animal exploitation is the result of speciesism.”
Yeah but…nobody ever denied that. However, speciesism is also entangled with so much more. It’s the love affair with the prison industrial complex and a fetish for wrongful incarceration. It’s coupled with male domination and gendered violence. It’s encroachment on the lands of native lives and colonization of them. All these things have overlap between oppressed human communities and those of other species. A failure to see that is unsophisticated at best and willfully ignorant at worst.
“All ethnicities and cultures are complicit in the exploitation of nonhuman animals.”
All women are complicit in the exploitation of nonhuman animals too. Does that then mean women cannot examine speciesism through a feminist lens and the influence that patriarchal domination and toxic masculinity have on animal oppression? If so, then ecofeminist Carol Adams will be disappointed to hear that her seminal work The Sexual Politics of Meat has been rendered obsolete!
“Declaring that animal exploitation is endemic to whites absolves non-whites of any responsibility.”
This person is arguing a point that was never made. No one said it was endemic to whites. Nor did anyone absolve black and brown people of complicity. We can observe speciesism and how it is exacerbated by white supremacist institutions at the same time. But ignoring the role white supremacy plays in perpetuating animal oppression creates an incomplete picture of it. The industrial revolution was, for example, a critical moment in history for animals. Without the western industrialization of animal agriculture, we would not be exploiting them on so grand a scale. Without aggressive campaigns of advertising, our consumption of animal bodies would not have skyrocketed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Even the rising consumption of animal bodies in China is linked to the emergence of the Chinese middle class as they mimic specifically western habits of consumption. And don’t forget that milk is (unsurprisingly?) regarded as a symbol of white supremacy.
“Speciesism doe not only flourish under capitalism, it is sanctioned by any other method of organizing the economy. Marxists or socialists, for example, have long considered nonhuman animals to [be] undeserving of moral consideration.”
I’m not sure what the purpose is for this statement. Is the author trying to justify late capitalism by pointing out that other economic systems exploit animals too? I mean, we know that no social system is perfect. But it’s specifically capitalism that doesn’t just have an underclass that is exploited, it demands an underclass to intentionally exploit. The acquisition of wealth is the driving force of capitalism. And the monetization/commodification of individuals of ALL species is key.
Besides, it’s time we look outside of what western imperialism has taught us are the ONLY social systems worth examining. Many cultures exist outside western imperialist constructs and hold rich histories of valuing community. Does it mean that they are free from using animal bodies? No. But we should recognize the world of difference between what someone may do as an act of survival and our own callous western consumption that masks the enslavement of all species communities. And frankly, greater access to necessary resources incentivizes people to avoid violence; therefore, moving to a resource-based economy would minimize such instances.
Furthermore, it’s inaccurate to state unequivocally that socialism sanctions speciesism. Emerging research indicates that socialist and direct democrat theory were at least in part based on human observations of animal societies. Laura Schleifer offers more insight on that in her presentation at VegFestUK 2017 in Brighton, and she recommends the Peter Kropotkin classic Mutual Aid and The Ecology of Freedom by Murray Bookchin for additional reading.
Make no mistake. Critique of capitalism, and particularly late capitalism, should not just be included in our animal liberation framework, it should be central to it. How do we propose to remove animals from the chain of exploitation without abolishing exploitation itself? To preserve the structure but remove animals from the bottom of it suggests that there’s nothing wrong with hierarchical oppression.
And deconstructing hierarchical oppression frankly scares a lot of white people, even vegan ones. Because if there’s no longer a hierarchy, whiteness can no longer be at the top of it. And that’s going to trigger an awful lot of white fragility.
If white allies mean to engage speciesism critically, they need to acknowledge the historical and current role of white supremacy in animal oppression. And if they don’t, do they really want to engage speciesism…or are they just hobbyists who think animals are nice?