Yes to Intersectionality, Boo to Intersectional Vegans

Almost two years ago, I recall a conversation in the Facebook group Intersectional Vegans of the World where a white female vegan was mulling over whether or not it was offensive to use the word speciesism.

I decided to bite my tongue and watch while that dialogue unfolded. Apparently because a black female vegan made a series of YouTube videos talking about how the notion of speciesism was absurd and racist, it was enough to cast doubt on the idea of other animals being a marginalized community.

Just let that sit with you for a second.

Because of the existence of systemic racism, other animals who are literally tortured and killed by the millions could not be a marginalized community.

Mind you, this YouTube vegan (her videos have since been taken down and she deleted her account) drew from zero academic theory to make such a claim. And she held this position despite feminist academics like Carol Adams, Corey Wrenn, Breeze Harper, and pattrice jones building phenomenal bodies of work that directly contradict it.

Yet when pressed about why it was so easy to dismiss the combined writings of ALL these women, this vegan basically stated that she still wasn’t comfortable talking about speciesism because the truly intersectional thing to do was defer to a black woman (even though one of the academics I cited was herself a black vegan feminist, and even though what this woman said made absolutely zero sense).

So, um, yeah.

It was around that time that I decided I was no longer going to self identify as an intersectional vegan. If this is what intersectionality meant, I didn’t want any part of it.

A few people noticed that I dropped the label. Most didn’t. In fact, although two years have passed since I even mentioned the word intersectionality, people still insert my name into conversations about it.

Not that the label  matters to me anyway. I hold myself accountable for staying consistent with the goals of intersectional feminist theory, and I read up on it inside and outside of a vegan context because it has so much value.

But although I strongly and very enthusiastically endorse intersectional feminism, I don’t think it’s necessary to claim a mantle of it for myself. After all, I’m not a black woman. Besides, I strongly draw from the influence of anarcho-communism as a theory as well, but I never labeled myself as an anarcho-communist.

Some days I adhere to intersectional feminist principles successfully, most days I don’t. Fact is, activism is messy. It’s imperfect. We’re all shit. We’re just trying to be LESS shit.

Once again, let me reiterate—this is not an attack on intersectional feminism or a rejection of it. This is not a critique of intersectionality or black women. And this is not an instruction on what you (dear reader) or any other activist should do. My journey into intersectional feminism is mine alone. And frankly, it became a pretty lonely one. As the months passed, I found myself engaging less frequently in online spaces that I once embraced. I couldn’t identify with a community that was becoming increasingly toxic to me. Instead of trying to foster meaningful dialogues, a lot of us were obsessing over language and looking for opportunities to score points by outing someone as being less woke. This activism feels very performative, and I felt isolated and alienated.

I moved my conversations to my own space and only interacted with the people who interacted with me. In the meantime, I was (and am) enjoying the education I was receiving. Most of the people who come to my space and to Striving with Systems bring with them links, advice, insight, and knowledge that have contributed to making me a much better activist and person. So a year later, here’s where I’ve landed:

Intersectional feminism belongs to black and brown femmes.

I have had countless interviews over the past year where people would ask me to define intersectionality, sometimes even after I repeatedly requested that they would not put me in that position. Not only is it hard to define something so complex in a 30-second elevator speech, I AM NOT THE RIGHT PERSON TO DO THAT. Intersectional feminism was conceptualized and developed BY a black woman to give black and brown women language by which they can discuss the multiple layers of oppression they experience from their own perspectives. Making the argument as a man is deeply uncomfortable for me.

I read an interview from Kimberle Crenshaw recently where she was discussing how it has been growing in popularity in recent years. Don’t ask me to link it because a.) I’m too lazy and b.)  WHY DON’T YOU JUST GO EDUCATE YOURSELF (just kidding, I’ll find it later and update this post because I’m not an asshole). Crenshaw expressed that although she was happy to see her theory taking off in new and exciting ways, she was keenly aware that the very people for whom the work was developed were still experiencing the same outcomes that they were having THIRTY YEARS AGO.

This tells me three things. First, white people are not applying intersectional feminist theory. They are appropriating intersectional feminist theory and marketing it as a new and hip thing. Second, the white people who were NOT capitalizing on it are hopelessly lost on what role they have (if any) in decentering whiteness. And third, if black and brown femmes are still being left behind, then they are desperately in need of a movement that centers THEM.

And you know what? That’s okay. Intersectionality should center black women. They deserve it. But if that’s the case, then…

Animals need a movement that centers them, as well.

I personally thought a lot about what a movement would look like that centered animals but was committed to being inclusive of marginalized human communities as well (and not just claiming to). It certainly isn’t happening in mainstream vegan spaces. But it desperately needs to happen because marginalized human communities are often shut out of the discussions that occur there.

And it’s patently absurd to think that we should keep our movements separate or that we shouldn’t observe the commonality of racial injustice, poverty, gender, class, ability, bigotry against animals, and more. If you recognize the influence of animal agriculture on issues like climate change, indigenous people, reproductive autonomy, or human health, you clearly know that our fates are hopelessly intertwined and you already believe in intersectional justice.

So cue what I have come to call radical veganism. Perhaps veganism alone was a radical concept 70+ years ago without having a qualifier. But it’s been reduced to a consumer boycott at best and a dietary fad at worst. Furthermore, we’ve learned so much more since the days of Donald Watson that it’s almost passé. Adhering to an outdated understanding of veganism shows a dogmatic resistance to shifts in society and culture.

So what is radical veganism and what does it mean to me?

Radical veganism isn’t a departure from our existing understanding of veganism. Nor is it an exclusion of intersectional feminist theory (sorry anti-intersectional bigots, go fuck yourselves). Instead, radical veganism should be about building upon those frameworks. It should incorporate all that we’ve learned in the decades since the word vegan became popularized. Likewise, it should honor and curate the history of animal rights which pre-dates that popularization.

Radical veganism is for people who go hard for racism and sexism, but go equally hard if not more so, for speciesism. Radical veganism doesn’t just talk about being anti-oppression, it demonstrates anti-oppression. Radical veganism isn’t about being the most woke vegan in the room and singling out those who ain’t woke like you are. Radical veganism is about building communities instead of cannibalizing our own.  Radical veganism is solutions-oriented.

If this sounds like it’s for you, then here are ways that I embrace it:

  • Discern the difference between people who genuinely want to learn about systemic oppression of marginalized human communities and the sea lion who is wasting your time.
  • If you don’t have the spoons to educate, then don’t. Sit this one out and let someone else do the heavy lifting.
  • Remember if you do tell someone to educate themselves, your mileage may vary. Google is sometimes an evil genie who gives you EXACTLY what you look for. And assuming that everyone is clever enough to do a minimally biased google search can be ableist.
  • Talk to people about the impact of systemic oppression against human animals and other animal communities.
  • If you screen shot a conversation, ask yourself what your motive is. I GUARANTEE that at least 50% of the time, your intention is not to “warn” people or educate them. And if the goal is educating, consider redacting names to keep the focus on what was said and why it was wrong instead of creating a lynch mob.
  • Minimize your use of the word ‘trigger.’ Triggers can be any goddamn thing. ANYTHING. And making triggers about feeling discomfort or taking offense trivializes the experiences of people who actually suffer from emotional trauma.
  • And while we’re on the topic of buzzwords, try ditching ‘problematic.’ Bottom line, everything is problematic. And when everything is problematic, NOTHING is problematic.
  • Whenever you can, go into your own spaces and advocate against speciesism. DO NOT let people get away with speciesist aggressions. Period. I understand that we can’t always do that in all situations (when we are disempowered due to social or economic disenfranchisement in relationships or workplaces). But for god’s sake, you can call it out in vegan groups at the VERY least.
  • Last, do not use speciesism to pivot and talk about race. Learn to hold conversations about how speciesism and racism interact and how we can dismantle oppression for ourselves and each other.

At the end of the day, my whole thing is this—if your activism is intersectional, people will see it. If your activism is performative, people will see that too. You don’t have to wear your intersectionality on your sleeve in order for it to be real. I fully embrace intersectional feminism in theory and in practice, but I’m veeeeery through with intersectional vegans.

Author’s note: This post only reflects my own views, Christopher Sebastian, and where I’m currently at in my journey. It does not reflect the views of the whole SwS collaborative team, nor will I necessarily feel this way in the future. Activism is alive and organic. It changes and should be discussed authentically as you move through different stages. Even as I write this, I know it will impact relationships I have with specific people and organizations that I partner with. For those of you who continue to support me, don’t worry…I’ll be right back to dragging white people next week for being completely awful. For those who feel like we can no longer work together, I’ll muddle through.

 

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A Handy Guide for Vegan Advocates Discussing Chickens and Eggs

By Justin Van Kleeck

One of the most common discussions I get drawn into these days is on the ethics of keeping chickens for eggs in supposedly “humane” situations, like a suburban backyard. The details vary from time to time but always deal with humans wanting to eat hens’ eggs and feeling justification in doing so because the hens are not in a cage, a shed, or a slaughterhouse.

But there is much more to those “happy eggs” than is immediately apparent, and so I am hoping this post can serve as a handy guide for vegan advocates who have gotten beyond the “factory farming” horizon and want to talk about all forms of animal agriculture…and maybe for some non-vegans who think backyard eggs are better (they are not).

Just because a hen is not in a cage, shed, or slaughterhouse does not mean they are free from exploitation. One of the hardest parts of talking to people about the problems with “humane” eggs” is that culturally, we tend to focus on treatment (cages are bad, sheds full of sick hens are bad, slaughterhouses are bad, beating an animal is bad), so under the prevailing standards a little flock of hens in someone’s yard looks nice and bucolic. But that focus on treatment is really dealing with aesthetics, not ethics.

The crux of the problem with the whole idea that chickens’ eggs can ever be ethically neutral as a foodstuff for humans is: domestication. Modern domesticated hens lay about twenty times more eggs each year than their wild ancestors, the Red Jungle Fowl of southeast Asia, who lay 10-15 purely for reproduction. Read that again: TWENTY TIMES. That averages out at around 250-300 eggs per hen every year from about six months until their laying declines and peters out around four-five years old.


Selective breeding and genetic manipulation through thousands of years of domestication have thus completely hijacked the bodies of chickens: the ramping up of sex hormones and the physical process of laying takes a devastating toll, causing all sorts of problems (egg yolk peritonitis, impacted egg material, cancer, osteoporosis, prolapses…). These will usually kill a hen before she stops laying on her own; however, if kept healthy they can live into their teens.

The roosters suffer too–not only by being killed as chicks or once they crow because nobody wants male laying-breed chickens. They also have jacked up sex hormones that take a toll on their bodies as well. Simply put, no matter where they came from, virtually every single hen had a brother who was killed for no good reason.

It is also worth noting that whenever a chicken-keeper says their hens are all perfectly healthy, keep in mind that laying and other health problems happen in all breeds, not just the two most frequently used on industrial farms (white Leghorns and reddish brown Sex Links). Most people aren’t aware of the subtle signs that a chicken is ill (as prey species they are amazingly stoic) and get no vet care at all. The hens our sanctuary takes in from backyard situations are almost always sick with something, and/or have been the sole survivors of predator attacks due to negligence.

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Althea was the sole survivor after a predator broke into her coop one night and killed her sisters, who like her were hatched as a school project and were living at the school. She was blinded during the attack and nearly died from improper care.
Along with all these physical consequences for chickens is the issue of bodily autonomy. When a hen lays an egg, why on Earth do we feel we have a right to something her body has created? Instead of stealing what is theirs, the best thing to do would be feed eggs back to the hens–eggs are usually their favorite treats, and doing so returns depleted vital nutrients in the eggs to the bodies they were pulled from.

Trudy was so excited about an egg treat she leapt up to eat it out of my hand!
For some reason humans think you can exploit and manipulate the bodies and very genes of non-humans over millennia, and then when those exploited bodies function as humans want them to, we can claim that what they do is “natural” and continue using them (dithering about welfare and treatment is often as far as we’re willing to go…).

That is fucked up, a tactic right out of the Humane Myth playbook…and that is why eggs are inherently unethical for human consumption, regardless of where they come from.

Eating hens’ eggs or allowing other humans to do so is perpetuating that system of exploitation and normalizing violence, including violence that is embodied as a result of domestication.

We adore our family of rescued chickens, and it is agonizing to get them to the safety of a vegan sanctuary and then see all the health problems they have due to their biology and breeding. Even with access to great veterinary care, far too often our hands are tied by their genes. We have lost so many beloved family members because of this, and I will never pretend that humans eating eggs and exploiting chickens to do so is nice, happy, or humane. No other vegans should either.

Further Reading

“Backyard Eggs: Expanding Our Notion of Harm”

“What’s Wrong with Backyard Eggs?”

“Eggs: What Are You Really Eating?”

“No Such Thing as a Harmless Egg”

“Eggs. Period.”

“‘Persistent Ovulator'” 

“Eggs: The Leading Cause Of Cancer Nobody Talks About”

“Lessons in Applied Speciesism”

‘The Dapper Dead’ Is Not Ethical Veganism, It’s The Invasion Of The [Imperialist Capitalist] Bodysnatchers

Do not accidentally die around this woman. Repeat, DO NOT DIE. [image taken from Press and Journal]
Can using the bodies of animals run over by speeding motorists be ethical? Emma Willats thinks so.

This past Sunday, The Press and Journal ran a story about the enterprising Scottish vegan taxidermist who (you guessed it) heavily relies on the corpses of roadkill to make luxury fashion accessories for human consumers.

Obviously upon reading this, I immediately died. But I had to resurrect myself quickly before a plucky young white woman discovered my lifeless corpse and saw a business opportunity.

Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin.  Perhaps I should just quote Willats herself:

The way I look at it is that if something has been killed for me then that’s wrong (okay, so far we’re on the same page). But if it’s something that’s died naturally or been run over then we should try to preserve it in some way (starting to lose me). It feels like a bigger waste to just throw an animal to the wayside once it’s dead (yup, totally lost). It’s better to use them in taxidermy than have some council employee just discard them (ORRRR we could also not consider dead bodies to be commodities for human consumption…because that’s also an option). We should be encouraged to use every part of the animal (as opposed to just discouraging people from using others’ bodies at all). I know a lot of people don’t like what I do but once I explain it I think I manage to win them over (ohhhh, so close!). I want to make use of the whole animal rather than just the face          (GURL!  0_____0).

The Press and Journal goes on to report that Willats “started working out of a bothy at her remote home after her partner suffered a nearly fatal car crash.” There is no mention of whether or not Willats had designs on her partner’s corpse had they not survived. But one can only assume a nice pair of kitten heels and a keychain might have been possible. And since some pieces are sold for up to £750, quite profitable!

But this highlights a couple of problems of how we sometimes approach vegan advocacy. First, if we’re trying to decide how to best exploit someone’s corpse (whether they died accidentally or on purpose), we’re probably asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking how to exploit a corpse, we should be asking why we think we are privileged to someone’s corpse at all. When we start mulling over how bodies can benefit us, that almost always spells trouble for pretty much everyone who isn’t a straight white, cisgender, wealthy, able-bodied human male.  Don’t believe me? Take the case of El Negro.

El Negro, the man ‘stuffed and displayed like a wild animal’…because animal bodies and black bodies are consumables in an imperialist capitalist framework.

In 1831, French dealer Jules Verreaux witnessed the burial of a Tswana warrior in the African interior to the north of Capetown. Shockingly, he returned under the cover of darkness to DIG UP HIS REMAINS AND ROB HIS GRAVE! The warrior’s body was displayed as a museum piece for over 150 years before it was finally returned to African soil and properly buried in 2000.

This isn’t a comparison of black people and animal bodies, btw. This is an example of how an imperialist and capitalist mentality teaches us to devalue some bodies as consumable goods and escalate the value of others as sacred instead of respecting every individual’s autonomy in life and in death.

And it’s not limited to race and species. Social class is another indicator of how we value certain bodies. In the 19th century United Kingdom, the only cadavers that could legally be dissected for medical experimentation and  study were those of humans condemned to death by the state. The problem? Only 55 people were executed each year on average, and expansion of medical schools meant that up to 500 were needed!

So what then did people do? Clearly, the solution was for grave robbers to start digging up the recently interred remains of strangers’ loved ones. And you can probably guess that the graves targeted were not those of people wealthy enough to protect their loved ones with metal coffins and thick iron bars.

So to the original question, does using bodies create a demand for bodies? Well, yes! Historically, the answer to this question is ABSOLUTELY YES! Imperialist capitalist thought demonstrably compels us to exploit the underclass (regardless of what face that underclass takes). Dismantling the system is critical to the liberation of all species.

And in case any condescending smart ass is going to make the argument that indigenous people use animal bodies too, save it. Focusing on the cultural practices of indigenous communities who use bodies out of necessity is every bit as disingenuous as focusing on those crafty minimum wage earners trying to get by instead of shining the light on the wealthy CEOs who hoard global resources and create artificial scarcity. It’s a head fake, and it’s sickening.

As long as we view persons—human and otherwise—as inherently exploitable resources, we can never live (or die) free.

The Queer Black Vegan Guide to Self-Care for People Who Might Not Be Queer or Black But Still Don’t Know What in the Entire Hell White Women Are Talking About

yoga
Fuck off, Meredith. I don’t have the spoons for your shit.

I’m coming off of a long weekend that required me to do a lot of work interacting with people. Much as I love what I do, I also suffer from social anxiety disorder (more on that in another post). Thing is, I get asked all the time what I do for self care, and I honestly have no idea what that even means. I mean, I have a vague concept of it. But from what I can glean between the pages of Cosmo and Prevention, it has a lot do with idyllic-looking slim white women doing mindful meditation, whispering affirmations, and practicing yoga. I think the last straw was reading a magazine article on self care in a doctor’s office that suggested wearing a funny hat at a jaunty angle all day or go to work wearing a plastic mustache and offer no explanation. That was pretty much the point at which I decided that although black people suffer from the types of emotional trauma that white people could not even conceive, this [thoroughly middle class] culture of self care is not for us. It is liable to get us fired from our jobs (as if underemployment doesn’t already disproportionately affect us) or get us killed. Mind you, I’m not here to hate on white lady self care. If going to the symphony and buying balloons is your lane, do it.

But here’s what I do for self care. And please disabuse yourself in advance of any notion whatsoever that what I do for self care is in the least bit healthy. In fact, these things are downright self destructive. Why? Because being black and queer is messy. Like everything about my fucking life. And not everything I do has to be designed to rehabilitate my soul or make me one with the universe. Most of the time, everything I do is about keeping the lights on for a few more weeks. This isn’t about my long-term health and well-being. It’s about my fucking survival and being able to make it the next five minutes without inconsolably sobbing. And when that five minutes is over, then we worry about the next five minutes. Because my life is divided into moments when I’m inconsolably sobbing and moments when I’m trying to disguise how puffy my eyes are from inconsolably sobbing. So here’s my tips:

  1. fuckboy
    I’m sure you think very highly of yourself, Joel from GRINDr. But today you’s a fuckboy.

    Fuck somebody bad for you. Do you have an ex that’s been trying to get in your panties? Let them. But if you set your life on fire and change cities as frequently as I do, then an ex might not be accessible. In which case, find somebody fuckable on the internet and arrange a casual hookup. Bottom line, just get the hell out there and throw yer goddamn cat at somebody you couldn’t care less about. Don’t try to be too cute. You won’t see this person again. Just wash out your bits and brush your teeth. Believe me, they’ll be doing the same. Is this going to solve all your problems? No. But if you’re anything like me, you spend about 90% of your time feeling like you’re not pretty enough or attractive enough or athletic enough. And it doesn’t matter how many times your friends tell you otherwise, you’re just NEVER GOING TO BELIEVE IT. This is about getting the validation that somebody thinks you’re good enough to bang. At least in this moment. Just use protection. The last thing you want or need is an STD. They’re annoying and expensive. And your broke ass does NOT have time to take off from work and go to the fucking clap clinic.

  1. Masturbate. Can’t find somebody to fuck you? Don’t have time to look? Already have a committed monogamous partner (in which case, lucky you!)? Fine. Take care of your goddamn self. You don’t even have to get your depressed ass out of bed for this one. Just handle your business and keep it moving. You just need to take the edge off. And half your nasty asses are doing it at work anyway.
  1. ramen
    Let’s be real. Statistics indicate that I am DEFINITELY going to have a stroke. The trajectory of my life is about minimizing the severity of it. Nothing more.

    Eat until you feel sick. Doctor Oz will probably ask you if you really NEED that seitanburger…or how will you FEEL after you eat all those Oreos…or maybe did that container of frosting REALLY make you happy. But that charlatan is not paying your ever-increasing pile of fucking bills. Are you concerned with the amount of palm oil in your processed foods? Yes. Does chocolate obtained as the product of West African child slaves concern you? Also yes. But are you in the middle of a full-blown emotional crisis and incapable of making ethical decisions about your consumption habits? Definitely yes. So it doesn’t matter in this moment what the long-term health consequences are of these ramen noodles. And you’re not in the mood to be shamed for not following a whole foods diet. You can solve the world’s problems tomorrow when you’re back in one of those non-inconsolable crying moments. Oreos and bacon Pringles are vegan. And today, that’s enough.

  1. Sleep. Yes, you are experiencing a wave of depression that is sapping your energy and making it impossible to move. Might as well use it to catch up on your rest because you otherwise work 75-hour weeks for what is never enough money.
  1. Be petty. Period.
  1. Say no…and nothing else. Because no is a complete fucking sentence and it’s not nobody’s goddamn business why you choose it. So no explanation is necessary and anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell.
  1. Be ignorant and belligerent. When you’re black, everyone thinks you’re angry anyway. Give them a reason. It’s not incumbent upon you to be poised and elegant and composed and professional all the time. Trust me. Your eloquence is wasted on people who are not looking for a rational explanation. Save your energy for the people who you can tell want and deserve loving education. You can see the pricks who are trying to be a pain in the ass from a mile away. So give them hell. You don’t have to respond with patience and understanding every time someone commits a racial or homophobic transgression against you. Sometimes the answer isn’t a link to a study or a detailed explanation to coolly explain why they’re wrong. Sometimes the answer is “Your fucking mother…that’s why.” And that’s okay. You deserve to have a bad day.
  1. Spend money you know goddamn well you don’t have. Is that $400 student loan payment due tomorrow? Yup. Do you have $400 to pay it? Nope. Do you have $20 to spend on this top that was probably made in a Chinese sweat shop? You do? Well look at gawd! Guess who just got themselves a new fucking top. Let’s face it. That $20 was not going to get that bill paid one way or the other. So you might as well be able to spend money on SOMETHING that makes you feel slightly less crummy in this shitty-ass capitalist society that is burning everything and everyone you love to dust.

Why are White Vegans SHOOK When You Talk About White Supremacy and Capitalism? (btw they should be)

IMG_6563
The animalization of blackness is nothing new. Authors Che Gossett and Aph Ko explore it in their respective works.

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:FullSizeRender (2)

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.”

300px-Ota_Benga_at_Bronx_Zoo
Showcasing the spoils of colonization in zoos is a leftover relic of imperialism; Ota Benga in the Bronx Zoo c. 1906.

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.

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Acts of genocide were committed against buffalo in order to starve out American Indians and further colonize the US in the mid-1870s; pictured above, two white men posed with thousands of buffalo skulls.

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?

Of Bullies and Butchers: Ethical Meat, Vegan Bullies, and the Humane Myth

How do you respond with words to someone who murders your loved ones, glorifies that killing, is praised as a hero, and then casts you as a bully when you push back against such a heinous act?

This is the question I have wrestled with for months: How does trying to stop the murder of innocents make you the bully, and the butcher the saint?

In November of 2016, Wild Abundance, a homesteading & permaculture “school” in Asheville, North Carolina held a class to teach people how to “humanely” kill and butcher a sheep. A counter-protest, organized by the Let Live Coalition and in which I participated, got derailed by outside threats that were made by anonymous, unaffiliated individuals (against organizers’ requests to be peaceful and respectful when asking Wild Abundance to cancel the class). In the end two young sheeps were killed and processed…in order to “honor” them.

“The animal will be tethered, and when all the students are here, we are going to pray. Then we are going to wait for the moment that feels right and take the animal’s life.” – Natalie Bogwalker, Wild Abundance

Natalie of Wild Abundance
Natalie of Wild Abundance “honoring” a sheep.

In the ensuing mayhem after the start of the peaceful campaign, heated online rhetoric resulted in the would-be butchers pivoting on the notion of their vulnerability in order to divert attention from the act(s) of needless murder and blame “vegans” (en masse?) for the true violence. Natalie Bogwalker, owner of Wild Abundance, was portrayed (in pictures and words) as an innocent new mother being bombarded by militant vegans, and Meredith Leigh, the original instructor (butcher) for the class, as a stalwart hero of “ethical” food, food security, and sustainability.

The threats against them are unfortunate and had no place in the peaceful protest/campaign. But as a vegan, I (and many others) found this erasure/obfuscation of the true victims–the non-human animals being killed and butchered–to be both familiar and offensive. As a vegan who rescues, lives with, and cares for farmed animals, I found such intentional human narcissism to be beyond disturbing and disgusting.

Ayelet: starved and parasite-ridden due to severe neglect by a farmer, her body was so fragile and her bones so brittle by the time we rescued her that she broke under the strain of living...
Ayelet: starved and parasite-ridden due to severe neglect by a farmer, her body was so fragile and her bones so brittle by the time we rescued her that she broke under the strain of living…

Let’s be clear about this: What we humans have done over thousands of years is create a situation, a system, in which domesticated animals are victims by design, from birth. In particular, “humane,” small-scale farmers and so-called “ethical butchers” (see photo below) play off of the public’s admittedly wishy-washy concerns about animal welfare by portraying their actions–birthing and raising animals for the sole purposes of using, killing, and eating their bodies–as the best possible life for these beings.

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From Meredith Leigh’s Instagram account, at the scene of a planned “ethical slaughter”; she later denied using the “ethical butcher” epithet for herself, possibly after realizing it is even more fucking ridiculous than “ethical meat”: see http://www.mereleighfood.com/blog/2016/11/14/vegan-bullying-and-the-new-world, paragraph 5.

“ETHICAL BUTCHERS” & THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL

Thus, If you’re a “humane” farmer, what you essentially do is create a relationship with individual animals, feed them, care for them, build trust with them…and then that “one bad day” happens, and you throw them to the ground, restrain them, and kill them. That bond is shattered, and these intelligent, feeling beings experience much more than just physical pain in this ultimate betrayal of their trust.

To many, this sort of scenario is not only acceptable but also ideal–it is the best possible life for beings who are dead, dismembered, and digested: That lamb is little more than a conglomeration of choice cuts and leftover bits, no matter how deeply a butcher professes to “love” him or her.

We always must remember that this fact means that humans always have the power, along with free reign to enact violence (of all kinds) on innocent bodies. The indelible reality of this power dynamic, which results in the killing of non-consenting individuals, also belies any notion of “ethical meat,” even if Meredith Leigh can write an entire book on the subject (which, it should be said, largely ignores actual discussions of ethics).

Beyond the act itself of killing, when humans pretend to be victims while slitting an innocent’s throat, we perform an act of erasure that perpetuates violence and murder by transferring human sympathies to another human, not the dying non-human animal. Period.

Yet this sort of claim to victimhood is not only possible but also preferable to our culture at large. Thus Meredith Leigh, self-proclaimed “ethical butcher,” can talk up her “vulnerability” as a butcher of bodies and launch a campaign (and a hashtag…) against “vegan bullying” in the face of strong resistance to her planned act of murder during that class.

“COMPONENTS”

Image credit: https://i0.wp.com/3x39fmt0aja34zifjfnu4695x.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/mere-w-newborn-lamb-1-e1464302032302.jpg
Image credit: http://3x39fmt0aja34zifjfnu4695x.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/mere-w-newborn-lamb-1-e1464302032302.jpg

We must be honest in seeing what Leigh sees when she looks at an individual non-human. Her language is deeply disturbing in how it positions living beings as already-dead bodies, “components,” not-yet-divided morsels of flesh, calling to her and her tools to be separated and consumed. To her, the murder of the individual is merely a momentary passage to what they always were…

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This way of seeing and representing individuals makes Leigh not an ethical butcher, but in reality a death fetishist. What drives someone who is supposedly in harmony with nature and its constituent life forms to so visibly relish the death and dismemberment of those under her dominion?

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A lamb is not a pair of legs in a field, and yet…

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A pig is not a blank slate upon which humans can perform meaningless acts of universal communication, and yet…

pig-writing

Her exertions to disembowel someone who did not want to die do not make her a hero, and they certainly do not make her a victim, and yet…

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These are all examples of performance art meant to gratify an ego and please an audience, a narcissistic act of consumption in itself, as needless and disturbing and offensive as the idea of an animal being murdered by a “loving” hand, which she (and I should say all “humane” farmers and butchers) so clearly wishes to cultivate.

Yet for Leigh, the human-non-human relationship is always about domination–albeit a form of domination cloaked in the vacuous rhetoric of love, compassion, connection, oneness, and “cycles of life”–i.e., euphemisms for senseless acts of subjugation and violence.

EAT YOUR PRIVILEGE

What Leigh and all other humane farmers and all their consumers do not, cannot, understand is that to truly honor a living being means respecting and nurturing them while they, like all of us, struggle to stay alive. It means becoming a family with them, not an oppressor towering over them with a boot on their throat. And then when they die, despite your best efforts to keep them well for their own sakes, it means dignifying their deaths and memorializing them in your heart, forever, as a memento to a loss that cannot be measured.

When you know the value of their lives as individuals, the mentality that sees them as “components” becomes pathological beyond words, and the betrayal lurking within the shadow of the Humane Myth becomes an unbearable offense to your very family.

Perhaps if Leigh spent as much time as I do caring for the victims of animal farmers, and simultaneously entertained the notion that they actually desire and deserve to live, she might rethink her convictions about “ethical” meat. Otherwise, as it stands she seems to be profiting in many ways as a butcher-for-hire who does not have to confront the devastating realities of love, loss, grief, and systemic violence–the ubiquitous bullying that is part of humanity’s oppressive traditions. I am sure that privilege makes her lamb chops taste much less like a dead toddler.

It must be a wonderful thing, this privilege to confront the moment of death in a position of absolute personal safety and dominance–not to be forced to experience the catastrophe of a loved one’s death, of bearing the weight of their dead body, of digging their grave and piling dirt upon them, and then of putting your heavy, heavy foot in front of the other as if your life has not just been utterly upended, forever.

I will never know what that privilege Leigh so clearly enjoys is like…but I would still rather have our sort of genuineness than ever to sink into the cozy consumption and weakly defended self-gratification of Leigh’s “ethical meat.”

 

Why A Canadian Judge’s Ruling About Dogs Is A Statement About Non-traditional Families

homeless
Sometimes the family you make yourself is the only family you’ve got. Allowing the state to dictate that is divisive and cruel. 

In an unusual Canadian divorce case, a Sasketoon judge ruled in late December that a couple’s dog custody dispute was a “wasteful” and “demeaning” use of court time.

I could write for hours critiquing this judge’s insensitive 15-page decision. But let’s just take a handful of quotes from the piece to explain why his decision demonstrates violent bigotry against non-traditional families[CW: speciesism, heterosexism, classism, ableism]:

  1. “In Canada, we tend not to purchase our children from breeders.”
    Actually, humans pay people for sperm, embryos, and uteruses all the time. Just because we call them fertility clinics and wrap up these costs into the services they provide doesn’t mean they do not serve the same purpose as breeders. And adoption costs a lot of money too. So a variety of circumstances occur in which we functionally purchase human children.
  2. “We tend not to breed our children with other humans to ensure good bloodlines, nor do we charge for such services.”
    We tend to do exactly that. It’s called the aristocracy. Also, per above, fertility clinic much???
  3. “When our children are seriously ill, we generally do not engage in an economic cost/benefit analysis to see whether the children are to receive medical treatment, receive nothing or even have their lives ended to prevent suffering.”
    Governments and corporations undertake a cost/benefit analysis every time they make legal changes pertaining to healthcare.
  4. “When our children act improperly, even seriously and violently so, we generally do not muzzle them or even put them to death for repeated transgressions.”
    Perhaps Canadians don’t physically place a muzzle on children, but child protection statistics contain a laundry list of abuses we subject children to in the name of discipline up to and including execution. Also muzzling humans as a form of torture and abuse is not without precedent in western society.
  5. “He said that should be obvious to all based on a bit of logical, dispassionate thought.”
    The notion that the United States’ neighbors to the north represent an inherently progressive population is becoming increasingly overblown. Why do ‘pale, stale males’ still imagine that their thoughts to be the product of logical, dispassionate discourse when they’re only a single limited perspective to consider?
  6. “Danyliuk said given dogs are property and not family, it would be absurd for him to make a ruling about visitation rights.”
    Cis white men have attempted to define what constitutes my family for far too long. Radical concepts of family have existed for centuries outside of what ‘the law’ narrowly calls a family. And this is the crux of why his circular logic presents an act of violence.
mother-cat
Mothers nursing children not belonging to them is often dismissed as a biological imperative unless you’re human (and even then, not always).

Mothers nursing children of different species is often dismissed as a biological imperative rather than an act of parenting. Only humans get the benefit of the doubt, and even then not all of us.

How many black families have been cobbled together with non-blood relatives? The lifelong friends we claim as cousins because we were raised together? The women we exalt as Auntie because they were always there to feed and clothe us absent a biological parent or guardian (or in collaboration with one because intergenerational poverty makes us responsible for one another) ?

How many queer families have adopted one another because we were rejected by bigoted parents and guardians? How many queer couples have been denied the right to execute their partner’s affairs? How many people are routinely denied medical care because they don’t meet the strict definition of a dependent in the healthcare industrial complex? Be they best friend, grandmother, or nephew. Are these intimate relationships invalid because the state deems them unworthy of protection?

jellybean
Mr.G [right suffered from severe depression until he was reunited with his companion Jellybean [left].
One could argue that the common denominator in all these circumstances is our humanity. But interspecies relationships are not uncommon, nor are they limited to humans. And by every meaningful metric, other species are persons. Judge Danyliuk would be wise to consider this evidence. And we would be wise to take note of how the establishment historically acted to diminish our individuality through the rule of law.

And for what it’s worth, none of the judge’s explanations for why animal companions should not be considered family are even valid reasons why we should be doing any of those things anyway, to humans or anyone else.

The bottom line is that we should be expanding our understanding of family, not restricting it.