Brenda Sanders Joins the Striving with Systems Collaborator Crew

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All of us at Striving with Systems are overjoyed to announce that Brenda Sanders, a tireless vegan community activist in Baltimore City, Maryland, has joined us as a collaborator!

Brenda Sanders serves as Executive Director of Better Health, Better Life, a public health organization, and is Co-Director of Open the Cages Alliance, an animal advocacy organization in Baltimore, MD. Through Better Health, Better Life, Brenda runs the Eating for Life program, a series of free workshops aimed at teaching people in low-income communities how to prepare healthy vegan food. With Open the Cages Alliance, she co-organizes the Vegan Living Program, a six-week education program that teaches the basics of transitioning to the vegan lifestyle. Brenda is also co-creator of Vegan SoulFest, an annual festival that celebrates culture and the vegan lifestyle, and she’s a founding member of PEP Foods, a collective of food justice activists and business owners whose goal is to bring affordable vegan food to low-income communities in Baltimore City.

Is Veganism a Moral Baseline? Bigotry Wrapped in “New Welfarism” Accusations

By Christopher Sebastian McJetters

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Recently debates in animal rights circles have raised the question as to whether or not pro-intersectional vegan activists consider veganism to be a moral baseline. That’s a valid question. But in order to explore it, let’s imagine a few different scenarios.

Say you start a vegan organization that is dedicated to feeding the homeless exclusively vegan food. You start with noble intentions. But over time, the number of homeless people begins to increase and donations of vegan food become nonexistent. Local people want to help, but most local people aren’t vegan. Hence, they donate non-vegan food. Do you give the non-vegan food to the homeless people? Or do you throw it away? Do homeless people care that donated bread was made with eggs? Do homeless people even know what veganism is or why it’s important? Do they deserve to be further disenfranchised by a system that already persecutes both vulnerable humans and exploited animals?

Or imagine you run a dog rescue. A devastating economic emergency means you suddenly lack the financial resources to feed dozens (or hundreds) of hungry dogs in your care. But you are offered charitable donations of commercial dog food. Do you let your dogs starve? Send them to a kill shelter? Feed them what people donate although it compromises your values? Any of the above?

Or imagine you are a teenager who made the decision to go vegan. But your family doesn’t support you. Furthermore, you live in a low income situation where your primary source of nutrition comes from a school lunch mostly composed of animal products. Do you continue eating what you can until your circumstances change?

Sadly, you don’t have to imagine these examples. These real world situations are not rare isolated incidents. They’re happening right now. All the time.

Perhaps they’re not happening to you or me. But fortunately, we have the privilege to make decisions for ourselves that shelter us from realities that others routinely face in a disastrously non-vegan world.

For most of us reading this, veganism is indeed a moral baseline. And we have the capacity to live vegan every single day. But creating circumstances where veganism is accessible for others should be a part of our moral baseline too. And judging people for lacking similar emotional, physical, and financial resources reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how poverty and circumstance affect outcomes for communities who have a dramatically different context due to their lived experiences.

This is inherently classist and ableist. In fact, since the poverty which informs classism disproportionately impacts communities of color, it’s also indirectly racist. And for those of us who consider ourselves allies of such communities, that’s a hard truth to consider.

Just because we say we’re allies to underserved communities, doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes commit micro-aggressions against them. White people can have a superficial understanding that racism is wrong. But they can still unintentionally perpetuate a system that advantages whiteness. Likewise, men can understand that sexism hurts women. That doesn’t mean they suddenly stop enjoying male privilege in a society that rewards and validates toxic masculinity.

This is where intersectional justice comes in! Intersectional justice isn’t some “sect” of veganism. Framing it as such is reductive and overly simplistic. Intersectionality is an analytical approach that challenges the root causes of oppression through the lens of people who live daily with multiple intersecting oppressions…people who often lack the social, sexual, economic, and academic mobility of those who needlessly antagonize and harass them.

As such, pro-intersectional vegan activism compels us to think broadly. It requires us to seek solutions that make veganism possible for potential allies and remove obstacles that clutter the path to nonhuman and human liberation. Bearing this in mind, asking if veganism is a moral baseline is perhaps the wrong question. Such a question puts veganism into a very small box when it is so much more.

Veganism is a tool to mitigate our privilege in a human-centered society. Veganism is a context to decolonize black and brown bodies. Veganism is a radical socio-political statement that rejects violence. Veganism is a gift we give to our children who deserve clean water and fresh air. Specifically, veganism is living action!

In the words of Dr. Amie Breeze Harper, continuous veganism is part of your “who you are space.”

Vegan is not a title that we grant ourselves and wear forever more. Vegan is something that defines who we are every single time we look at a menu and every time we go to a retail store. Understood from this perspective, veganism becomes a verb, not a noun.

Regrettably, this also means that we sometimes make mistakes or compromised decisions that contribute to hierarchal oppression.

Concealing those occasions instead of candidly discussing them is a meaningful omission. But admitting those occasions empowers us to do better. Frank and open admission of your who you are space doesn’t negate your veganism. It reveals a courage of conviction to put yourself on public display with all the imperfections that make you a complete person. And misrepresenting such honesty in order to use it as a weapon in an unprovoked attack against allies is disingenuous, malicious, and abusive. Furthermore, encouraging others to treat moral baselines as dogma is the casus belli that results in precisely the bigotry and bullying that veganism is supposed to be against.

When intersectional veganism observes racist and sexist behaviors, it doesn’t diminish or reject the moral relevance of veganism. It just means that racism and sexism have no place in an inclusive movement. And when marginalized people express the pain and frustration that comes with a lifetime of erasure and abuse, it doesn’t mean they’re bigots.

The bottom line is that until we promote meaningful and significant justice that crosses between communities, veganism is just another single-issue campaign.

Aph’s Guide to the Revolutionary, Decolonizing Praxis of “Moving Over”

[This post was originally published at Aphro-ism]

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I was recently quoted in a Mic.com piece about white feminism. The fascination with the term “white feminism” has happened, in large part, because white folks are not regularly racialized. Racialization normally happens to people like me, so of course, white women are now trying to grapple with it. Since they have access to a global stage, all of us are unfortunately forced to talk about it as well. In the article, I said, “I don’t think we can make white mainstream feminism inclusive because it’s not designed to be inclusive…Our exclusion as women of color isn’t accidental. Diversity can’t help White feminism. [White feminists] just need to move over.”

In other words, in order for folks of color to move forward, we need privileged folks to move over.

I’ve come to a realization after being an activist for almost 10 years that white people are severely misguided when it comes to what their role is in social justice activism.

White people in the U.S. are obsessed with activism and how they fit into social justice movements. Whether it’s “checking their privileges” or “becoming more intersectional” (whatever that means), activism has almost become a sort of racial identity for white folks who, for generations, haven’t been able to articulate what it means to be white.

Since whiteness has pretty much been a vacuous space surrounded by a vast landscape of absence and emptiness, white folks all throughout history have tried to fill that void by stealing other cultures, stealing musical traditions and styles, stealing experiences, and now, even stealing theories and perspectives written by and for folks of color. I don’t know…maybe it makes them feel alive or something to constantly align themselves with struggles that they have, in large part, caused.

Though Gazi Kodzo was specifically talking about white women in this video, I think it’s safe to say that white people are the “xerox machines of the world.”

The obsession white folks have with intersectionality feels like a comedy movie mixed with a twilight zone episode where they don’t realize how they are centering themselves in movements that are specifically designed to de-center whiteness.

However, I suggest that one way they can help is by: moving over.

Now, moving over might seem dismissive and rude, but, I’m here to tell you that moving over as a white person is actually one of the most revolutionary things you can do today in a white supremacist patriarchy.

1.Stop Trying to Lead Movements That Are Designed to De-Center People Like You:

I love that Martin Luther King, Jr. quote where he says, “Silence is acquiescence”; however, I highly doubt he was saying that white activists should create a global stage to whine about how privileged they are. Sometimes, silence can be revolutionary, especially if you’re a white person who wants to learn about social justice.

The idea that white people can “check” their privileges is a colossal joke. Do I think white people (as an oppressive class) can change? Yes. Do I think they want to give up white supremacy as an oppressive system? Hell no.

Honestly, white people (yes white women, that includes you too) have pretty much ruined every single social justice movement because they want to be the leaders.

After white folks take over movements that aren’t designed for them, they enter into a space of confusion asking, “Why aren’t our movements intersectional or diverse?” They usually end up getting depressed and start bothering black and brown folks, asking us what they can do to be more “inclusive” meaning: how in the hell do I get some negroes up in my organization? How do I look like I give a shit about you and your struggles?

Liberal white people in activist spaces are basically “New Whites” to me. We’ve all heard of New Blacks, but what are New Whites?

Birth of the “New Whites”:

New Whites are basically the white people who have tattoos, probably play guitar or some “exotic” thing like a sitar, own a bike, have black friends, know the language of the movement, yet resemble oppressive white people of past generations because they want their voices to be louder than everyone else. They always want to create something or be the leader of “progressive” organizations, magazines, websites, etc. They do this under the guise of using their white privilege to bring attention to folks of color.

New Whites are kind of like the tripped-out, guitar-playing grandchildren of KKK members who are getting high on the sheets their families wore to burn black people in.

What’s horrible about the New Whites is that they seriously have no clue how they perpetuate white supremacy (they’re actually not all that invested in learning about it either) but they want to keep organizing and pointing out how “other” white people are fucking up.

As I always say, white folks with tattoos and a hipster aesthetic scare me more than white folks in white sheets. Sure, you might not want to lynch a black person, or light a cross in their front yard, but your willingness to carry on the torch of white supremacy through leadership, visibility, and power is just as threatening and destructive.

New Whites are folks who are not like their post-racial parents. They “see” race (not trying to be ableist here—trying to reference post-racial ‘color-blindness’), they might even be in relationships with people of color or have brown family members, they follow all the latest black blogs and they re-post work by people of color on their websites. They talk about people like Dr. Breeze Harper any chance they get (because that’s the only black vegan feminist they know).

New whites are post-post-racial. Get it? They love the idea of checking their privileges, and they would run in front of a bus to proclaim their love for intersectionality.

New Whites quote brown folks in their articles but have never grappled with why the brown folks they quote and associate themselves with always get less attention for their own activism.

New Whites assume their voices are the vehicles that are needed to make black and brown voices heard. They have “no clue” why they get so much attention for their activism or why people regard them as “experts” so they chalk it up to their creativity and brilliance.

Always be suspicious of someone who admits to not knowing much about a movement, but what’s to be the leader of it. #shady

2.Stop Trying to Build an Audience

I get it—sometimes you just want to create a website because you feel like your voice isn’t being heard, or that a perspective that you just thought of last night hasn’t been said at all in the movement. Never mind the fact that you’ve never checked to see if someone else has already said what you’re about to say. Never mind the fact that a person of color may have been writing about the same topic for years. They don’t count-right?

White people have a colonialist reflex to lead and to “fill in the gaps” when the gaps have already been filled by people of color they don’t even know exist.

Yeah…this happens all of the time. White folks create digital platforms or magazines that basically rely on perspectives and theories created by and for people of color. Then, they try to recruit brown people to write a guest article (of course it will be unpaid!) just to reassure themselves that they’re going in the right direction. “Okay, black people are participating…I must be doing something right!”

Moving over sounds super harsh and cruel, but when you think about it, it’s actually pretty revolutionary.

If you’re a white person and you’re THAT obsessed with intersectionality, then perhaps you should move over because there are probably 10 other people of color writing about it in better ways who aren’t getting the same attention you are, so you might actually be blocking the progress that you claim to be advocating for.

Your activism is meaningless if you don’t seriously grapple with the reality that your actual presence in the space is destructive.

If you’re trying to be a better social justice advocate, but you need a facebook following and tons of twitter fans in order to do the work, then you might need to see if your allegiance is to social justice, or to yourself.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t still write articles and engage people with your ideas. Just make sure that you’re not talking over folks of color, or getting attention for theories and thoughts that you know you didn’t create.

Make sure you’re not getting financial donations or grants for creating “intersectional” work if you’re a white person. Try to find a different way to make yourself useful. Maybe you can start raising money for some of your favorite activists of color because hell, it’s never too late for some reparations, and if we’re being honest, you’re getting money for essentially re-stating what people of color have been saying forever.

3.Stop Trying to Get Minoritized People to Join Your Organizations

I can’t tell you how many white people (in the past two weeks) have contacted me and asked me to join their organizations, or asked for a random statement of support from my skin color me, or asked me to write a guest post for their website for free.

When you ask a person of color to contribute anything that’s actually going to help your image of looking “diverse” or “progressive”, you’re centering yourself again. You see, power is insidious. You might not even know it’s happening, especially if you’re a New White. You might actually convince yourself that you only want to prop up and amplify these voices from people of color because they live in a world where they won’t be recognized for their brilliance.

However, if you want to prop up my voice but your name has to be attached, then you might need to sip on your white juice detox a little harder

Folks like me (you know, people of color) are pretty smart—it’s just that we live in a society where our voices will never get us the same amount of traction as a white person or man. Knowing this reality, I have no clue why you would ask me to join your space or ask me to contribute something on your site! It means that you should support my site, tell all of your fans and followers to support activists of color every chance you get, or, if you want to be really bold, delete your pages that are basically regurgitating everything brown people are saying.

Part of the reason why people aren’t checking out work created by ground-breaking activists of color is because they’re busy checking out your work simply because your whiteness marks you as an “expert.”

Moving over IS work because you will be confronting the colonized parts of yourself that want to lead the movements.

4.Reflect on why you might cringe when you think about not being in the activist spotlight:

This one is key. Oftentimes, when you’re colonized, you might not know that you’re acting within the interests of yourself and white supremacy. This is why a lot of minoritized folks will never trust privileged folks, no matter how close our friendships might be. If your automatic reflex is to lead, create social media platforms, and create organizations where you’re positioned at the top, you might have to ask yourself: does the activist community actually need my voice?

This is especially true for white women who can so easily pinpoint white male violence, but struggle in understanding how they too perpetuate violence. White women have inherited the label of “oppressed” simply because they’re women, but they don’t want to talk about the ways they have also inherited white privilege.

So, think really hard: does the community actually need your voice, or are there more minoritized people who are basically saying the same things as you who aren’t getting as much traction because they’re brown, and well, you’re white?

For example, you might be a white woman who experiences gender-based oppression. But, don’t women of color experience that too, in addition to racialized gender oppression? Do you really think you’re going to say something that she’s not going to cover? Mia McKenzie writes:

“Women of color feminisms being inherently more complex, and therefore more useful to feminist goals, means that when women of color fight patriarchy, in all the ways that we do, white women also benefit. White supremacy puts white women higher up on the ladder of privilege. So, whatever rights women of color get, white women get times a hundred.”

If, as a white woman, you really think you’re going to contribute a different perspective, cool. You should share it—but don’t do it because you want an audience or traction. Do it so that you’re actually contributing to the overall literature that’s already out there. If you find that you’re struggling to say something new, question why you feel a compulsion to even put anything out there!

You see, moving over as a privileged person actually makes the space a bit more safe and diverse, simply because you’ve left. You get how that works? You literally get out of the space and stop inserting your opinions.

The hardest part of activism is learning how you should act based upon your social location in the system.

Your activism has to match who you are—so, if you’re a part of the dominant group and you get benefits from the system, you might need to be an activist by learning to be quiet. Rather than checking your privileges loudly in a space, the real activism might be learning to take a back seat and checking your colonialist reflex to dominate every conversation. Conversely, if you’re a person of color and you’re used to being silent, part of your activism might be learning how to speak up and unapologetically claim space.

Get it?

Activism is hard because you sometimes have to do and say things that conflict with how you’ve been colonized to feel. Moving over as a white person is difficult because you’ve been colonized to want to lead the movement and recognizing THAT conflict within yourself is exactly where more white people’s activism should be.

Confronting your colonized self will help more people of color than leading our movements.

5.Imagine What Activist Spaces Would Look Like If More White People Moved Over:

Afropunk, For Harriet, Black Girl Dangerous, Crunk Feminist Collective, Aphro-ism, Sistah Vegan Project, Racialicious, Fusion, etc.

Have you noticed that some of the most ground-breaking work is done by folks of color?

If the “new whites” who claim to care so much about intersectionality, privilege, and oppression actually cared about these topics, they would do anything in their power to make sure that that oppressed folks get what they need. If we are asking you to move over, and you refuse to do that, you might need to question if you’re really invested in “the struggle.”

The reason why radical black and brown spaces are so powerful is because white folks aren’t bringing these spaces down. They are not centered. This means that they can still participate, but they are not leading the movement.

Minoritized people are actually able to engage in movement building because they can finally put the focus on the groups that need the help, rather than white folks. There’s nothing more privileged than being a member of a dominant group and taking up social justice space to understand how you are privileged.

So, instead of having to take time to answer questions like, “how can we make white spaces more inclusive?” we can actually make intersectional, diverse spaces with people of color.

While people of color certainly are not a monolith, and while we may disagree on multiple subjects, we are at least able to grapple with topics in a way that feels as though we’re speaking to one another—not just white folks.

The thing is, the mainstream will automatically be more diverse and intersectional when white people realize that they are stopping the progress, regardless of how radical or progressive they claim to be.

I’m concluding with a super powerful quote from an amazing essay on the Struggling To Be Heard Tumblr page:

“When you’re white saying your an intersectional feminist, you are wrong. you are the white boy singing sad songs to a blues twang claiming to be a Blues artist… it is erasure, it is warping, it is the continual narrative of whiteness as a dominant force, in opposing the creators and destroying the creators while then attempting to re-create those creations with whiteness firmly installed inside of it. which is false, warped, fake and without heart and soul. it is a lifeless imitation. and mostly, it isn’t REAL.”

Appropriation and Animal Rights: The Intersectional Activist

By Christopher-Sebastian McJetters

A very valid concern that arises among intersectional animal rights activists is how to be sensitive to the needs of multiple groups without dismissing or appropriating their struggles. How do we build communities by starting respectful dialogues that recognize analogous injustices? I don’t have all of the answers myself. Fortunately, I’ve spent many years being a poor ally so that you don’t have to!

Here are eight tips I learned about having discussions that draw provocative parallels:

1.) Do NOT compare two groups. Whether discussing sexism and racism or humans and animals, remember that you’re constructing similarities between LIKE SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION. Stay in the right conversation. Comparing two groups isn’t even useful, because marginalized communities have dramatically different needs. So stick to the structural issues that are similar, and let people grow their empathy based on their understanding of how they’ve been impacted by the same type of discrimination as someone else.

2.) Present the information, but don’t argue the case. Sharing information is distinctly different from pushing an agenda. If you present information that has a clear, direct message, it speaks for itself without you really having to do the heavy lifting. There’s a difference between presenting connections that link systems of oppression and appropriating one struggle to further the goals of another.

3.) Restrict your role to being the messenger. The best way to avoid appropriating a group’s struggle is to not do it at all. Really, you don’t need to; instead, amplify the voices of people from that marginalized community who are raising awareness about speciesism themselves. Preaching from a place of privilege about things you don’t understand is wrong. Instead, share what you learned from discussions started by people who have had those experiences. For example, I’m not a woman; but I frequently research the voices of vegan feminists who recognize why issues like female reproductive rights make speciesism a feminist issue.

4.) Listen to objections with an open mind. If someone from another group tells you that something hurts them, acknowledge them. If you’ve made a mistake, seek to understand why this discussion is painful for them. Listen.

5.) Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you share information. This is as much about you learning as it is about your audience learning. Get input from the communities involved. Hear them.

6.) Be authentic. It’s no secret that there are plenty of racists, homo antagonists, and sexist people in animal rights; but those agendas are obvious. For instance, many PETA campaigns clearly do not care about other marginalized communities because they employ fat shaming, sexism, and shockingly even speciesism to convey an ultimately incoherent message. Conversely, I see activists who discuss ALL oppression: police brutality against black and brown bodies, awareness of reproductive rights, eliminating homo antagonism, the need to call out racist slurs against Chinese communities. The sincere intersectional advocate is usually apparent—and if you’re an honest, authentic voice who speaks with conviction, it will be noticed.

7.)    Stay focused. Direct the discussion to concentrate on how speciesism (or whatever compared injustice) hurts the people in that community. The funny thing about oppression is that it hurts everyone. Speciesism disenfranchises people of color, women, the homeless, people with disabilities, and more! Remember, your goal isn’t to fetishize the people from that community or to objectify them. So don’t speak for them or make yourself a martyr on their behalf. Your goal is to help everyone involved–human and nonhuman. Identifying how speciesism further marginalizes both groups gives us an opportunity to elevate everyone.

8.)  Own mistakes. If you f*ck up, you f*ck up. We’ve all done it—and we’re all going to continue to do it. As much as I use my privilege to support women, I’m still a man who benefits from male privilege. As often as I speak up for people with disabilities, I still recognize that I regularly perpetuate ableism unconsciously. Just OWN it when you do. Accountability goes a long way to legitimizing your authenticity. Apologize. Learn from your mistake, and move on. You’re not perfect, and pretending to be will only get you into bigger trouble.

[Originally published on Direct Action Everywhere‘s blog, The Liberationist.]