Intersectionality and Abolitionist Veganism; Part II

sunando-senI would like to dedicate this to Sunando Sen, who was killed two years ago on 27 Dec, 2012. Sen, a Hindu who had migrated to the US was pushed onto the tracks in front of a subway, by a Ms Erika Menendez who said “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate […] Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up” Sen had just opened his own copy-shop business after years of hard work and struggle. Sen was described by his roommate as a soft spoken man who liked to stay up late watching comedy shows and listening to music: “He was so nice, gentle and quiet… It’s broken my heart.” Sen was one of three Asian-American men to be killed in this way in NY city within a few months. Two other Queens men were also killed for “looking Muslim”. For more information


I originally intended to finish and publish this soon after Part I, but life intruded and finishing this got away from me. Corey Wrenn seems to have gone mostly offline, but I’ve edited this, and think there are still many relevant points. The issues Wrenn pushed, and the manner in which she pushed them, are still present online, and so much of this still applies.

 

I just want to start this by making absolutely clear that I think any ethical person who believes in ending oppression will oppose oppression everywhere. I absolutely oppose racism, sexism, heterosexism, economic oppression, and other forms of structural oppression. I also want to make clear that the commitment to oppose structural oppression comes from a fundamental opposition to exercises of power for self-aggrandisement, any exercise of power at another’s expense. I therefore also oppose personal, non-structural oppression, bullying, character assassination and demeaning others, knocking others down to try and make oneself “higher”.

Attacking the “Grumpy Old” “white” man.

In writing my first blog on intersectionality, I dealt generally with the issue of “intersectionality” and the way it is used in the online abolitionist vegan movement. In part, it was a response to the pillorying of “Grumpy Old Vegan” (GOV), by “Academic Abolitionist Vegan” Corey Wrenn. “Grumpy”, who is, I understand, an abolitionist advocate of Irish descent from the UK, has, for the last few months, been accused by Wrenn and her followers of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, seemingly for no reason other than because he is “white”, male, and doesn’t include “intersectionality” or posts about racism or sexism on his abolitionist page.

The attacks come in spite of the fact that he has, to my knowledge, made no racist or sexist remarks. His major “crime” seems to be that he focuses on veganism, and doesn’t raise human rights issues on his vegan page. This is not uncommon on abolitionist pages regardless of the gender or sex of the advocates, and regardless of whether they support or advocate for other issues elsewhere. Wrenn has posted her attacks, focusing mainly on Grumpy’s “white privilege” and the lack of “intersectionality” (and here I think she is misusing intersectionality), without defining what sort of “intersections” she sees as significant to vegan advocacy.

Looking at responses on the Facebook pages of Wrenn and The Abolitionist Vegan Society (TAVS), which recently has supported and repeated Wrenn’s statements, it seems others are also bothered by the personal attacks without (adequate) evidence or explanation, and the vaguery around which Wrenn uses “intersectionality” to beat people over the head without explaining what she means by it, or how it should, in her opinion, be implemented in vegan advocacy. Wrenn recently wrote a blog: Intersectionality is a Foundational Principle in Abolitionism and got this gushing response from Sarah Woodcock of TAVS.

TAVS intersectionality Fb post“NEW POST! Intersectionality is FOUNDATIONAL to abolitionism! Read on for the abolitionist smackdown on the “nonhumans first” approach that is creeping into our advocacy spaces:”

This is obviously aimed against those who don’t address “intersectional issues”. Note the aggressive and violent language, and the claim of ownership implied in “our advocacy spaces”. I don’t think by “our spaces” Woodcock is talking about TAVS and Wrenn’s pages. It seems she is claiming an ownership of abolitionist veganism, or speaking with the royal “we”.

Non-Human First?

I’m not sure what she means when Woodcock says the “nonhuman first” approach. I don’t believe failure to put human concerns first is identical to putting non-human concerns first, any more than failure to raise issues of ableism make one ableist. I would not say, or agree, that I put “nonhumans first”, but my abolitionist vegan advocacy is about non-humans (as it should be, as my feminist advocacy is about women). Veganism is about ending the oppression and violence we visit on our fellow animals. Part of that oppression is our anthropocentric view of the world, and part of the ending of that oppression is moving out of our anthropocentric position.

(Before I proceed, I’ll say I put “white” in quotes because it is an artificial concept that was used to divide the world between those with “one drop of black blood” and the “superior” race, both the rulers of the British Empire, and the poor cannon fodder they used in their conquests. Even Southern Europeans were deemed “dusky” or “swarthy”. I put “minorities” in quotes because frequently they are not. Women are, statistically the majority. The vast majority of humanity has black hair and dark eyes, and skin tones from tan to plum coloured.)

This should sound familiar, at least to Wrenn. The unconscious support of systemic racism embodied in “white privilege” is based on taking a “white-centric” perspective, in which “white” culture is defined as “normal”. Since “white culture” exists in conjunction with systemic oppression of various “minorities”, particularly ethnic or racial “minorities”, assumption of “white culture” as normative reinforces oppression. The assumption that “white” issues are central, also reinforces the notion that other (non-”white”) issues are therefore peripheral.

feedlotJust as “white-centrism” and taking “white” culture as normative is oppressive to victims of racism, anthropocentrism and taking human culture as normative leaves the issues of non-humans as peripheral, and reinforces the oppression of non-human animals. It is exactly the same principle, except that other animals really do have no-one to speak for them other than humans. This is not to lessen the difficulty human victims of oppression face in being heard. But humans other than infants are generally heard by someone somewhere, even if their voices are suppressed or ignored by those in power. Even under draconian regimes that attempt to silence ideas by force, communication occurs. Other animals literally cannot represent themselves or their case to us, under any condition.

When humans demand a voice in forums for other animals, it is exactly like white men demanding a chance to express their issues in a collective of women of colour. Relative to other animals, humans always have the dominant voice. Human concerns always trump those of non-humans. Even Gary Francione, in his approach to Abolitionist Veganism states that in situations of genuine conflict, human interests prevail over those of other animals. In his defence, he does limit that prioritising of human concerns to cases of genuine survival or direct conflict, and criticises the approach that says the survival of one human is worth more than that of a thousand other animals.

Actually, though, concern for non-human animals and concern for human victims of human oppression only come into conflict when advocates for human issues demand their issues must be considered in any forum advocating the end of exploitation of non-human animals. There is no need for such conflict. Just as “white” women, or “white” LGBTI people, need to learn they cannot dominate spaces where victims of racism come to speak, though sexism and oppression of LGBTI people is real, so humans need to learn that it is not right to try to dominate spaces where people advocate for other, non-human animals, just because humans also oppress other humans. There are a multitude of sites where human issues are considered. There are many voices raised against racism, sexism, and discrimination on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity.

Of course, just as it is valid for feminists of colour to raise feminist issues with men of colour when those men are oppressing those women, even in groups considering racism, so it is appropriate to raise issues of sexism (PeTa) or racism (Animals Australia) when animal advocates actually engage in racism or sexism.

Furthermore, just as race-based discrimination (closing meetings to “white” people) is not the same as racism (widespread systemic social oppression of a racial group), so discrimination against humans (limiting the demands that human issues be heard) is not the same as speciesism (the systemic oppression of all non-human animals based on species). Abolitionist vegans are not being speciesist when they don’t let those raising issues of human oppression hijack a vegan forum. Abolitionist vegan advocacy forums are “non-human animal space”.

cowHumans are indeed animals, but they are not victims of speciesism. There is a major difference between human and non-human animals. Non-human animals are treated as things. They are seen as objects, as resources, as means-to-a-(human)-end. Human issues are seen in terms of social justice and human rights. The best other animals get as a frame is generally “humane treatment” in the process of exploitation.

Humans using the rationale that “humans are animals, and therefore abolitionists wishing to end exploitation of animals must consider human oppression” is exactly like men using the rationale that “men are a sex, and therefore feminists wishing to end sexism must consider male oppression”. And of course, men do say this. And of course, women say, “this is different to the systemic social, legal and economic discrimination faced by women”. Not only that, but most of the “forms of social discrimination that affect men” are actually aspects of patriarchy, and hence a result of the oppression of women.

Is it odd when abolitionist advocates who find someone insisting abolitionists take up human issues say something similar?

The argument about feminism is invalid because the oppression in sexism is a systemic system that privileges men. The argument about veganism and speciesism is equally invalid because the oppression and exploitation of non-human animals is a systemic system that not only privileges humans over non-human animals, but which obliterates the interests of non-human animals.

One can recognise that parts of an oppressor class also face oppression, but the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy forms a barrier to considering the groups on opposite sides of that line as intersecting. Just as feminists wouldn’t give primary or special consideration to the oppression of groups of men in their feminist advocacy, vegans shouldn’t be expected to give humans special consideration in relation to vegan advocacy.

mother-sheep-and-her-lambI don’t put “non-humans first”. Veganism, and the principles of non-violence behind it, is central for me, though far from my only issue. As an ethical being, I oppose oppression as a form of harm, as a lack of justice. I see abolitionist veganism as opposing one of the most basic oppressions, and the most drastic, affecting trillions of other sentient beings. And it goes on almost unremarked, and it is accepted as normal by almost all of humanity, including all those oppressed groups. Socialist groups, feminist groups, groups countering racism, LGBTI advocates, anarchists, atheists, and so on are unlikely to ever consider other animals and veganism. The interests of other animals is likely always to come last, if they are not ignored completely.

Why doesn’t Wrenn’s “intersectionality” go the other way? Why doesn’t she attack feminist and racial justice groups for ignoring non-human animals, and attack them for their “human privilege”?

While engaging in my other issues; opposing planetary destruction, imperialism, transnational corporate and speculative capitalism, the economic and cultural colonisation of many nations, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, heterosexism, cisgenderism and binary gender assumptions, I find I can’t see how the situation for the oppressed in any of them create “special conditions” preventing people from becoming vegan. I don’t see how it prevents the change of mind, the seeing of other animals as beings. I don’t see how it prevents people from adopting a plant-based diet, or from stopping other uses of non-human animals. Intersectionality is about the way forms of oppression combine. I really do not see any intersectionality issues with veganism. I do not see how the issues of any of these groups “intersect” with veganism to create specific patterns of oppression of other animals not covered by veganism. I don’t see how veganism oppresses human groups. I don’t see how the oppression of these groups, oppression I oppose, makes my focus on non-human animals in vegan advocacy, and my desire to keep my focus on non-human animals in vegan forums, specially oppressive.

Abattoir-shot-300x283I see that regardless of the oppression of groups of humans, oppression of other animals continues unchanged, including by oppressed human groups. I don’t see that veganism, either making the decision not to harm other animals (to become vegan), or adopting a plant-based diet, is any harder for any group of people, except the desperately poor who may need to eat whatever they find, and the few remnant first peoples groups who live traditional lifestyles in deserts or the Arctic. I fail to see how veganism oppresses anyone at all, or where there are any special cases aside from those I just mentioned, the desperately poor, or tribal people living in areas where a plant-based diet is impossible.

Note, nothing stops feminists from raising issues of the race-based killing of a boy in Ferguson. Likewise, nothing stops any abolitionist vegan advocate from raising any human issue of oppression if they like. Some vegan pages do raise human issues, particularly Francione’s The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights, or the LiveVegan page. Both post on human issues, the latter very frequently. Vegans for Non-Violence is a page that specifically addresses human rights issues as well as abolitionist veganism. But both the The Abolitionist Approach and LiveVegan have stepped on attempts to hijack the page and declare human social justice issues as more central or more important than abolitionist veganism.

Absence of mention is not the same as opposition.

On the other hand, many vegan advocates focus only on vegan issues. Just as many advocates of other issues post only about their issue on their page. That does not make them racist or sexist, any more than Wrenn’s focus on race and sex makes her guilty of ableism, or means she has contempt for issues of global ecology. She does not mention the structural oppression of ex-colonial nations by agencies like the World Bank and IMF, which impose austerity programs upon them. She does not mention the fact that there are deliberate attempts to undermine the ability of ex-colonial nations to form unions that would demand a reasonable return for their raw materials. She does not mention the use of intellectual property to disenfranchise the researchers who create them, to claim ownership of natural products and traditional processes, and even to claim ownership of genes of first peoples. She does not mention wars of aggression committed by her own nation. There is a lot Wrenn does not mention. Afghanistan_war

Does her silence make her complicit in Imperialism? Is she therefore an imperialist and a nationalist, since she is silent although she has “US privilege”? Perhaps.

Should I assume she is an imperialist and nationalist, and castigate her for that? Since it hasn’t been proved, perhaps not.

A Foundational Principle?

In the light of the issues I’ve raised, it is interesting Wrenn begins her blog with an assertion: that intersectionality is a foundational principle in abolitionism. In examining this, we’ll start with G.L. Francione’s Six Principles of the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights. I’m assuming in making her assertion, Wrenn is using some authority other than her own, and I’m not sure what other authority she might rely on. The assumption is based on the fact that she doesn’t actually argue the case.

In Francione’s Six Principles, the only applicable principle is:

5. Just as we reject racism, sexism, ageism, and heterosexism, we reject speciesism. The species of a sentient being is no more reason to deny the protection of this basic right than race, sex, age, or sexual orientation is a reason to deny membership in the human moral community to other humans.

The primary problem with taking this as an endorsement of intersectionality-as-a-foundational-principle is that “just as” does not mean that the example following is intrinsic. It is a metaphor, or an analogy. It compares two different things, and points out the similarity. “Just as a fuel pump sends fuel through a pipe to the motor, the heart sends blood through the veins to the cells.” It is a form of comparison, not a claim to identity of two things. I used a lot of “just as” statements in explaining the parallels between abolitionist vegans denying human issues primacy or equal space, and the way feminists, or anti-racism groups do the same.

The rejection of racism, sexism, ageism, etc, are all rejections of otherising within humanity, of the division of us/other, and the use of that alienation to justify oppression. In rejection of speciesism, we similarly reject the us/other divide between humans and other animals as a justification of oppression of this group. There is nothing about intersectionality here. There is an implied acceptance of the commonality of an ethic for justice and inclusion, and a rejection of oppression. It implies that as ethical beings, we should reject all forms of oppressive discrimination. Elsewhere, Francione has said that the root of different forms of discrimination comes from the same place. But this doesn’t say we need to consider other forms of oppression in considering the oppression of speciesism. All it really says is that speciesism is like other forms of oppression. ….And it certainly says nothing about the way forms of oppression like racism and homophobia may intersect to create oppressions for gay men or lesbians of colour that go beyond those expected from taking racism and homophobia separately. And that intersection is what “intersectionality” is about.

Attack on abolitionist vegans as racist and sexist.

Wrenn says almost immediately that she won’t argue the case for the importance of intersectionality in her blog, that she’s done it elsewhere, and we can go find it. Instead, she looks at the prevalence of racial violence in the US, and accuses vegans of being made uncomfortable by confrontation with racism.

This is a broad generalisation, presented without evidence, and the truth-value of it in any specific case is suspect.

lampedusa

North Africans migrants in Lampedusa, Italy

I certainly am aware of racism as an issue, and its prevalence globally. I’m also fairly certain the headlines Wrenn speaks of are US ones, not those from other nations. Rather than look at the rise of racism as a function of mass migrations in response to war, international divisions of wealth between nations, and the fallout of collapse of socialist economies, she focuses on the shooting of African-Americans in the US. She seems to take it as irrational, ignorant, oppression, rather than looking at the role of the militarising of the police, and factors behind that. Her work is very US centric, very blinkered, and while she acknowledges other issues, woman and the African-American population seems to be her major focus.

After her assertion that racism makes vegans uncomfortable, and the implication that this leads to “unsavory and insensitive comments and essays”, she offers as evidence a post by Grumpy Old Vegan (GOV). He says,

Of course I recognise that speciesism and other forms of injustice are cut from the same moral cloth.

This part essentially paraphrases Principle 5 cited above from the Six Principles.

I also recognise that, ideally, the vegan movement should be truly inclusive and that necessarily involves considering both animal and human rights in our advocacy.

This actually goes beyond Principle 5, and supports the notion that an ethical being should also address other forms of injustice, something Francione has said and does on his page, though he hasn’t included this in his “Principles” except by implication.

I’d guess Wrenn’s objection is to the exceptions GOV makes, the “Buts”. These “buts” basically assert that while human issues are of concern, and should be supported, vegan advocacy focuses on the issue of speciesism, an issue that very few advocates for oppressed human groups mention, an issue to which very few oppressed groups (likely no oppressed groups) ever give consideration or support.

France-antiracism-march1

French anti-racism march

If Wrenn’s main focus is on advocacy for women and racial justice, I can understand that she would be disappointed with this response. I don’t see that it makes GOV a racist or a sexist any more than Wrenn is an ableist, a nationalist, an imperialist, or is binary-gender-centric (she mentions “cis-” and “trans-”, men and women, both binary dualisms, but I’ve never seen her include those who do not fit or who reject, binary gender categories). I’ve never seen her raise issues of the oppression of North Africans in France. Is that because they are Muslims, and she is Islamophobic? Perhaps. Perhaps that ties into her acceptance of the nationalism and imperialism that benefit her as a US citizen (US privilege). I’ve never seen her mention Islamophobia at all, in spite of the obvious anti-Muslim propaganda and demonising her nation engages in regularly, the wars of aggression the US engages in. Perhaps her silence means she supports that aggression and demonising. Perhaps her silence is a support.

Are those accusations against Wrenn fair?

Are they different in spirit or in principle to her accusations against GOV?

Advocacy and Focus

I’ve often worked with groups of people who are oppressed, or those who advocate for various issues. Mostly, advocates and activists focus on one issue, or a few issues, in their advocacy or activism, as Wrenn focuses on feminism, discrimination against African-Americans in the US, and Abolitionist veganism. As others limit their practical advocacy, so does Wrenn. It is, after all, impossible to adequately focus on everything. “Focus on everything” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

Trying to include everything in advocacy is not focus. It dilutes focus. However, it is not impossible to support many issues we do not, ourselves, focus on. I support a broad range of issues, and have focused on many over the years. Feminism is important to me. Socialism is important to me. Ending racial discrimination is important, and the situation of First Peoples (Indigenous Peoples) is also. International nation-based exploitation, social, cultural and economic colonisation are all important to me, along with international fair trade and labour-standard issues. I’ve been involved in the anti-war movement since the 60s. Ecology matters to me, and so do queer, gender, and sexual issues. I’ve never done much with disability issues, but I’m aware of them. I’m aware of many things I haven’t worked on personally. I bring them up when and how I can. But if I’m advocating for gender issues, or feminist issues, or to end abuses and forced austerity measures by the IMF, I focus on those (and related) issues. I don’t talk much about non-human animals at that time. When I focus on vegan advocacy, I do focus on non-human animals. I don’t find focus by anyone an issue or a problem, unless they, or their cause, is involved in explicit oppression of some other group. To be explicit, I may (or may not) have problems with someone’s cause, or their strategy, but don’t find it a problem that they focus on that cause, and that they don’t bring up, say, LGBTI rights in relation to it.

Wrenn ties focus on oppression of non-human animals in vegan advocacy with racism and sexism. The only reasons I can see in singling out those two issues, is that GOV is “white” and male, and these two issues are Wrenn’s interests, and “white” males her main target. She asserts, without evidence, that abolitionist vegans are uncomfortable with race issues. A generalisation about “white” people being uncomfortable with race is not evidence that vegans, even “white” vegans are uncomfortable. Some may be. Some may not be. There is no evidence, there is a possible explanation.

She raised the issue of “white privilege”, a true issue, and the oppression of normative discourse, giving it a sentence, a nod and a reference. But then she jumps to emotive straw-person arguments, putting words in the mouth of the generic “stupid cowering white liberal man”, implying that this puppet she created has similar views to GOV. Then she refers to D’Angelo on “white fragility” and Byer for more on privilege. But these are attacks on generalised “white people”. This is not evidence of such behaviour in GOV or others. Stereotyping and generalisation are not arguments for the specific, and are poor arguments even for the general case. This may apply to GOV. It may apply to other “white” vegans. It may not. It is likely to apply to some “white” vegan somewhere. But regarding GOV specifically, or “white” abolitionist vegans generally, the evidence for this particular proposition is out.

The attack on abolitionists who assert the need to focus on non-human animals neglects the fact that asserting that need does not mean ignoring the oppression of humans. Not listening when someone says “they agree that countering human oppression is important”, just because they also say they “think abolitionist veganism should primarily focus on non-human animals”, does not help. Characterising such people as uncaring of oppression, or as opposed to efforts to oppose human oppression is unfair and inaccurate.

The problem with Wrenn’s position is that she does not seek dialogue with people. She is adversarial, and demand for “intersectionality” becomes a weapon to accuse others of racism, sexism, and any other form of discrimination. She seems to have a personal axe to grind specifically with older “white” males, possibly explaining her attack on GOV. Her actions are divisive, and don’t actually promote either feminist goals, or anti-racist ones. Instead, she seems to enjoy putting people down, and attacking as racist and sexist any abolitionist vegan advocates who don’t agree with her notion of “intersectionality”. Her attacks often involve a knee-jerk automatic assumption that her opponents are white men, which has led to her to demeaning a transgender person of colour as white. The attacks, the smears, the twisting of words, the glee behind it has a certain familiarity. What we see on some of her pages effectively amounts to bullying and “mean-girl” gang behaviour.

Human Issues are Important

boyatgunpointIssues of human oppression are vitally important, and I’ve spent most of my life as an activist in relation to a number of causes, opposing oppression of various people, often not minorities but majority masses of people oppressed by minorities in power. The environment has also been a central issue for me, since destabilisation of the ecology, globally or locally, affects all living beings. These adverse affects, caused by uncaring anthropocentrism, short-term thinking, simply not considering our actions, or putting our immediate interests above those of all others, are already leading to a mass extinction, which in the near future will make human concerns irrelevant.

Zaatari-Refugee-CampThe greed, putting personal interest above the welfare of others, and the calculated cleverness in exploiting and appropriating the lives, desires, and needs of others is behind most of the human oppression on the planet, as well as the devastation of the natural world, animal and otherwise. It needs to be countered everywhere, and that needs to start in our own heart. Abolitionist veganism, the non-violent social movement to end the eating, wearing, of killing of non-human animals, or using them for entertainment or any other purpose, is an important step, a step beyond focus on our own species. And it is possible, because there is no need to exploit or kill our fellow animals.

We need to examine the consequences of all our actions, and look at how they affect others, including our relations to our fellow humans. We do need to fight oppression. That’s part of being an ethical being. We also need to pick our particular causes. We can personally oppose oppression generally, but we cannot personally advocate against all forms of oppression. Advocacy generally means learning deeply. It means putting a lot of energy into a cause. That means, unfortunately we will leave many causes for others to advocate. I don’t personally work on the plight of those who have been victims of torture. I know people who do. I try and understand and support their issues, but it is not an area I advocate for, and I know, and acknowledge, that there are many areas of that issue where I am ignorant. Again, there is a difference between support and advocacy.

While over my lifetime I’ve advocated for many issues: women in unions; sex workers; HIV+ve people; recipients of foreign aid; land rights; transgender people; climate change; public ownership of education, health, transportation, energy, communication and banking. I haven’t done so simultaneously. That doesn’t mean any of the issues are less important to me, even now. It just means that an advocate needs to focus their energy.

I don’t have a problem with advocates focussing. I do think it is wrong to ignore oppression of others. I do know that advocating for one social justice cause doesn’t mean a person is onside with all others, or even any others. I’ve seen plenty of proof to the contrary. I’ve known transsexual people who assert that transgender sex workers “give a bad name to mainstream transsexuals”. I’ve known racist or homophobic feminists and misogynist people of colour. Experience of oppression does not guarantee empathy for the oppressed. Bigotry and prejudice are common to humanity.

I do know that if we work for a cause, being effective means working with others who share that cause, if possible. If someone shows no sign of being racist, or sexist, or homophobic, I don’t assume they are, even if they are “white” or male, or straight. I don’t assume they are not, but I do see that if they have some prejudice, they are smart enough, and disciplined enough, not to show it. That helps. I don’t make “centrism” a deal-breaker. I can’t think of many straight people who are not heterocentric. All of society and their personal experience pushes them that way and reinforces it all the time.

There are not a lot of abolitionist vegans, and we live in a very speciesist world. Even most “AR (animal rights) people” are speciesist, as is clear from their campaigns for “humane” exploitation. Anthropocentrism is endemic, and there are a lot of people advocating around various human causes. The concerns of non-human animals not to be exploited is seen as ridiculous, trivial, and indulgent by most activists for human or environmental issues. So I really do not think it is wrong when, as abolitionist vegan advocates, the focus is on other animals, and stopping the exploitation, objectification and use of non-human animals. I really don’t believe that being focused silences any oppressed human. I really don’t think any oppressed human has the right to silence people advocating for non-human animals in order to promote their own agenda.

That said, I also really do believe it would be good for abolitionist vegans to address, at least occasionally, human issues. But we do so as people, not as “vegan advocates”. A commitment to end oppression as a general stance is something I believe comes from the same place in the heart that the commitment to end use of our fellow animals comes from.

The Silences that Bother Me

I do sometimes feel there are some issues of human oppression so large that I can’t understand how they are ignored. Most of those issues are ignored by some non-human-animal focused abolitionists, and by Wrenn and the TAVS promoters of “intersectionality”.

girlgazaThe genocide of Palestinians is one of those areas. The invasion of Iraq, of Afghanistan, of Syria is one of those issues. Over a million people, about 80% civilians, men, women, and children have been killed in these actions. Their homes have been invaded, destroyed. Their cities have been shattered. Millions have been displaced, living in refugee camps. The poor in the US have been gathered up as cannon fodder for these wars of aggression and colonisation. Poor people, disproportionately people of colour, have bought in, gaining short-term economic respite at the expense of other people’s lives, and the risk of their own. Those same poor people, after destroying homes, killing the old, the young, women, the innocent, go home where their government abandons them.

new york bus adsThe fomenting of fear, hatred and nationalism (“patriotism”) to feed this aggression is an issue for me. Islamophobia is the active oppression of our time. It is the oppression that currently serves the agendas of imperialist governments and global capital. Yet in mentioning racism, people ignore the current, and widely accepted form or racism, the attack on “middle-eastern-looking” people, on the basis that they “look Muslim”. This is an active, spreading, pernicious racism. And it feeds into racism of all sorts, and is used to justify the militarisation of police, and the erosion of civil liberties.

The issue of global capitalism, and the concentration of wealth and power allows corporations and the rich to drive for ever-increasing exploitation of people and the planet. It allows the IMF, World Bank and other such organisations to impose “austerity programs” on nations, generally poor nations. These programs mean the destruction of social infrastructure, education, health, and so on. These social support institutions are further eroded by the actions of the World Trade Organisation, which can impose sanctions on nations if they do not open their economies to global corporate interests, and the WTO generally deems any social democratic (public) support of society, including public health and education, as a “trade barrier”. They use their power to create economic colonies they can mine, exploiting people and the environment.

These are issues I’d like to see more abolitionist vegans reference, at very least, instead of ignoring them, and I include Wrenn, Woodcock and others when I say I’d like to see them stop ignoring these issues. They are issues that tie directly into racism. Racism is not an isolated attitude, it is spread because it profits some, allowing increased exploitation of some populations, while also allowing the powerful to use one exploited group against another. And don’t think for a moment that racism is only practised by “white” people against people of colour. Inter-racial racism occurs and is encouraged by the powerful. It is a tool that allows the improved exploitation of all groups. In this sense, “white” people, including groups that were formerly targets like southern Europeans, Irish, Scots, and so on, are just another exploited group where racism is used to help the powerful, encouraging one exploited group to exploit another. We need to look at the roots of racism, and not just it’s manifestations. We also need to see the roots of increased racism in war, refugees, national borders that lock in people while being permeable to corporate exploitation.

Bon-Appetit-in-Zermatt-600x330

Bon Appetit in Zermatt, Switzerland. One of the glitziest ski resorts in the world.

All people need to begin to act in solidarity to identify the actual benefactors of oppression. And elites today are no longer limited to the lords of the British Empire and their Anglo heirs in the US and elsewhere. Go to any elite resort and you will see Chinese, Arab, Indian, Latin, and African members of the global elite rubbing shoulders with the European and US rich and powerful. It is the possession of vast amounts of power, economic or military, that defines members of the global elite. It is not race. Race is a tool they use.

I’d love to see a little more of this mentioned. I’d love to see some climbing out of the mirror-box where we look at our own oppression, and start to see how it links into a global system. Personally, I’d like to see some targeting of actual oppressors, and a drive for revolution (non-violent, of course). A good start would be to educate people that this is going on. To educate people who think racism simply means “white people treat black people badly” to see that it is something bigger, and far more malign: that we are being used against each other, as a distraction, as tools. For the elite, poverty is useful. Racism is useful. It allows division and control. We must work together to end this.

That’s what I’d like. That’s not what I expect. Wherever anyone fights oppression, that is a gain. People fighting for an end to oppression in one area or another aren’t always free of participation in all forms of oppression, particularly the subtle ones, like acting as if “mainstream” normative positions apply to everyone without question. Many nice people, who aren’t mean or trying to make me or other queer people feel bad, still fall prey to heterocentrism. That makes me and other LGBTI people feel less visible, and is not good, but these people aren’t bigots, they are just unconscious. Their unconsciousness hurts me, but ignorance is not the same as prejudice. I (sometimes) try to educate, but don’t treat them like I would treat someone who is bigoted.

As to the abolitionist movement, I’ve yet to see anyone actually gain power through advocating abolitionist veganism. I’ve seen people who, as in every movement, want to the big wheel, and/or the centre of attention within the abolitionist circle. However, generally, advocating for other animals does not get a person much credit, or praise, and certainly does not give much money or power. Mostly, we abolitionists have people dumping on us, people from the unending stream of new welfarists, to the people who think sending, “Mmm, bacon!” is some sort of little triumph.

Abolitionist vegans advocate for the end of exploitation of non-human animals. That’s an admirable cause, regardless of what other causes a person does or does not advocate. Non-humans have no voice. I don’t mean their voices are silenced or ignored, I mean they have no voice at all. And the abolitionist movement is not made of “white” people. That is a terrible disrespect of all the people of colour who are also vegans, and abolitionists, some in their own way without theory or computers, but committed to the end of animal use just the same. I’d also say there are more women abolitionists than men.

We need to work together, if we are to pursue any cause. Inclusion, and inclusive practice comes from a fundamental attitude, and supports growth. Exclusion, bullying, attacks, foster power trips and egos. Constructive criticism is good, if it is constructive, but we cannot afford to attack each other, particularly unjustly.

Yes, it would be great for vegan advocates to also advocate for other issues, opposing other forms of human oppression. Certainly some, perhaps many, do, even if they don’t do it on their abolitionist page. Grumpy Old Vegan has said he opposes racism, sexism, and other forms of human oppression. Is it fair to attack him because he’s “white”, male, and doesn’t promote these issues on his “Grumpy Old Vegan” page? No-one covers all the issues, and without evidence to the contrary, we should take people’s words for what they support, oppose, or feel. From what I’ve seen, the GOV page seems to be a good abolitionist vegan page. The principles of abolitionism are presented clearly, and I don’t see contradictory posts. If there is not much about feminism there, well, there are many good feminist pages elsewhere (which don’t address non-human animals). But as an abolitionist, I feel GOV and I are working for similar goals, as are many other vegan pages, like Gentle World, My Face is On Fire, Vegan Whispers, LiveVegan, There’s an Elephant in the Room, International Vegan Association, Peaceful Prarie Sanctuary, Vegan Buddy: find answers about veganism here, Sentiocentrism, Alice Springs Vegan Society, Clare is Vegan, Peaceful Abolitionist, Vegan Trove, Unpopular Vegan Essays Archives. I’m not saying any of these represent my views, just that what I’ve seen seems to be consistent and abolitionist.

The Abolitionist Vegan Society (TAVS) was a fairly consistent abolitionist page until a few months ago. But I feel they’ve gone off the rails, and their attacks on other abolitionist vegans are unfortunate and seem to be the primary way they try to address human rights issues. I don’t think the abolitionist movement needs “attack sites”, especially when the attacks don’t relate to veganism at all, and the targets are other abolitionists.

Honestly, it’s hard enough promoting an end to exploiting non-human animals. We don’t need to attack one another and make our advocacy base smaller. All it does is stop communication, and make some people give up and go away. It reduces our efficacy and stops the spread of abolitionism. In many ways, attack sites do the work of entrenched power, those who own the feedlots, the stores, the ranches, the restaurants, the supermarkets, the ad companies. Animal industry may not be the cause of animal exploitation, the non-vegan public is, but animal industry are the ones that profit from our disunity. Back-biting and attacking one another primarily disadvantages all non-human animals. Secondly, it disadvantages the non-vegan public, as it makes our education campaigns less effective. Thirdly, we tax the spirit of one another, and life is hard enough.

Support those who have a clear abolitionist message. If you have other social change agendas, by all means pursue them, but not at the expense of other human rights advocates, and not at the expense of the abolitionist movement and the non-human animals it means to liberate.

Gaza-conflictcowafraid

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4 thoughts on “Intersectionality and Abolitionist Veganism; Part II

  1. Pingback: VT Podcast Ep 7: Intersectionality and Abolitionist Veganism | Vegan Trove

  2. Pingback: Vegan Trove Podcast Ep 7: Intersectionality and Abolitionist Veganism | Veganism is Nonviolence

  3. My view is simple. You say abolitionists speak for animals and need a clear space to do this, like feminists speaking about sexism and needing a space to do this without having to take on racism. You allow that if a participant in the feminist space makes a racist comment, then it is appropriate to call out. But what if the feminist space is predominantly white women? How can they help but see and speak from white privilege? Would it be wrong for woc feminists to point this out and ask the white feminists to check their privilege. Similarly, vegan and abolitionist spaces tend to be dominated by affluent whites – what is wrong with others asking for those privileges to be checked. You ask how does veganism oppress human groups? I say look at the vegans who are dominating any group or forum. If they tend to be, for example, white and privileged, ask how their subjectivity is framing the veganism being presented? Then ask if such framing may be oppressive to other groups? What is required is not for vegans or abolitionists to be taking about sexism, racism, etc all the time but to be open to checking their privilege and framing. Similarly, it is not necessary for Corey Wrenn to be talking about ableism and colonialism all the time, so long as she is open to checking her position as an abled (if she is) person and how she may be benefiting from colonialism. Vegans and abolitionists don’t become disembodied (removed from their subjectivity and consequently objective) when they speak for animals, they are still whatever they are as humans. And furthermore, they don’t got removed from speaking as a human-animal, they don’t speak perfectly objectively, they “speak for” animals according to their human lights.

    • Leone,

      I have no problem at all with the idea of someone pointing it out if veganism is being framed in ways that exclude people. If feminists talk about “glass ceilings” and the lack of female academic staff in a university, particularly if over half the people who get degrees are women, then it is completely appropriate to point out that for many women of colour, the issue is not these high-end positions. The issue is basic wage justice, and it overlooks the exploitation of poor women in factories, piece-work clothing production, and so on. That’s a useful and pertinent critique. I would have issues with someone simply saying “check your privilege” without pointing out the consequences of that privilege. A bunch of white people feeling bad doesn’t change things. A bunch of white people having the consequences of their privilege pointed out may.

      I hope I made clear that I believe vegan advocates should also work on human rights issues. I’m not sure that needs to happen at the expense of addressing issues of abolition of the use of animals. When I wrote this, I was trying to address a whole lot of shaming, and non-specific charges of racism, aimed at abolitionist advocates by a certain white academic, Corey Wrenn. I’m also trying to say that if there are ways we are addressing animal issues that work against certain groups of people, that should be addressed, but the emphasis in vegan education needs to be on veganism, because that always seems to be the cause that comes last.

      I watched some of Breeze Harper’s videos, and in one she was talking about the presentation of veganism in Veg News and popular media. Well, there is certainly an issue if vegans are presented as attractive, young, thin white people, as they often are in lifestyle, health, and popular media. If vegans are presented as basically well-off fashion-conscious “lifestyle” consumers, that’s certainly racist. It is also detrimental to the core ideas of veganism, and often presents people who are not actually vegan as vegan. On the other hand, most abolitionist advocates don’t show pictures of people at all. The emphasis is almost entirely on the animals, on justice, and not on consumption or products. In that situation, I don’t see it as racist. I don’t see introducing posts on police killings of black people, or on mass incarcerations, or on trans bathroom issues as “intersectional”. Those are real issues, and I often post stuff about them, but elsewhere. In part, that is an artefact of the way some social media (e.g. Facebook) controls reach. If one posts on certain issues, Yemen, Palestine, US neo-imperialism in South America, Native American resistance to pipelines, Black Lives Matter, then reach declines severely. That’s a reason to keep issues separate. There’s little point in advocating when no-one will see something.

      When the person posting vegan advocacy is not presenting themselves or other people, where the issue is the fact that we should not use animals, and no mention is made of products, I don’t see how “framing” is a factor. Animal use is wrong. That’s not a statement that involves race, class, gender or sexuality. Unless you are saying animal use by X race, or gender, or class is less wrong than for others. If you see the issue as biased, you need to specify the bias. Simply saying “you’re all white” doesn’t make that true (and negates the contributions of non-Anglo people), nor does it show how it introduces bias even if it were true. You mention Wrenn does not need to mention other causes, as long as she “checks her privilege”. How would anyone know? How does she know whether “white” people have “checked their privilege”? You cannot say one white person doesn’t do it, simply because they are white, but another white person doesn’t, simply because you are a friend. If there is an issue, it needs to be identified. “Privilege” works through some action or inaction, not in a vacuum.

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