Monday, July 1, 2013

Everyday Vegan Racism - Privileged White Men v.s. the "Radicals"

Warning:  This post contains offensive language and may not be safe for work.

The following quotes are from a personal correspondence with a white male colleague of mine.  I am keeping his identity anonymous, but the sentiments expressed here warrant discussion.  This person claims that racial background and low income are not excuses for rejecting veganism.  He argues that he was poor, so if he can do it, anyone can.  He also offers the alternative of growing your own food.  For people living in places with no food access, he says that's "their choice" to engage violence.  

Of course, these arguments normalize the white experience and downplay the reality of food deserts, environmental racism, racial segregation, and the crushing realities of poverty.  I am poor, too.  I grew up in extreme poverty.  Today, I make about $10,000 as a college instructor.  I know poverty.  I also know that my colleague and I still enjoy quite a bit of privilege in that we are white.  We are also not detached from ongoing racial discrimination and the negative consequences of colonization.  

Growing your own food, by the way, is a time-consuming endeavor.  It's an option that's often not available to people working one or two jobs, people who may not have access to personal transportation to buy supplies, a space to grow, childcare, etc.  Heck, I have a huge backyard and my own car, but even with these luxuries, it takes a long time and a lot of work to make food grow.  Of course, there's also the reality that some disadvantaged people are still without basic amenities and have no income or resources to speak of at all.  They're a little more concerned with keeping themselves and their children alive than they are with other oppressed persons like Nonhuman Animals.

That said, I'm going to deconstruct his message and highlight the various indicators of white privilege to flesh out the role of race and class:
On the race issue, [ . . . ] you [ . . . ] are implying that something I said is racist, or is at least ignorant of the racism in society, both not the case.  
You said that I "completely reject the reality of ongoing oppression for people of color," [ . . . ] that's bullshit!  To say any part of my essay fits that extreme ignorance, is fallacious and baseless.  I in no way reject the reality of this ongoing oppression, you are projecting ignorance on me that I definitely don't deserve, I am well fucking aware of oppression for people of color and speak out against it regularly, you're assumption is insulting and way off, you obviously don't know me well at all. 
Everyday vegan Racism Marker #1:  "I am not racist, how dare you call me racist?"

Anti-racist vegan criticism does not imply that individuals are racist, we are looking at institutional racism that is engaged when particular tactics are utilized.  Counterclaiming that the individual associated with that particularly racist campaign is not individually a racist deflects from the structural racism maintained in their approach.
Race is a fiction, hence why I said there is really only one "race", the human race.  Racism of course does exist, but it's not a confirmation that races actually exist, i.e. racism is ignorant discrimination/prejudice, and that ignorance includes a belief in physiological races
Everyday Vegan Racism Marker #2:  "I don't see race!  Race doesn't exist!"

True, race is fictitious, it is a social construction.  However, race is real in it's consequences.  To ignore differences is to diminish the experiences of people of color.

You also said:  "White vegans telling nonvegan POC how to behave is a manifestation of dominance, control, and colonization," and I'm sorry but I think that's bullshit.  I'm not trying to dominate or control or colonize anyone, I'm just telling them to leave the animals alone!  
Everyday Vegan Racism Marker #3:  "I'm not trying to control people of color, I'm just telling them what to do."
Your argument is like someone saying to an African-slavery abolitionist "You are trying to control and dominate the slave master! That's wrong!"  
Everyday Vegan Racism Marker #4:  "So, does that mean that oppressed people can't criticize their oppressors?"

Um, no, not exactly, because slave masters are privileged persons who oppress vulnerable populations, they can and should be critiqued. This is much different than a white person (given the history of racial oppression) judging people of color and telling them what to do.
To contest it's wrong to tell certain people that slavery and murder is wrong, but to tell others of a different skin color that it's okay, is absurd, it's ethically inconsistent & irrational, slavery and murder is always wrong, racism is actually irrelevant in this context.  
Everyday Vegan Racism Marker #5:  "Critiquing a racist tactic means you condone exploitation at the hands of people of color."

The claim that anti-racist vegan activists think it's okay that some animals suffer or that we're "moral relativists" is a straw man argument.  I do not ever condone animal exploitation.  My issue is with racist tactics, not the exploitation.  Change the racist tactics, it's quite simple.
I'm used to, but tired of, people misconstruing my words because I'm a "white" male; a lot of "radical" people won't really listen to what I have to say because of that, they see what they want to see, which is another racist/elitist white guy; facts, morality and rationality be damned.  
Racism goes both ways, so in your efforts to be free from the conditioning we receive in this patriarchal & white-supremacist social-system, be careful not to go so far in the other direction that you end up on the other side of the same coin.  
Everyday Vegan Racism Marker #6:  "Reverse racism!  Have pity on the poor silenced white male."

Last week, feminist-atheist Greta Christina posted a very poignant essay on the accusations of man-silencing in the skeptic community.  I think it applies very well to other anti-oppression discourses:
There is an important difference between saying, on the one hand, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, you’re dominating the conversation, please let other people talk,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, it’s impossible for you to listen while you’re still talking,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, the points you’re making have already been addressed a thousand times over, if you stop talking we’ll point you to the places where it’s been addressed,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, the things you’re saying are coming from a place of privilege that you’re obviously not aware of, if you’ll listen for a minute we’ll try to explain how,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, you’re doubling down on an indefensible position and are increasingly walking out on a limb that will be very difficult to walk back,” or even, “Please stop saying the particular things you’re saying, they’re harmful and demeaning and flat-out wrong, if you shut up for the next ten minutes we’ll explain why”… and saying, on the other hand, “Shut up permanently, you have nothing to contribute, we don’t want to hear anything you have to say about feminism, ever.” 
Feminist-Atheist activist Greta Christina
Oh, and by the way, racism does not go both ways.  We live in a white supremacy.  People of color are at a huge disadvantage and cannot engage structural racism against whites.
 As for abstaining from animal products being impossible in "food-desert" ghettos, certainly their access to fresh organic produce is much less, but should we then spell-out an exemption?  
Everyday Vegan Racism Marker #6:  White normativity.

Anti-racist vegan activists only ask that we recognize that people of color are disproportionately living in food deserts, face institutionalized barriers, and deal with extra challenges.  The white experience does encompass the experience of everyone.
So what then does this "awareness" actually translate to in words?  Should I apologize for being privileged in this society, and then I can talk about the reasons to go vegan?   
Vegan food activist and Southern cookbook author Bryant Terry
Everyday Vegan Racism Marker #7:  Ignorance of the abundant critical race work done in vegan discourse.

See the amazing work of Dr. Breeze Harper and Bryant Terry for starters.  Anthony Nocella has also written quite a bit on this topic.  Don't leave it up to others, do the work yourself.  Listen and learn.  People of color aren't looking for lip service, they're asking for accommodation.  They're looking for a recognition of a history of oppression and ongoing discrimination.  They're looking for action.  Of course, don't look to me to speak on everyone's behalf, do your research and read what others are saying.  People of color are telling this movement what they need, the information is out there.
I hope you can handle me calling bullshit as I see it [ . . . ]
Same to you.