Thursday, November 19, 2015

'It is Anything But': Sarah K. Woodcock Comments on Equality in Abolitionist Spaces

Dear colleagues,

I share this important letter that was today posted publicly on a social media page by my good friend Sarah K. Woodcock, founder of The Abolitionist Vegan Society (TAVS). This is the first time she has responded publicly to the racist microaggressions and harassment that the abolitionist movement has directed at her and other "intersectionalists" (a slur used by some abolitionists to describe abolitionist vegans who take a pro-intersectional approach) since the recent movement disruption documented on Vegan Trove (an anti-intersectional abolitionist platform that has been rejected by but still promotes Francione, a prominent abolitionist icon).

The concern over in-fighting and intra-movement violence in abolitionist spaces is nothing new. In Woodcock's case, she was forced to the center of this turmoil just over a year ago (TAVS has issued a public statement on the matter here and here). Woodcock and others have been upsetting the privilege and white-centrism of the abolitionist faction, only to be met with considerable hostility and limited support. Indeed, many white abolitionists remained silent on the matter of her victimization, or, worse, joined in it.

The message published here remains pertinent today as the pro-intersectional abolitionist community's commitment to nonviolence continues to encourage negative (and sometimes aggressive) responses from abolitionist leaders. I have omitted the names of those for whom the letter is specifically addressed, as the content of the letter actually speaks to a systemic issue. It is shared here with her permission.

[ . . . ] The abolitionist movement is racist and hostile to people of color. While it spouts off great ideas about being “against all forms of oppression,” its actions are not aligned with its words. It is *uncannily* similar to how nonvegans spout off great ideas about being “against animal cruelty” but live nonvegan. That is why I coined the term badgeally (Corey’s essay with examples, not just accusations here). The abolitionist movement is rampant with badgeallies.

And before you or anyone say this “This isn’t about race,” remember that saying that is a privilege only white people have. Please check your privilege.

Because society is systemically racist, the abolitionist movement replicates that system of inequality. White abolitionists have a responsibility to make the movement safe and inclusive for people of color. It is anything but. This is what Corey and I speak up about, and if you [...] and others have a problem with that, that should tell all of you something. I have been experiencing marginalization and microaggressions from white abolitionists since day 1 of my entering the movement. I have been and continue to be invisibilized, which is a classic racist tactic, by white abolitionists since day 1. In the beginning, when I na├»vely thought white abolitionists would be concerned about this because they claim to be “against racism,” I raised my concerns to several white abolitionists. I was met with denial, more marginalization, more microaggressions, and more invisibilization.

One of the greatest things that happened since I split with Francione & Co. was that I came to the harsh realization that the abolitionist movement is not actually against racism. Of course, it and everyone in it claims to be against racism. But people of color don’t have the privilege or luxury of not seeing the truth behind those claims.

As for reconciliation, it is just like the abolitionist/nonabolitionist movements. There are fundamental ethical issues at stake here. Just as the abolitionist movement cannot “reconcile” with the nonabolitionist movement because it would mean compromising on fundamental ethical issues, the anti-racist abolitionist movement cannot “reconcile” with the racist abolitionist movement because it would mean compromising on fundamental ethical issues. To me, as a person of color, denying the racism in the abolitionist movement is as unacceptable as denying the speciesism in the vegan movement. For those who want to learn more about the racism (as well as the other forms of oppression) in the abolitionist movement, I recommend checking out The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. Wrenn has written extensively on these topics.

That is one of the things that makes TAVS different from the rest of the abolitionist movement. We refuse to deny and be silent about the racism in the abolitionist movement. We are building a movement that is safe (or safer) for people of color.

Well, as I wrote in my recent post on the TAVS page, I rarely post about drama in the abolitionist vegan movement because my time and energy is better spent on building the movement I want, not having exchanges like this, so I will be turning off notifications now. Take care, everyone.


If you take anti-oppression seriously, it must extend beyond Nonhuman Animals to include all beings who are vulnerable to systemic violence. It's not only the just and moral approach; it simply makes good sense as a strategic matter.

Allies are requested to please show their support for Woodcock and The Abolitionist Vegan Society by getting involved with one or more of the many amazing ongoing non-violent, vegan, pro-intersectional campaigns that TAVS is currently running. Readers can join TAVS by visiting the website or link up by visiting TAVS on Facebook.