Response to VegNews Race and Class Privilege Article, "We the People"
For those of you following my Sistah Vegan work around critical race, black feminisms, and food studies, VegNews June 2010 issue has an article called “We The People” that looks at race and class issues in the vegan movement. I was interviewed for it and feel strongly that I have to clarify much.
Now, I am glad VegNews is writing about race and class privilege, so kudos for them for writing about a topic that makes white class privileged people collectively uncomfortable, if not often annoyed to think about intersections of privilege and vegan praxes. Eric Prescott was interviewed in this article, which is cool. 1.5 years ago, after he unknowingly used what was perceived as colonialist white male logical ‘language’ on Vegans of Color, I compassionately explained to him the following: he may be unaware of his white male privileged consciousness and that his words are a reflection of this and can be very upsetting to many VOCs who have negative experiences with such tone and language. I then sent him a reading list on whiteness that he read and then got back to me about. It is pleasing to see that Prescott was one of those white vegans with race, gender and class privilege to compassionately open his heart to educating himself about his own privileged consciousness, but, I need to respond to and point out a few things on “We the People” that immediately caught my attention…
(1) First, I am just wondering why VegNews didn’t send me a copy of the article before publishing it because I already see how my words were misinterpreted. I am just wondering if this misinterpretation of my work occurred because the person who was hired to write it, openly admitted to me that he has privilege on every level and never thought about race issues in veganism UNTIL he was assigned to write about it.
(2)CORRECTION: In the interview, I never said black vegans have completely different values than white vegans. I said that a collective black racialized consciousness has created different reasons to become vegan that usually don’t reflect animals rights as the FIRST impetus to go vegan. Collectively, a significant number of black folk’s reasons stem from fighting against legacies of racialized colonialism such as health disparities, environmental racism, nutritional racism, etc. Many black folk also enter veganism as a way to decolonize their bodies and minds from such legacies and use it as a tool of anti-racism. But yes, many are also involved or eventually become involved with animal rights. But the CLEAR distinction is that black folk collectively are COLOR and RACE conscious within the movement while WHITE folk vegans collectively are ‘post-racial’ and ignorant that their consciousness is even racialized and that racialization DIRECTLY affects how they engage in and even think about vegan, food justice, animal rights activism, etc.
(3) I am wondering if it would have made more sense to hire someone who has specialty in critical race studies to have written this? I am thinking that by default, by hiring this particular person to write about race and class privilege, it is appealing to a default audience of white class privileged vegans who may have been less receptive if the article had not been written by “your average white middle class straight vegan male”. I am disappointed that I see that same patterns, over and over again: that is, broaching the subject of race and class privilege by using a racial classed privileged person because often, using say a Chicana feminist vegan scholar may come off, “Angry irrational woman of color making the status quo feel ‘bad.'”
(4) And interesting that the author of the article asks, is it race or class or both that are a issues in veganism? Call me crazy, but race and class are not SEPARATE. I am thinking, once again, these are the limitations of assigning this article to be written by someone who does not have a visceral experience and academic background in critical theories around the intersections of race, class, gender privilege studies.
(5) CORRECTION: the Sistah Vegan project is not about ‘able-bodiedness’. It is about looking at issues addressing oppression around sex, race, class, sexual orientation, gender and ableism. The way it was written, it sounded like I was promoting ableism.
In three days I am off to Orland, CA to the annual “hoe down” event at Farm Sanctuary. I was officially invited to speak about why animal rights/veg movement is ‘so white’. The talk will be called “A Compassionate Talk about Whiteness in Veganism.” I will be recording the event on my camcorder and posting it to my blog after the event takes place. I am now anxious about how my words will be received.