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Transphobia and Heterosexism are not "Liberating" or "Cruelty-Free": On Veganism


CeCe McDonald                                      Source:

I have been pondering over how the mainstream media in the USA tends to focus on racially motivated violence enacted on cisgender-identified Black males… and how the injustice enacted upon Ce Ce McDonald and many other transgender people of color, do not garner the same type of outrage.

I do not wish to simplify matters, but I am rather disappointed (but not surprised since we live in a transgender-hating USA) by the amount of hate and disgust against LGBTQ people of color from hetero-normative Black folk who are simultaneously enraged about Martin’s murder. I have been trying to think about how to write about this for weeks. If you are not familiar with my work, my research and activism have focused on food, healing, and structural oppression as experienced by Black vegetarians and vegans in the USA and; how the [invisible] violence of neoliberal whiteness has ‘colonized’ mainstream vegan rhetoric coming from organizations like PETA. Simultaneously, I am also interested in understanding how veganism is used to ‘decolonize’ the Black USA community from legacies of colonialism. However, I can’t tell you how disturbing it is to realize that a majority of Afrocentric vegan/raw foods rhetoric is ensconced in heterosexist/hetero-normative/trans-phobic logic. Yet simultaneously, the same ‘liberating’ and ‘decolonizing’ canon has an outpouring of sympathy and understanding for Black [cisgender-identified hetero-normative] folk who collectively suffer under systemic anti-black racism and white supremacy in the USA.

For example, even though I appreciate the work of Queen Afua’s Sacred Woman, as it did help me to cure my fibroid tumors, her entire book makes the assumption that all Black identified women and girls are cisgender identified and heterosexual; that the most ‘sacred’ romantic union that I as a Black female can be in is with a man of African descent. This also automatically implies that transgender, as well as lesbian and bisexual women of African descent cannot be part of a new future ‘healthy’ Black nation. Such an exclusive Black nation, in Sacred Woman, can be achieved through proper vegan food preparation to feed one’s family and self. Let me clear: Afua never directly says she hates people who are not straight or not hetero-normative gender conforming; but the absence of including transgender and non-straight women of African descent says something very profound about what bodies, sexualities, and genders are normalized and can be nutritionally ‘cleansed’ and ‘purified’ towards a moral or correct type of healthy Black nation (see Harper 2013). An Afrocentric guru who has been direct about his disgust with non-straight and non-gender conforming Black people is Dr. Llaila Afrika. His work has advocated that a properly planned holistic vegan or raw diet can “cure” queer Black folks. His rationale is that “gender-confused” and/or non-straight people of African descent have impure gender and sexual behaviors due to consuming the white colonizer’s industrialized and carnicentric diet (Afrika 1994; 1998). This logic is dangerous, unmindful, and unloving. But of course the Afrocentric canon of holistic health is not a singular anomaly in the mindset in the USA; it’s a microcosm that simply reflects the moral fabric of an entire mainstream USA that may have progressed a little better in terms of understanding how racism impacts Black [cisgender identified] people, but are still in the dark ages in understanding how violent it is to teach us that hetero-normative gender binaries are ‘common sense’, ‘natural’, and ‘pure.’ After all, PETA’s vegan anti-fur campaign from a few years ago delivered an anti-transgender message, “Wearing fur is a drag”,. The campaign depicted a picture of a drag queen wearing fur. Why are we supposed to want to throw blood on her? Are we supposed to be disgusted by a person wearing fur? Or are we [cisgender identified people] supposed to ‘naturally’ be disgusted by a person wearing fur who is transgender-identified?

I have organized a web conference for September 14, 2013. It is called “Embodied and Critical Perspectives on Veganism by Black Women Vegans and Allies.” Many topics are covered. Not surprisingly, I could not find one person to submit a proposal about the anti-transgender and/or heterosexist rhetoric that undergirds the canon of mainstream veganism. I have extended the call for papers deadline to August 20, 2013. I don’t want to speak for a demographic of people that I am not (i.e. transgender identified), however, if I cannot find anyone to present on this dire matter, I will need to contextualize and speak about both Martin and Ce Ce McDonald’s tragedy: How do transphobic Afrocentric ‘food liberation’ rhetoric, as well as the realities of USA’s white supremacist value system, help to perpetuate the unjust outcome of McDonald and to leave her suffering as invisible and inconsequential to mainstream media? Why is her tragedy not garnering outrage for justice even by mainstream American sympathizers of injustice? Trayvon Martin should not distract us from thinking about racialized-sexualized-gendered, etc. forms of violence that take place on minorities within a minority (i.e. transgender people of color).  How can USA mainstream simultaneously acknowledge that racism not only affects the “ heterosexual Black cisgender identified males” but also sexual and gender minorities? How can we hold both Martin and McDonald in our hearts and consciousness and understand, as Dr. Grossman says,  “that the Unjust Murder of Trayvon Martin is a LGBT/Feminist/Human Rights Issue”?

Works Cited

Afrika, Llaila O. 1998. African holistic health. Rev. 6th ed. Brooklyn, NY: A&B Publishers Group.

 Afrika, Llaila O. 1994. Nutricide : the nutritional destruction of the Black race. 1st ed. Beauford, SC: L.O. Afrika.

 Harper, Amie Louise. 2013. Vegan Consciousness and the Commodity Chain: On the Neoliberal, Afrocentric, and Decolonial Politics of ‘Cruelty-Free’. Dissertation, Geography, University of California, Davis, Davis.

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