052 Dear White Vegans: Stop It

To kick off the new year, Callie and Nichole talk about veganism’s race problem – tackling this issue as two white people talking to other white people about why this is so harmful to the movement and how to help correct this problem.

In This Episode

After seeing countless Facebook posts where some vegans are trying to address the race problem that veganism has and seeing so many white people jumping in to claim that there is no problem, or that they’re entitled to use slavery as a comparison tool to get people to go vegan, or that they don’t like the exact wording or tone of the message, Nichole and Callie felt compelled to step in and take a stance as two white people who want to tell other white people to just stop it already.

Veganism is seen, by many, as a white thing. That is our (white people’s) fault. When we shut down voices in our community, we perpetuate the idea that veganism is only a safe space for those who look like us or those who are willing to remain silent while the rest of us do whatever the fuck we want. This is not ok. This movement needs everyone and, more importantly, this movement should be built on compassion and equality, not exclusion and maintenance of privilege. Don’t believe us? Read this article on Aphro-ism that shows what happens when someone tries to publish a list of black vegans. Spoiler alert: it ain’t good.

It’s uncomfortable to confront your privilege, of course. But our discomfort is so insignificant compared to the contributions to the movement that are being made, and overlooked, by people of color. People all over the world, from all walks of life, are a part of veganism and it is high time that they are equally represented and that their voices are not just heard, but valued.

The best way to help break this cycle of vegan white-washing is to expose yourself to vegans who look different from you and for fuck’s sake LISTEN TO THEM. Just listen. Absorb the message, don’t fight it. Don’t go on vegans of color’s pages or blogs and argue with them, don’t share their articles in your white vegan groups and pick apart why they’re wrong or not worded to your liking. Let go of your ego and see that embracing everyone and modifying your behavior will ultimately lead you to a happier life, deeper connections with your fellow vegans, and a movement that we can be proud of.

Usually we put links down below, but these three articles are extremely important to this topic:

Please read these, internalize the messages, and look inside yourselves to see ways in which you might be upholding “white veganism” and how you can work to change that. It’s not easy, but it is so necessary.

Also, please know that we are two white women with full-time corporate jobs who are working hard to constantly educate ourselves and become better allies. We may have said some things wrong here, and there are a million articles and people we probably should’ve referenced (or read!) that we don’t even know about. We struggle daily with whether we should not say anything until we’re fully educated (which could take years given that all our learning is on the fly in between our jobs and lives and recording) or try to speak up now. We still don’t know the right answer. We tried to speak carefully and our hearts were 100% in it. We are very open to hearing from you all anything that we might’ve missed or been amiss on. We know we don’t know everything, and we know we’re still probably operating under some privileged beliefs without even being aware of it. We’re here, ready to grow, and we’re listening.

We would love to hear from all of you on this topic, especially if you have other great articles to share or media by vegans of color to recommend!

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17 comments

  • I’d also like to mention that vegan guru Gary Francione recently used a rape analogy in the service of fat shaming. As in, oh, you ‘fat’ people who think you should have the right to overeat without anyone commenting on your bodies (because naturally, size always is a result of eating habits, right?), what’s next, rapists saying they should have the right to commit rape without being shamed for it?’

    • Ugh, that is so upsetting. The two Gary’s (Francione and Yourofsky) are so problematic for the vegan movement. The fact that he feels bodies are public domain is so unsettling. Very good point, thank you for sharing!

      • Yeah…I could go on and on about the EXTREME racism and misogyny of Gary Yourofsky, and the more subtle but no less pernicious issues with Gary Francione. And yes, so much of it stems from the idea, that bodies (and minds, and words, and cultures, and struggles) are public property, which is divinely ironic in a movement that prides itself on the premise that all beings should be free from exploitation.

  • Sorry, I just realized I posted that on the wrong link! It was meant for the essay on rape analogies in the vegan movement.I did NOT intend to derail from the vitally important discussion on racism in the vegan/animal rights movement!!!

  • As a black vegan animal rights activist, I must say I disgaree with almost everything you said today on your current podcast. I see nothing wrong with comparing human suffering with animal suffering as people of all races have been made (and are still being made) slaves. I personally do not teach people in that way, as I take a more “positive” approach, but each person has their own way of animal activism.

    Also, if your life is lead by trying not to offend anyone, you will probably get to the point where you can’t say anything at all, including ANY type of animal rights talk. Just saying you are vegan, you don’t eat meat, or you are an animal rights person offends many people, and you know that from activism.

    Also, I have been in several animal rights groups and personally, I have felt no racism, but have seen quite a lot of “white guilt”. To me, the term, “white privilege” is racist as it sounds like white people are on this upper-class pedestal with all rights because of their color and everyone else is on a lower-class level. We all have privileges–whether it’s different races, genders, or ages (how dare there be “senior citizens discounts”! I’m being facetious). I think it’s wrong to single out any group as if they are the only ones with privileges.

    Maybe it’s human nature but it seems people have this need to be extreme. Either we are these stereotypical super right-wing, conservative people who don’t care about other peoples’ feelings, or we are these stereotypical super left-wing, bleeding heart liberals who are uber-sensitive about everything and many full of guilt becuase of how they were born. Both views are nonsensical.

    There have been times where I felt there was racism toward me but under close observation, I found that the people who I thought are racist, treated people of their own race the same way they treated me, so they were just rude idiots that had nothing to do with race. Also, my husband, who is white, has come home telling me occasionally how he gets treated from other white people in markets, stores, etc. It’s was just plain rudeness, not racism. So you need to be careful and not constantly throw out the racist card every time a white person treats a black person rudely; it could very well be racism–yes, but many times, it is not.

    And believe me, there is A LOT of black in-fighting within the black community. For instance if blacks talk a certain proper way, many blacks say they are acting white, so it goes WAY beyond the ridiculousness of people saying veganism is a white thing.

    I think in some ways, ironically this podcast is racist for sounding like, believeing that white people are superior than other races (because of having all the privilege, you seem to feel) but you feel guilty about that as you pity other races because we are these poor inferiors who need your protetcion and a need to have guilty white people speaking up for us. This is of course wrong, I know you don’t mean that, but it does come off sounding that way, in my opinion.

    So the bottom line is do what you feel is best and stop worrying about offending others. You, me, EVERYONE will always offend others by what we say, do, dress, etc. Deal with it. Screw them and just be honest with yourself and others. Plus, there are many issues within the animal rights movmement that is holding us back that needs our attention NOW….

  • This was an interesting podcast. I initially felt good about it, and now I’m starting to feel a little funny. It seems there is a disconnect between what people seem to understand as “racism”, e.g. the behaviour of villianous slave owners/townsfolk in any given 1800s period piece, which for the most part (except in certain people in certain areas) people feel is over and done with. However, there is still a systemic problem, which is the subtler of the two, that (white) people seem to miss as an actual problem (e.g. I have an easier time getting my paper into the wastebasket than you”.). Unfortunately it seems that these two concepts of racism become conflated in a discussion, without the parties involved agreeing upon the concept or definition they will be discussing, and perhaps that is why people constantly argue about whether there is problem or not.

    And I can certainly understand why some people may feel irritated that they don’t get their say, just because they are white, but it is incomprehensible to me that those same people don’t get that: that’s exactly the problem for other people, but to a greater extent. You, as an individual, are told to shut up because you are “x”, when you may not even think of yourself as “x” but as just you, and you want to have your say. However, people who are massively represented (i.e. white people in North American culture) have an easier time seeing themselves and their views represented, and it’s easy to not realize that others aren’t, when you’re so used to seeing “you”; in the same way those paper-throwers in the first row didn’t even think about the back row’s chances. Especially if your actual life experience is such that the lack of diversity on “Friends”, for example, reflects your life perfectly, through no fault of your own (i.e. it’s hard to make diverse friends, when they don’t live in your town).

    You don’t not get to say anything because you’re white (i.e. shut up and listen), but because you’ve already had more than enough exposure to ‘your stuff’ (as have non-white people) due to being so massively represented, you could stand to learn something you haven’t been exposed to and by so learning, start realizing what is not seen in the media, in politics, in academia, in “Friends”. So don’t shut up because you’re white, shut up because it’s time to learn about what you haven’t seen, whether you’re white or not. Black people could stand to learn about First Nations people who could stand to learn about South Asian people and so forth. Then we might have a chance at seeing what we couldn’t before.

    • I appreciate you coming here to talk through your feelings about this episode with us.

      From what I can understand of what you’re saying, it seems what is making you most uncomfortable is the “white people should shut up” part?

      To that, I think a lot of people misunderstand what that means. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have any voice in any of this. It just means if someone is telling you their experience, shut up and listen. Don’t argue with them, tell them they are wrong, jump in with your own stories or experiences, no matter how valid they may seem. When someone is trying to talk about something that they experience, something they see as a problem, the tendency of the privileged group (whoever it may be in that situation) is to tell the member of the underprivileged group that they are wrong or that they experience similar things, thus undermining the conversation and stopping it in it’s tracks.

      Of course we can all learn from each other and we should! But, there’s a time and a place. In the midst of someone trying to explain what they’re struggling with is not one of them.

      A perfect is example is the #blacklivesmatter getting highjacked by different groups into #alllivesmatter. All lives DO matter, but the Black Lives Matter movement was to address something that was painful and urgent in the community at that time. It was not an appropriate time to try to bring light to other groups.

      I hope that makes sense to what you were saying. Please let me know if it does not, or if you have additional thoughts on the matter. Thank you again for leaving a comment!

      -Nichole

      • I can definitely agree to that. It doesn’t make sense to do that to anyone about any kind of experience someone is having, particularly when they are being vulnerable in talking about what they are struggling with.

        There was also a really interesting (to me) point that was made in the “Blue eyes/Brown eyes” video that featured teacher Jane Elliot running through a simulation scenario with high school age students. One of the blue eye students gets so frustrated with being treated as second class that she leaves and then later comes back. Ms. Elliot is having none of it though, until she apologizes for leaving. She says (and I’m paraphrasing here) says ‘You exercised a freedom these people don’t have. You, as a white female, can leave this room and it’s over, whereas, they can leave this room and it’s not an exercise that is over for them at the end of this class.’ The student leaves permanently in the end because she just can’t deal with it at that point. I had never really thought about it that way until I came across that, but it can be difficult to just listen, even if you think you are being unfairly blamed for something you’re not personally doing (which is how this student feels) but of which you are a part. The student certainly showed how difficult it can be to just shut up, especially when you think you’re right. And there’s also a great TED talk by Kathryn Schulz on being wrong, where she makes the point that being wrong (before you know you’re wrong) feels a lot like being right.

        http://www.upworthy.com/i-never-thought-id-want-to-high-five-a-teacher-for-yelling-at-a-student-but-i-was-wrong
        (Jane Elliot video)

        https://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong?language=en
        (TED talk Kathryn Schulz)

  • I invite you to discuss this as a joint podcast
    S k y p e – username: theVeganRevolution

  • I finally got around to listening to this podcast episode, and I want to say thanks. I’m happy to hear a vegan say it is not okay to compare factory farming to the holocaust, slavery, rape, etc. Okay, maybe some cases are comparable, like an elephant or donkey being forced to do manual labor/tricks, but not everything is one on one a perfect comparison. I mean even if you compared slavery, it still exists today, and there are various levels of treatment to each individual. Do I think slavery is okay if the person is being treated well, no. My point is that activists purposefully compare animals to African American slavery in the United States (and perhaps other european based countries) to strike an emotional cord, which could hurt the cause. Especially the holocaust is a disturbing comparison. The holocaust happened because one group of people particularly hates another group of people, and want to wipe them out of existence. We aren’t trying wipe the world clean of turkeys every Thanksgiving.

    I could keep ranting, but I’ll just leave saying I don’t think this is the best way to convert majority of the population. I think it just furthers the gap between animals and emotions. As I pointed out before, some of the comparisons aren’t perfect so it takes away the malice in historical events like slavery and the holocaust.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with you. There’s some comparisons that can be made (slavery, rape, holocaust, etc), of course, but doing it just to shock people and try to guilt them into veganism is not ok. Just because something can be done, intellectually, does not mean it SHOULD be done. And very good point about the holocaust vs Thanksgiving, I’ll have to remember that one for future discussions!

      Thanks for listening to the episode. It was a tough one to record and probably tough to hear, but we think it’s an important conversation to have. We appreciate all the feedback we’ve gotten, so thank you for reaching out and letting us know your thoughts!

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