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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Sebastian

"Top Vegan Organizations Join Forces To Build A Stronger, More United Movement"...local bl

So I woke up this morning and reached for my phone to see what exciting new misadventures President Littlefinger has gotten us into while I slept, as one does.

But as I scrolled through the Twitterverse, I found this sparkly little gem tucked between my otter videos, Presidential escapades, and porn.

I called up my three best friends. We laughed. We cried. We beat our breast. It was beautiful. But then I had to find the words to write. And I almost don’t even know where to begin.

This image is almost iconic. If my lecture Is Veganism A White Thing? had a cover image, it would have been this.

The phrase “having a seat at the table” has never been more meme-able.

Now I know what the immediate reaction is. Sebastian, why must you make everything about race?

But let me explain something crucial. I am not making everything about race. The truth is that white people made everything about race. I'm only openly observing this reality. Because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Black faces (and voices) would naturally be represented, both at this physical table and at the proverbial one.

Harvard University conducted a study called Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians. From the abstract:

Using a screen to conceal candidates from the jury during preliminary auditions increased the likelihood that a female musician would advance to the next round by 11 percentage points. During the final round, “blind” auditions increased the likelihood of female musicians being selected by 30%.

You read that correctly. THIRTY PERCENT. When conductors could no longer see the candidates, they were forced to evaluate them on the basis of their skill. Are we to assume that women candidates just suddenly became significantly better musicians? Or do we recognize the statistical reality that implicit bias impairs our ability to exercise good judgment?

By the same token, are we simply to assume black minds do not have good ideas for radically reimagining our relationships with other animals? Or do we just need to drop the pretense that anti-black bias does not permeate our society and inform our approach to animal liberation?

The absence of blackness is purposeful, if not unconscious. And it illustrates how almost all conversations are framed with whiteness as the default. But instead of recognizing that, we reserve our indignation for those who point it out.

So with this in mind, let’s read another quote from the article:

There are so many long-standing organisations that have been working tirelessly for this cause for decades, making this meeting a unique melting pot of experience from which we can all gain a great deal. We hope it is the beginning of a deeply valuable alliance of like-minded organisations that will create a stronger, united movement, which will, in turn, spare more animals and the planet.

Yowsers. I cringe at the idea of a sea of white faces being described as a melting pot. But it’s honestly not surprising when I consider how that descriptor has often been ascribed to the United States despite a history of very overt anti-blackness that runs for centuries.

But what’s that you say? Sebastian, the animals don’t care what color anyone is.

Of course they don’t. But if we allow racial bias to operate unchecked, it has measurable consequences for the species we are attempting to liberate. And if the goal is to "create a stronger, united movement, which will, in turn, spare more animals and the planet,” then wouldn’t the inclusion of black voices multiply those efforts instead of be viewed as antagonizing them? How could incorporating the work of people who understand racism and speciesism be anything but valuable?

Mind you, I don’t fault any of the organizations involved for their efforts. And you might be surprised to hear that I do not even think of the participants as racist. But we need to look past superficial understandings of racism to understand what’s at stake.

Racism is not a group of white people rubbing their hands together thinking of ways to “get” black people. That’s such a stereotypically reductive understanding of racism that it’s beyond absurd. Racism is a group of white people so completely oblivious to the absence of blackness in positions of authority that they would readily smile for the camera and make stunningly tone deaf statements about unity.

To be fair, I have absolutely no idea what was discussed at this meeting or what strategies these very fine people plan to implement in the future. For all I know, they plan to prioritize these issues going forward. But I struggle to see how that could be so having allowed this photograph to happen. If nothing else, black voices in strategic positions of authority (at least ones who were any good at their jobs) would have stepped in. And they certainly wouldn’t have allowed them to give further ammunition to those who frame animal rights as exclusionary, elitist, and unbearably white. At least, I would hope.

Another quote from the article:

By working together, we can reach bigger and broader audiences and learn from each other’s successes and challenges.

I believe this to be a genuine statement of intent. But the execution of it only demonstrates a desire to work with white, middle class people. How can a bigger and broader audience be achieved without a bigger and broader knowledge base to draw upon? Could no one at all call up on phone PEP Foods, the Afro-Vegan Society, Vegan Voices of Color, Food Empowerment Project, the Sistah Vegan Project, and Sanctuary Publishers? These are all organizations led by people of color, and moreover, led by women of color. And these are just off the top of my head!

To reiterate, I strongly believe that these leaders want to do good work and my main goal is animal liberation. But exclusively using normative whiteness as the sole or even primary approach to liberation undermines our efforts. And frankly it dooms our attempts to craft unity to ignore the shared history of racial violence and species violence.

However, if any of the folks from the meeting are interested in radical black thought, try any of the organizations I listed above. Or y’know, I’m just chilling on Facebook. As ever, trying to find my best angles.

Note: I deliberately did not link to the article, credit the photograph, or name the organizations and people quoted because I don't want this to be a critique of individuals or an invitation to a flame war. Of course, anyone can dig it up with minimal effort. But that's not the focus. Instead, I invite people to start their own thoughtful conversations about racial consciousness and the influence it has on their animal rights work.

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