Veganism is an interconnected movement that seeks to fight for the liberation of non-human animals and humans. Before we get into this deep dive into White Veganism, make sure you understand that the critique is on Whiteness as a system, belief, and structure.
The origins of Veganism are quite interesting, yet simple, right? Being rooted in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color practices. Veganism, as we know it in the modern movement, is described to have been coined and defined by Donald Watson, who was the Co-Founder of The Vegan Society back in November 1944. The definition of Veganism was later refined and revised over the years to the following statement that is seen today on their website:
“a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals, and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
Now, this widely used definition remains applicable in the work that many of us do, whether you agree or disagree with the work I do. It is imperative to know that institutions at the base are not the original developers of thoughts and terms, as these spaces are often exclusionary and silence BIPOC perspectives. Even the Vegan Society has had its own issues with racism as a few months ago it was found that there were allegations of injustices happening in the workplace. The modern lifestyle movement in Vegan and animal rights media spaces have often presented White voices in these conversations which reinforces the idea for the general public to assume Veganism is a “white thing” when many of us exist in these spaces. Black and Indigenous Vegans have been leading their own movements and have been talking about White Veganism for years, it is not a new term.
“Black Vegans have existed even beyond these developments of Veganism, such as Rastarfians, known as Rastas for short. Rastafarianism is a spiritual practice rich with political ideology and a reverence for the Earth. And their veganism is part of a broader belief in Black sovereignty, health, and ecological harmony. Black Vegans in America specifically, are one of the largest growing demographics to adopt a vegan or plant-based lifestyle than Non-Black Americans.” (Yes Magazine)
The teachings from many spiritual frameworks are rooted in many Indigenous worldviews and ideologies and yet these frameworks of interconnectedness are ignored from large media publications. But why is it that? Well, the reality is that this requires people to interrogate their own white supremacy and the tactics they use when talking about animal activism to communities of color. What we know from the social media movement is that it thrives on apolitical stances and any moment where it seeks to demand justice and truth, publications walk away from this because it’s profit loss. Talking about racism in animal rights movements angers people, but why?
So why do we see so much fragmentation happening in Vegan spaces today? Well, White Veganism & White Supremacy is easily able to be identified. Most of the time, I get responses from White people who are Vegan who are offended by this term or Non-White Vegans who think in a binary way denoting that it is a harmful term when in reality it highlights the damage caused by those who have committed harm. In an infamous post, I made back in January, I described White Veganism as a form of veganism that focuses solely on animal liberation while actively ignoring the effects of colonization and how it is interconnected to the oppression of humans and animals. Furthermore, White Veganism portrays human supremacy as the main issue rather than addressing the role of white supremacy in how it operates in creating hierarchical roles. Racism and Speciesism are not the same, but share a similar struggle under the umbrella of white supremacy.
Because of White Veganism, we’ve been able to see how animal rights activists reject intersectionality in their work such as using comparisons of slavery from humans to animals, horrific events in history, and failing to commend white supremacy in animal rights spaces that have further caused harm within the movement. In order to understand industrial agriculture, we have to dissect both racism and speciesism together.
As someone who practices total liberation, my Veganism is centered on the liberation of nonhuman animals and humans. Veganism at its core is anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalistic. The development of factory farms is the product of capitalism from Global North countries seeking to increase their economic GDP wealth. The continued development for industrial agriculture whether its factory farms or not, is continuing the displacement and destruction of Indigenous communities who have been environmental stewards to the planet. Animals are imprisoned by the prison industrial complex too, our advocacy for animal liberation doesn’t end at factory farms it also extends itself to other existing industries.
The policies and practices that are implemented in Global South countries due to neoliberal governments have forced people to suffer and partake in a globalized industrial system, hence is why we see industrial agriculture and aquaculture. Language is a powerful and dangerous tool because while we may not believe that words can be harmful, it can enable those within movements to adopt them to further inflict pain on people of color, which is how white supremacy comes into play. When we allow others to mask their racism within animal rights movements, we further enable them to influence others over the idea that this is a human supremacy issue when in fact, their work is targeted directly at harming BIPOC communities.
The term, Holocaust is used a lot by Non-Jewish animal rights activists, while many Jewish Vegans have shared mixed views on using the term, there was a great post by Joshua Katcher that I recommend you check out describing their thoughts on Jewish activists using the term. However, for those who are Non-Jewish, I use the term theriocide, which accurately describes the actions and killing of non-human animals through diverse actions. The term itself was coined by Piers Beirne and in his book, they go into describing how war and industrialization are large parts of the killings of animals, but we also must dig deeper and ask for who and to whom were these systems to benefit? We can’t always say humans, knowing the fact of wealth inequality and who reaps the large benefits of capitalism? Language is a powerful tool and I disapprove of anyone using the terms Holocaust or slavery in their animal activism.
Even though I have pushed for theriocide to be used, it is still rejected in some animal rights spaces, but perhaps, we must ask ourselves, is their activism rooted in provoking than educating? Do we live in a space where people love to be provoked or educated through wisdom and accountability? Retraumitizing people, in my opinion, is not the way that we create sustainable movements. It only creates more division.
The amount of hate I’ve gotten over the past year to express my viewings on white veganism further showcases how these conversations cannot be held without addressing power and harm. When I made a post about White Veganism, I received a death threat email, luckily, my team and I were able to identify the individual and seek legal action towards an individual who was spreading hate and threatening to take my life.
Something that motivates me to continue talking about veganism is the power of community. Vegan & Anti-Racist Activist Aph Ko, who has written books on Veganism explaining how speciesism and racism are interconnected under white supremacy was asked if vegan spaces were becoming more divided in recent years. She responded, saying, “I think white supremacy in the movement is getting easier to pinpoint. I think that people in the dominant class who never had to worry about marginalized people and their perspective are now realizing minoritized people are leading their own movements and this makes them really uncomfortable.
A lot of white folks feel unquestionable ownership over animal rights, so when Black people start incorporating non-human animal bodies into their anti-racist movements, white people flex their social power by trying to comment on our spaces or interrogate our actions.” She then further states, “a lot of activists in the dominant class use their privilege and social media platforms to silence other activists with dissenting viewpoints, which is horrible because real change will happen when there are plural movements and voices.”
Their words further reminded me how many Black & Indigenous Vegans and People of Color have often tried to challenge many dominant animal rights activists only to be threatened to be sued or silenced by their community. So why do we continue to try to engage with them if their work will only further continue to spread harmful ideologies that hurt our communities? And to be quite frank, the number of Vegans who perpetuate White Veganism is often always ridiculing intersectionality, which was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, that described how Black women are oppressed in legal institutions are in-fact Anti-Black and perpetuate white supremacy. Not only that but, the amount of hate that comes from these individuals having to make videos about me or my friends is based on the idea of sensationalism, I almost feel bad for them, because they lack creativity. QANON also plagues some animal rights spaces, over the idea of purity, especially when it comes to being vaccinated. Which, you are Vegan if you are vaccinated from COVID 19.
At the end of the day, White Veganism does more harm than good when attempting to get people to join the total liberation movement. I believe that community collective power is already building spaces outside of these movements that don’t serve us. The labor should not always fall on us but rather White allies who are committed to animal rights justice movements to be able to be at the frontlines and call out white supremacy. I believe that people are able to unlearn and relearn new values that will further build inclusive movements but that requires them to give up power and address harm.
You do not need to engage in White Veganism, but rather continue advocating in your local communities in how we practice total liberation. I feel that the dominant animal rights movement will continue to hit endless walls of scrutiny that it is already losing power. We no longer need to try to hurt ourselves in a process where people are not willing to meet so that is why I say to continue building communities on love, accountability, and justice.