Animal Exploitation is No Joke

I suspect most of us understand on a gut level that any "joke" that devalues others because of their race, sex and/or gender, nationality, sexuality, class, disability etc. contributes to their oppression. Speaking up when we hear these so-called "jokes" works to disrupt oppression. In fact, being an ally depends on us intervening when we witness a situation in which oppression and exploitation is taking place. But if we remain silent in these situations we allow oppression to continue. Not only are those targeted by the "joke" harmed, but so are we by the damage done to our own integrity.

Often when we intervene in these situations we can expect some kind of defensive reaction or backlash from those making the "joke." They may use denial by claiming that the "joke" doesn't devalue, exploit, or oppress others. Or they may try to minimize it by saying, "It's only a joke." They may blame the target, perhaps saying, "Well, if those people weren't so... ." They might attempt to redefine the situation by claiming that some people in the target group make the same "jokes" and therefore it's not oppressive. Or they might claim it was unintentional, that nothing oppressive was meant by it. They could claim that all that is in the past or that it's over now, as if oppression is no longer an issue. They could claim that oppression is an issue of only a few people and we should be concerned about the "real" oppressors. Or they might just counterattack and suggest a competing victimization by claiming everyone oppresses someone so why should they have to change.*

If we intervene we're likely to be seen as being "extreme," "radical," or "difficult." So we're told "it's only a joke" and that we should just "lighten up." We're asked to be complicit in the oppression of others, if not willing collaborators. Our adherence to anti-oppression principles is being tested when we're asked to compromise our personal integrity and ignore oppression.

While "jokes" that devalue other animals are common, for vegans, our adherence to anti-speciesism is more often tested with the products of nonhuman exploitation. We're often offered something that contains ingredients derived from nonhuman animals and told that these ingredients are only "trace" or "insignificant." Most of the defensive tactics listed above are used against us. For instance, saying that the ingredients are "insignificant" is a form of minimization, and claiming that the ingredients are "humane" or "cruelty-free" is a form of redefinition.

We may also experience counterattacks, this can include attacking our personal integrity by calling it "personal purity" or a "holier-than-thou attitude" that turns people off of veganism. This last tactic suggests that our integrity is something we should be ashamed of. It's very odd, because usually integrity is attacked when we fail to stick by our principles, but here our integrity is attacked for adhering to anti-oppresive practices. In each of these situations where backlash tactics are used against our veganism we are being pressured be complicit with the oppression of other animals, and often to become collaborators with that oppression.

Just as no "joke" devaluing others is "insignificant," neither is any amount of exploitation of nonhuman animals that goes into food, products, or events. As with "jokes" that devalue other people, we can intervene in the oppression of other animals by asking about ingredients and refusing to accept anything derived wholly or in part from the exploitation of other animals.

* See the chapter on "Retaining Benefits, Avoiding Responsiblity" in Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, by Paul Kivel, for more on the backlash tactics listed here.

Anti-Oppression and Law Enforcement

By way of Emily's The Partial Muse, I came across a comment Tim Wise left on Racialicious that backlashes against veganism. Wise's comment on Racialicious shows some confusion over anti-oppression work and law enforcement, not to mention a need to learn more about human supremacy and the oppression of nonhuman animals. (Read more...)

Animal Whites 2008

A couple months ago I posted about the assumption of universal Whiteness built into the scheduled program for "Animal Rights 2008" (AR2008), a national conference that took place this past weekend. In a blog posting on the conference, Debra Erenberg of Rainforest Action Network wrote about the ways Whiteness played out over the weekend. (Read more...)

Veganism and Prison Abolition

I've noticed that whenever people talk about "humane treatment" they're usually referring to either nonhuman animals or humans who are imprisoned or otherwise institutionally confined and controlled. I guess this makes sense since keeping people in cages and under complete control resembles how nonhuman animals are general treated in our society. Similarly, the term "cruelty" is usually applied to the treatment of nonhuman animals, human children, and human prisoners. In fact, "humane treatment" and "cruelty" are really paired terms, with the former suggested as the remedy to the latter. (Read more...)

The Personal is Political

Veganism is a good example of how consciousness-raising about our everyday actions is important to challenging the structure of oppression and exploitation. Veganism takes everyday "personal" actions (e.g., eating, dressing, and recreating) and calls out the political dimensions of these actions. It reveals how eating, wearing, and otherwise using nonhuman animals is not a mere "personal" act, but a dimension of exploitation and human privilege. It makes a connection between the personal action and the political structure of our society. (Read more...)

'Abolition of Every Possibility of Oppression and Exploitation'

The slogan "abolition of every possibility of oppression and exploitation" has broader applications than early twentieth-century Marxist-Leninism. In Yo' Mama's Disfunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America, Robin Kelley writes: "The beauty of the line 'Abolition of Every Possibility of Oppression and Exploitation' is that it resists hierarchies. It refuses to privilege class over race, or race over gender, or sexuality over class, race, or gender."

Challenging the Structure of Nonhuman Oppression

Oppression exists when one social group, whether knowingly or unconsciously, exploits another social group for its own benefit. Social oppression is distinct from situation of simple brute force in that it is an interlocking system that involves ideological control as well as domination and control of the social institutions and resources of the society, resulting in a condition of privilege for the agent group relative to the disenfranchisement and exploitation of the target group. – Rita Hardiman and Bailey W. Jackson, "Conceptual Foundations for Social Justice Courses"

The same sort of oppressive dynamic is behind human supremacy and the oppression of other animals. (Read more...)

The Assumption of Universal Whiteness

On the Vegans of Color blog, Johanna posted about "Engaging" POCs in AR Work? in response to the program for an upcoming animal rights conference that includes sessions on "Engaging Ethnic Minorities (African-Americans, Latin Americans, Asian-Americans)"; "Commonality of Oppression (commonalities of oppressing animals, children, women, others)"; and "Engaging Other Movements (health, environment, hunger, women, justice, peace movements)."

The titles for these sessions illustrate what Ana Clarissa Rojas Durazo calls "an assumption of universal whiteness." (Read more...)

Veganism, Social Change, Solidarity

In the mid-1940s, when the founding members of the vegan movement organized themselves into The Vegan Society they set out a clear purpose for the movement that "seeks to abolish [humans'] dependence on [other] animals, with it inevitable cruelty and slaughter, and to create instead a more reasonable and humane order of society. Whilst honouring the efforts of all who are striving to achieve the emancipation of [humans] and of [other] animals." (Read more...)

Veganism is Anti-Oppression: Not a Consumer Activity

Peter Gelderloos, a self-identified anarchist and author of How Nonviolence Protects the State (South End Press, 2007), claims that veganism is a consumer activity. His arguments are a combination of ignorance and problematic assertions. There really isn't much point in responding to Gelderloos claims about "veganism" since he presents absolutely no understanding of veganism, but I'll do it anyway.

Gelderloos starts out by misrepresenting veganism as simply "a consumer activity. It is ultimately an attempt to change capitalism and human civilization through the exercise of one's privileges as a consumer." From there he goes on to argue how this is "an impossible approach." Gelderloos even goes as far as to claim that veganism is not a lifestyle because a lifestyle is not a consumer choice.

I suppose Gelderloos may have just opened up a dictionary and read "vegan: a vegetarian who omits all animal products from the diet." But this definition is not how vegans, at least not those with a historical understanding of the vegan movement, define themselves. (Read more...)