On Saturday, August 12, Vegan Outreach staff, board members, and donors attended a workshop by racial and social justice educator, Dr. Robin DiAngelo, and Liz Ross, co-founder and director of Vegan Advocacy Initiative.
It was ironic to leave the workshop and find out that—while we were talking about how to challenge racism—a crowd of white supremacists was rallying in Charlottesville, VA.
Of course, we’re appalled by blatant racism, but it’s easy to forget that racism is a systemic issue that operates in subtle ways that are largely invisible. It’s not about good or bad intentions—it’s about the systems we live and work within and the unconscious biases that, by definition, we don’t even know we have.
Until it’s pointed out, it’s not obvious how much easier being white can make moving through society. White people usually don’t have to be afraid of the police when engaging in activities such as leafleting or protesting. White people don’t have to deal with residents wondering why they might be in a wealthy neighborhood, or whether their race will be a problem in a job interview.
We don’t know the right words to say, but we believe that not speaking out against racism is the worst choice we could make. It’s uncomfortable to talk about, but being silent only maintains the status quo. By feeling this discomfort and acknowledging these issues we’re widening our capacity for compassion.
Here’s what that looks like for Vegan Outreach—
- Listening to the perspectives of activists of color, and being open to learning even if it makes us feel defensive or judged.
- Making inclusivity a goal in our booklets, online materials, events, and outreach.
- Further educating ourselves about racism, starting with resources like Dr. DiAngelo’s.
- Continuing to use our platform to speak up for justice.
There will always be room to grow and more to learn. None of us can individually end racism, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but we can each play a role by doing something.
10 thoughts on “Racism and Charlottesville”
Excellent article and great to see VO continuing to tackle and acknowledge this issue.
I don’t think it’s helpful to talk about racism or any other human social problems when promoting veganism and advocating for nonhuman animals. Every time you are talking about humans, you aren’t talking about the trillions of animals of other species who are suffering and dying because of humans that need our voice.
In addition, the answer is clear when it comes to animal exploitation – go vegan. When talking about human social problems, there are many answers offered from across the political spectrum and choosing one way to answer these problems will only alienate those who have other answers.
Before anyone comments, let me just say I know all about racism and other human social problems. I have a sociology degree and have read many books, so my position has nothing to do with ignorance of the problem.
But, it might be important for everyone to know that they are welcome in the world of “Veganism” if they wish to participate and support it. That is why it is important to cross any boundaries between people to deliver the vegan message and for all to know that they will be embraced in this movement.
White people are not that important to the progress and happiness of brown and black people. Your leftist ideology is nothing more than a disguised version of “the white man’s burden”, the latest form of white supremacy in penitent’s clothing. You really think you’re so important, so pivotal in the “great struggle”.
You want to listen to “people of color’s” voices? Here’s just one.
There’re A LOT of others saying very much the same thing.
This Vegan Outreach newsletter from July 30, 2002 has good advice on this issue:
See this section: “Building Bridges?” by Matt Ball
Many people supported Vegan Outreach over the years because of the singular focus on promoting veganism to stop animal exploitation. What incentive does someone have to give if the think their donation will be wasted on talking about human social problems instead of working to end the mass enslavement, torture, and murder of nonhuman animals?
The pushback that this post is getting is sad, but not surprising. Too many of us vegans do not understand that different kinds of oppression are intertwined and intersecting. Being silent and/or ignorant about other forms of oppression does not help animals. It only makes white vegans seem indifferent, myopic, and hypocritical. Animals who suffer at the hands of humans can only be helped by humans. That’s ALL humans, not just the white ones. The “maximum effectiveness” argument falls on its face if Vegan Outreach’s efforts were to be solely designed by, promoted by, and appealing to white people (which thankfully they are not). Ask any marketing firm how well they fare with an all-white staff. Ask any person of color how they feel about working for an organization that is silent about racism in today’s America. Though many white vegans see veganism as a white thing, there are already so many vegans of color out there doing the work…any many of them are looking at white-dominated vegan organizations to see whether those organizations are silent about racial injustice. We care about minimizing suffering for animals…and that is absolutely consistent with caring about human injustice too. Moreover, caring about racism/bigotry in today’s America is simply the right thing for any organization to do, whether your product is shoes, websites, or new vegans.
I’m white and I’ve leafleted as a volunteer for Vegan Outreach in the past at HBCU schools, events, and festivals where I’m handing booklets to mostly black people here in NC. Rarely did I talk about racism or other human social problems when I got into conversations, and only when someone brought the topic up. I stayed on message by talking about how animals suffer and die for flesh, milk, and eggs and how everyone can make a difference by choosing plant-based foods instead. HBCU schools were often my favorite places to leaflet because the students were more friendly and welcoming than other schools with a more diverse population. It is patronizing to think that black people won’t listen to white people or care about animals if we aren’t talking about racism and other human social problems at the same time.
And lastly, I used to be a leftist who would sometimes talk about intersectionality when I ran a local animal rights group years ago. I learned from experience that it was ineffective, distracting, and exhausting. Effective advocacy is focused advocacy as that’s why the animal rights movement should focus on animals. Besides, there are exponentially more activists working to solve human social problems whereas other animals have the least amount of activists and the largest amount of victims who can benefit from animal rights activism.
No. I’m sorry. There are many intelligent and sincere people who’ve thoroughly analyzed your theories and rejected them, INCLUDING, if not especially, “people of color”. They even feel insulted by them. These include libertarians, individualists and conservatives. Not all people of a single ethnic group think or feel the same way. But it’s probably not good to go too deeply into this controversy. There’s probably no resolution in sight, given the vast chasm in perspectives.
It’s VO’s organizational choice to pursue this, but at least strategically, I think it’s a big mistake and radical turn from it’s original strategy. Any group can print up fliers and distribute them. Maybe it’s time for another “upstart” to do that.
This topic strikes me as far afield from the mission of VO. As a donor, I choose to support VO because of the very clear mission to help farmed animals. I really hope you can stay focused on the mission and not get involved in unrelated political topics.
I hope everyone commenting here understands how deeply the VO staff, board, and leadership care about the animals, and how dedicated they are to reducing animal suffering. They are working to make themselves more effective and aware as human beings who do advocacy work with other human beings, for the sake of the animals. I don’t think anyone needs to worry that VO is going to suddenly shift focus. And it’s okay that not all people who care about animals – and not all of us commenting here – agree on everything. If you’re reading the blog, you already know all the different ways that VO accomplishes its work, and all the amazing impacts of this organization, for the animals. I predict we can expect the trend of effective VO advocacy for animals to continue and increase. I also personally am confident that this workshop by Robin DiAngelo will strengthen VO as an organization of diverse humans united by a common mission.
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