Racial Inequities in Veganism and Animal Rights (USA)

published by SistahVegan

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Addressing the Impact 
of Racial Inequities in

 Veganism and Animal Rights in the USA 
A Sistah Vegan Project and Critical Diversity Solutions Initiative
Racial equity means creating an equitable society by correcting centuries of injustice that is rooted in systemic racism.  The USA is currently a racially inequitable society. Such inequities manifest as racialized health disparities (Brondolo et. al 2009), racial profiling (Alexander 2016), the rise of the prison industrial complex (Alexander 2016), pandemic abuse of undocumented farm-workers (Holmes 2014; Holt-Gimenez 2011), rapid loss of Black-owned farm land (Douglas 2017), unethical subprime lending for racial minorities (Morris 2009), and food apartheid (Barker and Francois 2012).
What is Racial Equity?
The Problem
The practice of veganism in the USA continues to increase as more people are learning about the benefits of "going vegan." Whether it is to alleviate the suffering of non-human humans, reduce climate change, or to combat animal-consumption related health issues, people become vegan for many different reasons. 

Simultaneously, the birth of the USA vegan movement and its current mainstream rhetoric frame veganism in a way that assumes everyone has a white and middle-class relationship to 'the system' (Harper 2013). In the USA, the mainstream population has a low-literacy level of how systemic racism operates in every aspect of society-- including veganism and animal rights spaces (Bhopal 2018, Harper 2010, Harper 2013). 

Despite most vegan or animal rights oriented businesses and organizations stating "we are an equal opportunity employer" or "we value diversity", many  struggle with operationalizing concepts such as racial equity or anti-racism. Consequently, this lack of critical engagement with racial equity maintains 'segregated' and exclusive vegan spaces. Such spaces literally parallel the same types of racial inequities that have existed since the inception and colonization of what is now called the United States of America (See Harper 2010; Harper 2013; Ko and Ko 2017). 

Unless these organizations and businesses learn how to operationalize racial equity within their ethical veganism and/or animal rights goals, they will continue to produce uneven and segregated spaces (spatially and psychically) that negatively impact people of color and humanity's potential for alleviating non-human animal suffering. 

A racial equity plan is the key to growth and social impact within animal rights and vegan oriented organizations and businesses.
"Too often, policies and programs are developed and implemented without thoughtful consideration of racial equity. When racial equity is not explicitly brought into operations and decision-making, racial inequities are likely to be perpetuated. Racial equity tools provide a structure for institutionalizing the consideration of racial equity."
-Government Alliance on Race & Equity
Won't we lose our biggest investors if we propose a racial diversity workshop within our animal rights organization? Won't this just make white people feel guilty for being white and distract from animal exploitation?
How Racial Inequities May Impact Animal Rights&Vegan Spaces
This is a common myth believed by a significant number of white people-- that talking about race or racism is 'bad' for white people (DiAngelo 2018; Sullivan and Tuana 2007). In reality, properly planned and implemented diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives yield high returns on investments as well as larger scale impact (Hubbard 2008). Racial diversity training has nothing to do with "white shaming" or "white genocide." It has everything to do with leveraging the diversity of ideas and experiences for optimal performance (Hubbard 2008).
They tell me that their yearly animal rights festival of nearly 1000 attendees rarely has people of color in attendance. They asked, 'Why don't Black people care about animals?' I  told them we do care about animals but that annual festival is in a sundown town. 
It is a common misconception that people of color do not "care" about non-human animals or have no interest in veganism or vegetarianism (see Harris-Perry 2015 and Harris 2009). Often, events by white-led organizations and businesses are organized with minimal understanding of safety, geographical location, and histories of racialized violence. Some will organize an event in a location that is unwelcoming to racial minorities. This can include informal 'sundown' towns (i.e., if you are non-white you must be gone by sundown or face being arrested or physically assaulted) or a county in which racial profiling is pandemic (Rojc 2017).  
A famous vegan company sources 25% of their almonds from incarcerated laborers in the segregated county I grew up in. Their ads 'proudly' claim how inmates are turning their lives around by 'helping' to make vegan candy bars. That same  county incarcerates Black and Brown people 3 times more than white people who have committed the same crime and that company has nothing on their website about fighting against that.
The 13th amendment makes slavery illegal with the exception of those who are incarcerated. Many companies exploit the criminal justice system and structural racism in order to gain easy and cheap access to laborers to create their products (Alexander 2016; Jackson 2017).  Structural racism is embedded in the commodity chain that makes thousands of commodities possible-- including "cruelty-free" vegan products such as almonds and roasted coffee beans (Morehouse 2014; McRay 2014). Racialized minorities such as African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated at rates 2-3x higher than white Americans for the same (or less) types of crimes or felonies (Gilmore 2000). When pro-vegan companies or organizations implement a racial equity plan, they are more likely to create products and services that don't exploit non-human animals or racialized minorities (See Government Alliance On Race & Equity).
Our student group for Animal Rights handed out some "Let's GoVegan" pamphlets I wrote. We go everywhere and this week we went to a Filipino section of town. One of my Filipina classmates was there. She took one look at our pamphlet, shook her head, and said, "This is too 'missionary' for us. We're so done with this savior language."  I don't get it. She's actually vegan so what's wrong with what I wrote? 
Most white people in the USA are taught how to communicate/interact with non-white minorities about moral issues through colonialist/missionary approach--  it is often done 'unconsciously' despite there being 'good' intentions (Warren 2015; Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva 2008). This impacts how much of their vegan outreach materials are formulated and distributed (Harper 2010; Wrenn 2016). The result? It often creates distrust from communities of color who have suffered (and continue to suffer) from legacies of colonialism, such as being told that they can only be 'saved' by subscribing to the colonizer's version of morality and ethics (see Cole 2012; Freire 2015; Ong 2016). Simultaneously, that same organization or business often has no clear strategy in what their role will be as anti-racism partners or allies for that marginalized community.

Contact: Dr. A. Breeze Harper - [email protected]


Join the Initiative
Sources cited for this brochure can be found here:
Dr. A. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project has started a new initiative to tackle challenges such as those mentioned in the above scenarios. This new initiative is called: "Integrating Racial Equity in Animal Rights and Vegan Spaces." 

The purpose? 

To create and implement racial equity and diversity tools for optimal growth, inclusivity, and impact without compromising vegan and/or animal rights goals. This initiative will include a combination of interactive webinars, lectures, workshops, and one-on-one consulting and strategic planning sessions.

Spaces are limited, so contact Dr. A. Breeze Harper to inquire about pricing and packages, as well as having her speak at your event or organization.

Interested in becoming an investment partner? We are seeking social impact investors focused on non-human animals and/or creating a more equitable society through racial justice.

Copyright 2018 Dr. Amie "Breeze" Harper