Stella Elwood ’19
After reading last week’s piece about the Animal Welfare Association’s chalk campaign, I noticed that the article didn’t mention that the organization also wrote, “Make veganism an intersectional movement.” As animal rights activists, we acknowledge and attempt to avoid problematic tactics that many other groups employ to convey their message. However, we also call attention to sensitive and complicated topics, since animal rights intersect with many other issues.
Within the piece, the author states that, “in the United States and in most European colonies, POC were the targets of slavery; often to justify their oppression, white people compared them to animals, which still affects people today.” This comparison still happens on a frequent basis in the United States and globally, and has even impacted my own multi-racial family. While I agree that these comparisons were developed and legitimized through legalized slavery, they negatively affect POC through the present day. These comparisons, which also extend to other oppressed groups, are rooted in the idea that humans are better than animals and therefore are empowered to exploit them. “Animal Liberation = Human Liberation” calls attention to the fact that this means of further othering, and subsequently oppressing, these groups cannot survive without the widespread societal acceptance of this standpoint.
But this does not mean that the animal rights cause relies on the comparison of POC to animals. Quite frankly, this idea erases the movement’s many non-white leaders. In fact, for some vegans, “animal liberation = human liberation” is about labor and housing rights. While eating vegan does not cut out cruelty associated with plant-based agriculture, which very few people manage to do, it refuses to support abuses of slaughterhouse workers. OSHA reports that Tyson, one of the leading meat producers in the country, averages about one limb amputation per month on its properties. NBC News reports that multiple companies (ex. Purdue and Pilgrim’s) deny employees -— many of which are immigrants — bathroom breaks and force them to wear diapers. Additionally, refusing to support animal agriculture also means not paying for factory farms to spray animal feces onto the homes of nearby low-income, disproportionately non-white people. These sprays lower property values, limit housing mobility and are linked to cancer and other diseases. In this way, veganism does not fix systems of oppression working against POC here in America, but it is a step in the right direction.
To assume that the animal activists of Mount Holyoke are privileged white women who think that veganism cures all social inequality is naive, and to shoot down attempts to increase intersectionality helps neither oppressed humans nor the animals that their oppression is based upon.
For anyone interested in learning more about the work that vegans of color are doing for the good of both humans and animals, Aryenish Birdie, founder of Encompass, will be speaking on the topic next semester. For a list of links to my sources, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!