Veganism in an Oppressive World: A Vegans of Color Community Project, edited by Julia Feliz Brueck (Sanctuary Publishers, 2017)
Veganism in an Oppressive World: A Vegans of Color Community Project, edited by Julia Feliz Brueck, is an eclectic work that includes essays, poetry, reflections, and interviews from vegans of color. In her introductory essay, Feliz Brueck writes, “We are advocating for our own movement to embrace an approach to veganism: one that is anti-speciesist, consistent, pro-intersectional, and against all oppression.” (1) Further, she says, “Vegans must reject the idea that veganism upholds human rights by default – that just by going vegan, one immediately stops partaking in human oppression or exploitation.” (4)
Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality in the late 1980s, and Feliz Brueck grounds her opening essay in Crenshaw’s concept. Crenshaw writes, “Originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term [intersectionality] brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them.” Many people “face vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, transphobia, able-ism and more.” (Crenshaw in Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/) Feliz Brueck highlights the ways people of color are impacting by the intersectional oppressions of speciesism and racism, as when minorities are considered not just “less than” white people, but like the also-”less than” animals. Human women and female animals are “treated as objects for domination and rape.” (Feliz Brueck, 10.) The mainstream mostly white vegan movement often misses out on the multiple identities and oppressions experienced by vegans of color, blithely proclaiming veganism as “easy,” unaware of the unique considerations for vegans in marginalized communities. (11) A better goal for the vegan movement is making a just society in all aspects, and working to make veganism more accessible for all people. (13) She concludes, “Yes, veganism is a movement FOR nonhuman animals … In the quest for animal rights and justice, should vegans not take care to not oppress humans with their movement?” (15)
Feliz Brueck offers several pointers for white vegans who want to be “consistently inclusive of anti-oppression and supportive to vegans of color,” like: “When vegans of color speak, LISTEN and amplify their voices in conversations and in the movement.” She writes that white vegans should “defer culturally sensitive conversations to those actually affected by those issues … Do not speak over vegans of color.” She warns against ever using historical oppression of people of color or other oppressed groups to draw similarities in fighting for the rights of nonhuman animals, as comparing people of color to animals has been a tool of dehumanization and harm. (20-21) She concludes by encouraging organizations working animals to realize that diversity is not the same thing as intersectionality. An organization might have a diverse membership, but still fail to be intersectional in its approach to animal rights. (25)
The next sections of the book were “Poetry” and “Short Reflections.” “White Poem”by Meneka Repka was particularly moving: “There is no evidence of harm here / Everything is quiet and peaceful and white / These things are the height of civility / There is no flesh / And the white things are absolved of cruelty.” But, “Outside the house of white / The bodies toil together … Here, the cloying whiteness / Is crusted thickly with blood and decay.” (39) In “Parallel Oppressions,” Rayven Whitaker writes about her journey of understanding as a vegan and a black woman: “The suffering was mutual between the relations shared by those who fought for the right to breathe without being assumed dangerous and the beings who fought to be more than meal scraps at the breakfast table.” (53)
I found Margaret Robinson’s essay, “Intersectionality in Mi’kmaw and Settler Vegan Values” to be particularly convicting. She shares stories from her Mi’kmaw culture about the relationship between humans and animals, and criticizes efforts of animal rights activists that focus on Indigenous practices. For example, some animal rights activists have protested annual Indigenous deer hunts, and yet do nothing to confront regular season deer hunting. She argues that “identifying as protectors of the deer” allows vegan activists to “continue Settler domination while avoiding guilt for the environmental devastation by Settler occupation that reduced deer to living” in confined areas. (76) “It’s easier to oppose the practices of a group that is already marked as different from one’s own,” she writes.
The final section of the book includes an interview with six South Asian Vegan Womxn. I enjoyed “listening in” on their conversation, but I did wish for a wrap-up essay or some other final chapter that would bring all the fine work of the previous sections together.
I definitely recommend this book. It’s a short, easy read, and as a white, middle-class vegan, I found it especially helpful in emphasizing ways that I can be complicit in oppression through my vegan activism if I am not attentive to intersectionality and the unique experiences of vegans of color. I’m vegan for the animals – but I’m also vegan because I believe veganism is one part of creating a more just world for humans and animals alike. This book is a valuable resource in my activism and advocacy.