Pro-Intersectional Veganism and Rejecting Anonymous for the Voiceless

Zoe Smith - Writer

Discussions of intersectionality within the vegan movement have been ongoing over the past several decades, since the conception of the term by KimberlĂ© Crenshaw in 1991. A recent video shared by Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV) is an example how the debate on including intersectionality as a critical insight in the movement remains a controversial one. The video on their Instagram, titled 'The Truly Inclusive Vegan Movement Animals Need', features a discussion including Paul Bashir, the cofounder and director of AV. The video and accompanying caption reject the inclusion of ‘political issues’ within their movement and the animal rights movement more broadly, calling for "feminists marching alongside men's rights activists, marching alongside Green Party supporters, marching alongside Trump supporters" in support of animal rights. AV is an animal rights organisation that opts for street activism through ‘The Cube of Truth’, a form of outreach involving activists stood in a square playing slaughterhouse footage for the public to witness. The founders and owners of AV have previously shared anti-intersectional ideals regarding veganism, amongst other oppressive notions. This article seeks to reject such an approach to animal activism through an exploration of the term intersectionality and its relationship to veganism and activism.

When referring to intersectionality, it is vital to acknowledge the history of the term. As aforementioned, intersectionality was first coined by Crenshaw in 1991 to describe the experience of compounded racism and sexism by black women in America. Since the 1980s, the concept of intersectionality has been expanded and arguably appropriated to encompass a broader social justice approach. It can be understood to refer to the critical insight into how various intersections operate as a ‘reciprocally constructing phenomenon’ (Collins, 2015). Through such an expansion, animal activists have sought to connect human and nonhuman oppression. Though the label of ‘Intersectional Veganism’ is often used, this article opts to mirror the use of the term ‘Pro-Intersectional’ as adopted by some vegan activists to respect the origins of the term intersectionality as a specific explanation of the lived experiences of black women.

As oppression does not exist in a vacuum, it is understood through a pro-intersectional approach to veganism that the exploitation of animals is a system of oppression that can be linked with is and amplified by other forms of oppression, particularly race, gender and ability. In this case, veganism is established as a social justice issue, distancing it from recent reductions of veganism to a consumer boycott or dietary fad. Therefore, when AV calls for "feminists marching alongside men's rights activists, marching alongside Green Party supporters, marching alongside Trump supporters" when supporting animal rights, the contradictions are clear. There is a conflict of interest in such groups marching together. For example, Green Party supporters would likely be at odds with those who support Trump considering the disregard the Trump administration has displayed for climate concerns through legislation and rhetoric. Also, suggesting that oppressed groups should collaborate with their oppressors to achieve animal liberation is indicative of the dominance of whiteness, sexism and racism within much of the mainstream vegan movement. Marginalised human groups do not have the privileged stance of simplifying oppressive views to a difference in ‘political ideology/opinion’. Those who are directly impacted by such ‘politics’ and suffer as a result should not be expected to tolerate their own dehumanisation and oppression. Instead, veganism should reject the suggestions made by AV and instead seek to achieve liberation of all oppressed groups in tandem. If you cannot see humans as equals, how can you view animals as equal to humans under the principles of anti-speciesism? Which humans are animals being viewed as equal to, and which humans are being dehumanised in contrast?

While this article will not argue for the moral right for all beings to live without being oppressed as hopefully this is obvious, from a practical perspective, creating a safe space for vegan outreach is beneficial to the goal of animal liberation. Allying with those who reject the basic human rights of others will alienate large swathes of the population. Without a pro-intersectional approach to vegan activism, certain types of advocacy can cause damage to other oppressed groups. For example, many of PETA’s campaigns utilise the sexualisation of women’s bodies to promote the vegan agenda. Thug Kitchen, the infamous vegan food blog and books were revealed to have been produced by white people who used expletives in an attempt to appropriate African-American vernacular. Also, the word ‘thug’ as utilised in the title is a word that often acts as a coded racial slur as a result of its historical use against people of colour. Therefore, the promotion of veganism without a pro-intersectional awareness can inhibit the liberation of different oppressed groups. In relation to the AV video, it claims that attempting to include other forms of oppression in veganism “trivialises animal oppression”, as groups “belittle vegan issues for their own human rights agendas”. It could easily be argued that this phenomenon is more common within the vegan movement, taking the example of vegan movements at Pride events. Animal activist groups at Pride promote veganism while failing to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community on a day that is dedicated to their increased visibility. This can serve to promote the impression that the vegan community does not care about people. Regardless, the veganism movement can and should encompass human rights issues. It is possible and necessary to create a movement where animals are centred but the commitment to being inclusive of marginalised human communities is also a priority, so as to end oppression in all its forms.

The often stated goal of veganism providing a ‘voice for the voiceless’ is clearly promoted in AV’s name. However, this includes assumptions about what can count as having a voice. There is no such thing as the voiceless, rather those who have had their voices systematically silenced. While animals do not express themselves in conventional voices by human standards, they can communicate through sound and actions. The expression of pain through cries renders a universal understanding. Alternatively, the voices of marginalised human communities are intentionally misunderstood and structurally silenced to the benefit of oppressors. Therefore, veganism can amplify the voices of both human and non-human beings who are inhibited from expressing the conditions and experience of their marginalisation. To do so, the movement must create an inclusive, pro-intersectional space that seeks to achieve liberation from oppression for both human and non-human beings. AV and the values its founders hold do not fit with such a goal. However, the forms of street activism that AV utilises can still be pursued, but without the hierarchy and single-issue focus that is inherent to their organisation.

Tuttle, W. (Ed.). (2014). Circles of Compassion: Connecting Issues of Justice. Vegan Publishers.
Crenshaw, K. (1991). “Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43(6):1241–1299.
Crenshaw, K. (1989). “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” The University of Chicago Legal Forum 140: 139–167.
Collins, P H. (2015). “Intersectionality's Definitional Dilemmas”. Annual Review of Sociology 41: 1-20.


Popular posts from this blog

The Brutal Bashing of the Brummie Accent

The Human Cost of Modern Architectural Megaprojects

Sustainable solutions to Human-Elephant conflict: a coproductionist approach