Response to VegNews Race and Class Privilege Article, "We the People"

For those of you following my Sistah Vegan work around critical race, black feminisms, and food studies, VegNews June 2010 issue has an article called “We The People” that looks at race and class issues in the vegan movement. I was interviewed for it and feel strongly that I have to clarify much.

Now, I am glad VegNews is writing about race and class privilege, so kudos for them for writing about a topic that makes white class privileged people collectively uncomfortable, if not often annoyed to think about intersections of privilege and vegan praxes. Eric Prescott was interviewed in this article, which is cool. 1.5 years ago, after he unknowingly used what was perceived as colonialist white male logical ‘language’ on Vegans of Color, I compassionately explained to him the following: he may be unaware of his white male privileged consciousness and that his words are a reflection of this and can be very upsetting to many VOCs who have negative experiences with such tone and language. I then sent him a reading list on whiteness that he read and then got back to me about. It is pleasing to see that Prescott was one of those white vegans with race, gender and class privilege to compassionately open his heart to educating himself about his own privileged consciousness, but, I need to respond to and point out a few things on “We the People” that immediately caught my attention…

(1) First, I am just wondering why VegNews didn’t send me a copy of the article before publishing it because I already see how my words were misinterpreted. I am just wondering if this misinterpretation of my work occurred because the person who was hired to write it, openly admitted to me that he has privilege on every level and never thought about race issues in veganism UNTIL he was assigned to write about it.

(2)CORRECTION: In the interview, I never said black vegans have completely different values than white vegans. I said that a collective black racialized consciousness has created different reasons to become vegan that usually don’t reflect animals rights as the FIRST impetus to go vegan. Collectively, a significant number of black folk’s reasons stem from fighting against legacies of racialized colonialism such as health disparities, environmental racism, nutritional racism, etc. Many black folk also enter veganism as a way to decolonize their bodies and minds from such legacies and use it as a tool of anti-racism. But yes, many are also involved or eventually become involved with animal rights. But the CLEAR distinction is that black folk collectively are COLOR and RACE conscious within the movement while WHITE folk vegans collectively are ‘post-racial’ and ignorant that their consciousness is even racialized and that racialization DIRECTLY affects how they engage in and even think about vegan, food justice, animal rights activism, etc.

(3) I am wondering if it would have made more sense to hire someone who has specialty in critical race studies to have written this? I am thinking that by default, by hiring this particular person to write about race and class privilege, it is appealing to a default audience of white class privileged vegans who may have been less receptive if the article had not been written by “your average white middle class straight vegan male”. I am disappointed that I see that same patterns, over and over again: that is, broaching the subject of race and class privilege by using a racial classed privileged person because often, using say a Chicana feminist vegan scholar may come off, “Angry irrational woman of color making the status quo feel ‘bad.'”

(4) And interesting that the author of the article asks, is it race or class or both that are a issues in veganism? Call me crazy, but race and class are not SEPARATE. I am thinking, once again, these are the limitations of assigning this article to be written by someone who does not have a visceral experience and academic background in critical theories around the intersections of race, class, gender privilege studies.

(5) CORRECTION: the Sistah Vegan project is not about ‘able-bodiedness’. It is about looking at issues addressing oppression around sex, race, class, sexual orientation, gender and ableism. The way it was written, it sounded like I was promoting ableism.

In three days I am off to Orland, CA to the annual “hoe down” event at Farm Sanctuary. I was officially invited to speak about why animal rights/veg movement is ‘so white’. The talk will be called “A Compassionate Talk about Whiteness in Veganism.” I will be recording the event on my camcorder and posting it to my blog after the event takes place. I am now anxious about how my words will be received.

0 thoughts on “Response to VegNews Race and Class Privilege Article, "We the People"

  1. thank you. the article irked me, but i couldn’t put a direct finger on it. it ended with a almost ‘shut up, it’s not a big deal’ attitude.’i went to walmart! people just need an education.’i’ve been to places where there were nowhere close to buy fresh produce. you didn’t sound like you. they mixed all the isms together when the subject was suppose to be about race. they never acknowledged the history of black veganism. no queen afua, no dick gregory and other activists. no mention of rastas or people in the afro centric movement. no black israelites. no convos with any of the many black vegetarian societies in major cities. our own movements are still ‘mysterious’ and with no base of concerns- at least that’s the way he came off in the article. i wasn’t aware VOC blog was to teach white vegans. i thought i was a community for vocs to discuss issues from our perspective. i wonder what bryant terry thought of the article.

    1. Exactly, VOC is now about teach white vegans about whiteness, which Johanna has explained a million times.

      And I don’t sound like “me” at all. I have had a lot of interviews and this is the first time that my words have been used incorrectly. It’s also the first time that I was not sent a draft BEFORE it went to press. I think the issues of whiteness, race and class privilege are simply TOO important for them to not have checked in with the interviewed parties. I am deeply disturbed and upset and I’m not rethinking my participation and divulging of knowledge in/to largely white audiences. My fears have come true.

  2. I totally agree with your point on animal rights. Very few of the African American vegans and vegetarians I know cite this as a major reason for their decision to go veggie. Most cite health, weight loss, or just being more conscious of food’s role in society (colonialism, assimilation, well being, etc). I’ve heard more people refer to their concerns for the environment than animal rights.

    Much love,
    Twitter @Urbanrawfood

  3. Hi, Breeze.

    Thanks for the kind words about the VOC incident and, once again, for taking the time to send me the reading list you mention here. I truly value the compassion you shared with me then, and the list was really quite helpful.

    Hopefully part of what I learned in my reading and listening over the past 18 months (with plenty more to go) came through for others in what I said, though it does seem from what you write here that–even if it does–it may not be enough to counter the overall problems of the piece. You don’t mention that I personally said anything harmful (there were one or two things that didn’t sound quite right when I skimmed the article, though I can’t remember what), but if you are aware of anything I was quoted as saying that is problematic, I’m all ears.

    I’m chagrined that the writer so badly misrepresented you along with the larger issues facing people of color. Obviously educating whites is not your job or responsibility, but I’m grateful to you for what you have shared with me, and I have tried to share what I learn with those around me, so it will sadden me if this (as well as perhaps other past incidents) tips you into no longer engaging white audiences.

    1. Eric, I guess I was just a little upset yesterday. I didn’t mean I would no longer speak to or engage with white audiences, but wanted to note that I want to be more cautious with who I divulge information to if I realize they may not have the tools yet to deeply understand what it is I am engaging in.

      I am anxious and scared and excited about going to Farm Sanctuary today and tomorrow. I speak at 16:15 PST for 30 minutes. I am going to really be compassionate. I have been reading “Unraveling Whiteness” which is a white privilege awareness book filled with exercises. A great portion of the book looks at shame and guilt and how to deal with that if one is white person who feels these emotions during anti-racism training. I am hoping it will be useful for the audience I will be addressing!

  4. How horrible for you Breeze! How frustrating it must be, having your words misrepresented and unconfirmed by VegNews for bypassing the standard priviledge of being provided an opportunity to correct errors before the print was released. What an unprofessional service they are providing. I hope the writer and the service take your incredibly patient corrections here to heart and clean up their act. I strongly disapprove of their practice and can’t believe (well, I can believe it, because you’re sooo considerate) how you continue to exercise such amazing restraint and politeness when faced with such inappropriate treatment.

    You’re really doing some interesting work. I know that everything you’re doing is incredibly important.

  5. i am embarrassed for white people. i’m embarrassed right now to be a white person. i realize that’s a tad dramatic, and it’s not like i wrote this stupid article, but talk about ways to build a divide between folks of different race backgrounds. i read this article and i could not believe, truly, that veg news would have asked this man to write this article. further, i’m saddened that he accepted. if i were asked to write this article, i would have said, uh no… this is not a piece for a WRITER, it is a THOUGHT-PIECE for someone who has experience with this subject. and for god’s sake, don’t ask a white person to write this article! i have actually seen really good stuff come out of veg news recently, but this… this is really disappointing. and supernovadiva, i agree with you: it’s like he was trying to answer the question about racial issues in the movement in his conclusion. “compassion is compassion is compassion”? way to brush this under the rug and conveniently move on. i really strongly hope you reach out to the editors of veg news — if not the writer himself — and make it widely known that this is not acceptable. i’m so sorry.

  6. to add further my disappointment, no mention of cesar chavez (known vegan) or the grape strike in the article nor the timeline. that stuck out for me. just the mention of his name would have expressed the layers pocs/vocs face when it comes to food and justice.

  7. Hi,

    I subscribe to VegNews and once I saw a reference to your book and blog coupled with the mention of UC Davis, where I will be starting studying nutrition this Fall, I immediately checked this information online. Given all faults of the article that you point out, I still appreciate being exposed to this topic. Over the last 2 years, I have come across only two African-American vegans. One was Bryant Terry and another was on a food-related forum. And frankly, I haven’t given much thought to the racial disparity that exists within this movement. Now, I feel an obligation to fill that void and educate myself about this issue. I will start with the book that you put together, which I look forward to receiving in the mail.

    I really hope that you stay involved in the efforts to educate wider public about vegan related issues important to the African-American community.

    Thank you,
    Lisa B.

  8. I was appalled by the article. I was so excited to see you and Vegans of Color mentioned, but I doubt the author read even one article from either website. Why on earth did they choose a straight, white, educated, upper middle class male to do this piece?

    At the end, the author declares that, as he suspected (!), “it isn’t race or class that stands in the way of creating a more diverse movement”. Once again, the solution is that privileged white people need to lecture more to POC and the less privileged who are simply too stupid to realize that veggies are healthier than hamburger.

  9. I didn’t like the article either. I was disappointed it wasn’t better than I expected and really sort of surprised it was written by someone with such little understanding of the topic and issues. There were so many holes . . .. Let’s be honest, it just wasn’t a good article. I think most critical readers will question the author and seek information themselves. Reading the article made me want to learn more about the Sistah Vegan project and to go right to the source. So I am grateful to the article for the impetus.
    I’m glad you have taken the opportunity to make yourself clear here. But it is really a shame and unprofessional that the author didn’t give you that opportunity. Please don’t give up on talking to white audiences. I want to hear your experience and try to understand other perspectives on, among other things, being vegan. Some people will never understand. But some won’t let anything get in the way of understanding.

  10. Dear Breeza,

    Don’t worry. I think your voice, your thoughts and your reflections about gender, race, social issues are very important and they are being heard.

    You remind that lady who create “Blue Eyes” when she was talking about race, about privilege, about being in the skin of someone who does not belong to a privilege and white culture. Most of the people “playing” the game were telling they were not racist, they really respect the minorities and so on. Many of them could not bare the game until the end. I think that game gave an idea what it is to be the other. I think many people can be empathic, but this real understanding it is for few. Your words had opened my eyes as a white and privilege person to think and reflect of a reality from the vegan movement

    My best wishes


  11. I would like to second what KLM said. Please don’t give up on talking to white audiences because you were misrepresented in this article. I found the piece to be confusing and frankly insulting in its condescension (here I am thinking about the part about going to Wal Mart, as if this exercise could completely change his perspective and put him in the place of a vegan of color). Because the topic piqued my curiosity, though, I came to your blog, and now I feel that I have a much better handle on the terms of this discussion of race, class, and veganism that very much needs to be had. If the article failed on many fronts, at the very least, it has opened a few eyes to this issue, and hopefully, that means something.

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