The Sistah Vegan Project

On PETA, Trayvon Martin, and Being a Black Critical Race Researcher in White Spaces

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The full title of this talk is actually “‘Never Be Silent’ and the Packaging of Neoliberal Whiteness: On Trayvon Martin, PETA, and Being a Black Critical Race Researcher in White Spaces”. I just could’t fit the entire title in the WordPress title setup box.

I gave this talk on June 4, 2013 at University of California, Davis for the GGG Speaker Series. I critique the ‘cruelty-free’ products that PETA promotes in their Vegan Shopping Guide which is accessible online. I use critical race materialism and decolonial world-systems analysis to question how any commodity sold to us vegans as ‘cruelty-free’, can truly be ethical if it relies on human exploitation. For example, I speak about racialized-sexualized exploitation of indigenous Mexican females to harvest ‘cheap’ tomatoes for the Global North. I also question how PETA can support a plethora of cocoa products that are ‘free’ from animal-products, yet the cocoa from companies such as Nestle and Hershey source their cocoa using African Child slavery.

I examine PETA’s superficial use of Trayvon Martin’s murder as a way to ‘boost’ their animal liberation campaign, and argue that PETA falsely constructs Trayvon Martin’s tragedy as ‘true racism’ they are against. The problem is that PETA never engages a dialogue about the structural racism and coloniality that make the ‘cruelty-free’ vegan commodities they advocate, possible. It is contradictory to their ‘intersectional’ animal liberation campaign that asks people to “Never Be Silent” about injustices in the world.

At the end of this talk, I explain why I am ‘nervous’ and ‘out of breath”: because it is emotionally difficult for me, many times, to show up in a predominantly white space, as a black critical race feminist in a supposed ‘post-racial’ era, and talk about ‘whiteness’ and ‘white supremacy’ to a predominantly white audience.

I have to admit that the most notable memory from this experience was the first question I received during the Q&A. This question was from a white male who said he was completely unfamiliar with the Trayvon Martin incident. He asked that I provide him information about it. I do not expect everyone to know everything that is going on in the USA, but there is something to be said about the question about Trayvon Martin being asked. As a ‘survival’ rule, I personally need to be cognizant of racial profiling of us brown and black folk, here in the USA, so I stay up to date on these tragedies.

If you enjoy the work I have done, if it has helped you, your organization, your students, your family, etc, and you want to see it go to the next level of a non-profit social justice organization, please contribute what you can by clicking on the GOFUNDME Link below. If you do not want to use this method, but prefer paypal, click on the link on the right upper corner of this blog page to donate via PAYPAL.

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8 thoughts on “On PETA, Trayvon Martin, and Being a Black Critical Race Researcher in White Spaces

    • As to being out of breath, the reason is often i such scenes, the expectation by a white that I, the person of color, inform her/him on an issue that is the result of her/his lack of awareness/attention. What I have noticed in this response is a sense of entitlement, and it resurfaces a deep seated “slave response.” Now, I’ve go to educate another ignoramus, all over again. Take a deep breath and dive in one more time–today.

  1. I remember that you gave a talk at BU in 2012 in which I asked the same question: what is your experience of talking to a predomiately white audience in a critical sense. I’m sure it’s difficult and requires much strength, introspection and fortitude. In the end it’s all worth it if you expanded someone’s mind. Thanks for the work you do :)

  2. To be in a predominately white space, and be non-white, is often reason enough to feel uneasy. Complicate that with issues of whiteness or white supremacy and I might need a drink or ten. (In these white spaces) There seems to be a pressure (from my perspective) to speak or present ideas in a way as to not offend anyone (or be dismissed for being female and black) yet still be effective with cause and of course flawlessly accurate. It is an insane amount of pressure that you mentioned so delicately–even if I could feel every eye widen (or slant) the moment you uttered neoliberal whiteness. I’m in awe of your courage.

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  4. SYL K on said:

    Regarding the final question from the gentleman who seemed to imply that mainstream efforts to address veganism might revolve around whiteness because it is only within those spaces that vegans or compassionate eating exist: I find it funny that this assumption is so prevalent. If anything, white Christian westerners might be among one of the last major groups to (sort-of) embrace compassionate eating (and this is still at a very small scale). Compassionate eating rituals- which surrounded the gravity of stamping out the life force of the animal or the carrier of the soul (again, the animal)-or being cognizant of the manner in which the animal dies and the seriousness of its death- has been in existence all around the world for centuries! If anything, the western world is just catching up. . . .

    I was also a bit. . . irritated. . . to hear the question whether or not there is ANY ethical food and, if so, how will we measure this standard. I think he missed the point. Breeze isn’t necessarily providing the “golden” number of fair-trade certifications that will ensure a particular food item is ‘ethical’. All she is pointing out is that as vegans (who are in it for social justice reasons), it is inconsistent to be concerned with the cruelty aspect of food production *only* insofar as it pertains to animals. We want to EXTEND social justice concerns to animals, which presupposes that we carry these concerns for *people* who produce our food as well. There might not exist any “truly ethical” food, but that doesn’t change the force and importance of Breeze’s aims in the Sistah Vegan project.

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