A Critical Race Perspective on the Vegan Flag
By Dr. Meneka Repka (Guest Contributor)
On June 9, 2017, Gad Hakimi released an official vegan flag with the intention of unifying the vegan movement and developing a clear and consistent “brand” for veganism. The flag is freely available online and is meant to be shared widely as a mass-mediated image amongst vegans and other mainstream public spaces. In a recent analysis of the emerging interest in the vegan flag, Frances McCormack argues that the flag erroneously centers vegans, rather than nonhumans as a marginalized group, that it upholds a capitalist approach to veganism, and that it assumes that the vegan movement is currently in a state of unification. Following McCormack, I would like to further problematize the flag from a critical race and de-colonial perspective. I contend that the flag covertly upholds Western imperialist and racist ideology through its conceptualization as a flag, its dependence on Western linguistic and alphabetic conventions, and the symbolic associations of its colours.
Primarily my concern with the vegan flag is that fundamentally, all flags are entangled with a historical colonialist narrative. The notion of a flag to denote a symbolic and “legal” claim to land, resources, and peoples was popularized by Western societies and continues to function as a marker of Eurocentric power structures globally. For racialized people, flags in general are a reminder of ownership and occupation, as well as the violence, genocide, and cultural theft that come along with colonization. In the current social and political climate, flags are also clearly aligned with the military industrial complex, a system that merges corporate interests with government and military to further entrench a colonial legacy. In addition to upholding speciesism by displacing nonhumans from their natural homes and forcing them to participate in military activities, the immediate connotations of nationalism that are conjured by a flag are underpinned by the school to prison pipeline and an overrepresentation of racialized people in prison systems. Therefore, marginalized groups remain subjugated as a result of what flags represent. Even seemingly benign uses of flags, such as the Girl Guides flag, are still connected to colonial traditions and participate in a system that continues to uphold Western imperialism and values. By ignoring this history and its residual effects, the vegan flag perpetuates the myth that a flag is an appropriate and universal tool to unify vegans of colour with the mainstream (white vegan) movement.
In the vegan flag, the dominant visual element is a large “V” located in the center and extending to the top corners. The “V” represents veganism in English and in other language systems that are Eurocentric in origin, but also signifies the colonization of ideas and language by Western cultures. While the term “veganism” is still fairly new to mainstream Western discourse, there have been civilizations throughout history and around the globe that ate veganically and continue to celebrate their identities through the consumption of only plants. Indigenous societies all over Africa, India (the Shakaharis for instance), Southeast Asia, and the Americas who use different language systems but have been eating veganically for centuries have been effectively erased by the this flag. The idea of eating plants, through the dominance of a “V” becomes congruous with mainstream (white) veganism and is indicative of culturally coded assumptions of Eurocentrism and European alphabets as universal.
Finally, the ideas represented by the colour choices of the flag continue the embodiment of Eurocentric representations of reality and truth. Although interpretations of colours and their meanings can vary, the designers state (without irony) on their official website that they chose white for its associations with “light, goodness, success, and beginning” and blue as symbolic of “heaven.” Again, the idea of heaven is a primarily Eurocentric idea and eliminates many Eastern traditions. Further, the obsession with white as an indicator of goodness and success has been used throughout history to oppress and subjugate people who do not meet the criteria to be racially “white.” The reason the colour white can be accepted as symbolic of goodness and success is because “white” people have determined themselves to be inherently good and successful, implicitly reinforcing the colour black’s negative interpretations. Thus, those who are not white must be better suited to life of enslavement and servitude. This paradigm is reinforced by the blazing white “V” on the vegan flag, reminding us that the vegan movement is a white movement, with the most dominant vegan voices being those that de-emphasize or ignore racism and other human struggles in the quest to forward animal rights.
Bio: Meneka Repka, PhD is an instructor at Alberta College of Art and Design. Her current research questions the neutrality of curricular discourse in Alberta by examining how dominant interests in the meat industry influence schools. Prior to completing doctoral studies, she worked as a high school and junior high teacher. Meneka’s research interests include: Animal liberation, Critical/Radical Animal Studies, Critical Sociology, Critical Race Studies, environmental sustainability, environmental education, discourse analysis, youth activism, and social justice education.