how black feminism lead me to veganism
that year...was tumultuous to say the least. August 9, 2014 shook my city like nothing i'd ever seen. at the time i was finishing my final semester of college in southern Illinois. living only 20 minutes away from Ferguson, i'd pack up after class and go protest the barbaric killing of Michael Brown for hours. unbeknownst to me, that was my introduction into antiracist activism.
fast-forward a year and i'm utterly disgusted with the misogyny and cisheterosexism in the black liberation movement. although i hadn't yet begun to seriously question my sexuality or gender identity, i knew that space was not for me. i saw how violently black women, femmes, and anyone who wasn't a cisgender heterosexual black man was treated for trying to speak their truth. whenever we'd bring up the reality of our lives and mention our specific mistreatment, we were met with vitriolic responses. during the moment, i couldn't shake the overwhelming feeling of betrayal. to be honest, i'm still not over that shit.
my time in white feminist spaces where everyone focused on classed cishet white women and armpit hair was brief - thank god. (absolutely no shade to the femmes who challenge the patriarchal removal of our autonomy by not shaving or shaving when they choose; i'm one of them.) to be forreally real, cishet white women and black men engage with black femme activists virtually the same; there is an expectation to divide yourself to fit the narrative the other is trying to convey. cishet black men demand that you "put race first," and white women assure you that "we're all women" - no need to mention race. what both groups fail to realize (and respect) is that we are simultaneously black and women/femme. we experience racialized sexism and genderized racism - the two cannot be separated.
bottom line, i needed to find a community that acknowledged my intersecting oppressions without demanding i remain silent on my unique experience as a black femme.
so naturally, i gravitated towards black feminism.
there's a (black) feminist concept floating around that has to be top 3 misappropriated terms of 2017: intersectionality. coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw in an essay written in 1989 to address the double discrimination black women in the workforce experienced, she uses this analogy to demystify the concept:
"Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. . . . But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm."
as you can see, intersectionality is suppose to serve as an ideology that recognizes the multiple ways a person can experience discrimination. although this isn't limited to race and/or sex, the original purpose of the term was to address Black women/femmes. i stress this because white feminists have taken it upon themselves to *alllivesmatter* the term, completely diluting it's original meaning. this, is erasure.
the more i learned of black feminism, the more enthralled i became. reading the works of black feminists who were queer, disabled, vegan, home insecure, and economically disadvantaged really opened my eyes to the importance of intersectionality. either the fight is intersectional, or there is no fight at all.
*i'd like to clarify that no movement is without it's flaws. there are plenty of black feminists who are transphobic, low-key homophobic, high-key classist, ableist, fatphobic, etc. we don't claim them, but they do exist.*
so you may be wondering, "girl what the hell does any of this have to do with veganism?"
well, in may of 2016, i downloaded the book Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society. this book...changed. my. life. for context, i'd been a pescetarian with a mainly vegetarian/vegan diet for 7 years at that time, minus a brief moment of eating certain meats during my pregnancy. after reading Dr. A. Breeze Harper's excerpt on her choices for being a vegan, i knew i had to make the transition. until then, i'd never heard anyone mention speciesism in a way that broke down the similarities between the racial oppression of black people and the speciesist oppression of nonhuman animals. i'd never considered the process of "animalization" that has to happen in order to justify anti-black racism. even as a pescetarian with a mainly vegan diet, i never truly respected the autonomy of nonhuman animals.
i was shook.
i remember thinking to myself, "how can you consider yourself a person against all forms of oppression while participating in the brutal mistreatment of nonhuman animals? how does that work?" i knew that if i was to truly divest from oppressive ideologies, an intersectional framework had to be applied to every form.
in addition to the work of Dr. A. Breeze Harper, there was another person who helped solidify my decision to transition to veganism. during one of my usual "-ism" searches online where i'd feverishly search for new information concerning social justice, i landed on a video titled: Thinking Revolution by Aph Ko (a part of me feels as if this video went by a different title when i found it because the person featured - black vegan feminist writer Aph Ko - was subject to an incredible amount of online harassment due to BET deliberately taking her work out of context to imply she was comparing eating meat to actively supporting white supremacy 😒). in this video, Aph drops bar after bar after bar. while deconstructing the human/animal power dynamic, she points out key steps in the removal of one's personhood - person being applied to everyone, not just humans. it was basically everything i'd already known about the process of marginalization, but applied to speciesism. she referred to "animal" and "human" as social constructions used to justify the denial of respect nonhuman animals are subjected to in order to prove their "natural" subjugation to humans. sound familiar?
this revelation prompted me to question everything i'd previously learned about nonhuman animals.
i questioned my stance as a pet "owner," my attendance at zoos, my offense to being called an animal - although this one is obviously layered because of my race, but still. this knowledge sent me into a frenzy that drove me to challenge my every thought concerning, well, everything.
while i'd never pass judgment on anyone who doesn't adopt my politics identically, i'm not sure i believe we can achieve true liberation while there's an entire population in chains; literally and figuratively speaking. i also don't believe you must be a vegan to recognize - and more importantly - name the abuse of nonhuman animals for what it is: oppression. there must be a mental shift that precedes the physical in order to ensure everlasting change. with herbanistic, i hope to provide a resource that eases you through the process of learning, unlearning, and relearning the ways in which all of us can be complicit in the domination and exploitation of another.
that's all i got.