Tag Archives: Oppression

Veganism Is Being Redefined in Black Communities More people are connecting the health implications of a vegan diet with the struggle against race-based oppression.

Food is a key part of any culture. Take the USA: Could there be a more potent symbol of all things Americana than BBQ? For many, to go against this national pastime amounts to a form of treason. Which is why it should cause little surprise to learn that a new culture has begun to take root among African Americans: veganism.

In years past, this dietary decision was largely associated with being, like, super white. In part, this could be due to the fact that avoiding all animal products is seen as a bourgeois indulgence, enjoyed by the sorts of people who like to proclaim that “All Lives Matter.” That perception is starting to shift.

“The black vegan movement is one of the most diverse, decolonial, complex and creative movements,” said Aph Ko, founder of the website Black Vegans Rock, in a recent New York Times article. And Ko should know. Back in 2015, she compiled a list of “100 Black Vegans” to highlight the fact that veganism is more than just an animal welfare-based lifestyle choice. Listed among Ko’s cohorts are a diverse group of individuals such as civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, neo-soul superstar Erykah Badu, the Williams sisters, and comedian Dick Gregory.

The Times listed a number of other notable vegans: Kyrie Irving from the Boston Celtics is just one of a number of professional basketball players to stop eating meat, prompting Kip Andersen (director of the documentary “What the Health”) to proclaim in an article for the Bleacher Report that the NBA should be renamed the National Vegan Association.

Animals and race

A number of factors account for this growing trend. The Times’ Kim Severson notes that the Black Lives Matter movement and “What the Health” have helped expand veganism to “connect personal health, animal welfare and social justice with the fight for racial equality.”

“I always assumed ‘Black veganism’ was just white veganism experienced and perpetrated by black people, and not a framework to analyze various oppressions,” writes Sincere Kirabo on BlackYouthProject. But after reading a book Ko published with her sister Syl last year, Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters, Kirabo reconsidered this point of view. “Now I’m rethinking the entire way the defining biases of our society create dehumanizing standards that not only impact me as a Black person,” he writes, “but also extend to animals, inform our food options, and empower the anti-Black food industry.”

What is the “anti-black food industry”? How can a diet be decolonial? Time for a quick history lesson. A core element of both slavery and colonialism was the promotion of an ideology that dehumanized black people. When Aph and Syl Ko describe veganism as a form of liberation, explains Kirabo, they are talking “less about meat consumption and more about the necessity of re-framing racism to include the relationship between anti-Blackness and anti-animal sentiment as codified into the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

This is not a new line of thinking. Anti-colonial writers like Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire first drew the connection between the colonial construct that disadvantaged certain humans and non-human animals alike. By understanding this historical context, the connection between racial oppression and our carnivorous culture begins to make more sense.

This might be a cognitive leap for some, but consider the fact that both racism and meat-eating are motivated by a sense of superiority. As such, Kirabo writes, describing the Ko sisters’ logic, “animality is a Eurocentric concept that has contributed to the oppression of any group that deviates from the white supremacist ideal of being—white Homo sapiens.”

A means to an end

Another way to understand this logic is through the simple facts of health. A 2012 analysis of national meat consumption showed that according to averages delineated by race, African Americans were overall the largest consumers of meat in America. This figure is no coincidence. As Nzinga Young points out in the Huffington Post, due to centuries of entrenched systemic poverty, black Americans have had to adapt to “making do” with what they have. In practice, this has translated, Young continues, into “eating everything from common staples like chicken and fish to chitlins, pigs’ feet, and other discarded animal parts our ancestors ate in desperation.”

In other words, meat-eating became an essential part of survival. Ironically, much of the foods that form part of this culture are centered around unhealthy eating habits. In her article, “How Black Veganism Is Revolutionary and Essential for Our Culture,” Danni Roseman explains how this situation has arisen from the fact “that the unhealthiest of foods were the cheapest and most easily available to low-income, black and brown families.” The existence of food deserts, which are predominant in poorer communities, have also contributed toward these unhealthy eating habits. As a result, a number of diet-related diseases have become endemic to the culture.

“Food is political,” writes Roseman, adding how these unhealthy eating habits have led to a rise in “illnesses that kill black people at astounding rates.” Roseman cites information provided by the CDC, which shows that “over 40% of black men over [the age of] 20 have hypertension and 44% of black women.” That’s not to mention that two of the three leading causes of death in this community are strokes and heart disease.

“It’s not just about, I want to eat well so I can live long and be skinny,” said vegan-friendly chef Jenné Claiborne in an interview with the Times. “For a lot of black people, it’s also the social justice and food access. The food we have been eating for decades and decades has been killing us.”

In order to counter this trend, Claiborne has become a specialist in vegan-friendly soul food. In her new book, Sweet Potato Soul, Claiborne combines the traditions of Southern cooking with recipes from West Africa and the Caribbean. The book is the latest in a series of similar titles joining restaurants around the country that have helped bring about the rise in black vegan culture.

(Other popular books that are part of this endeavor include Amie Breeze Harper’s anthology, Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society; Tracye McQuirter’s By Any Greens Necessary: A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Look Phat; and the Afro-Vegan cookbook.)

Diet as resistance

As Roseman points out, “if you’re dead, or perpetually functionally ill, you cannot march, you cannot protest, you cannot protect your family or yourself.” Framed in this light, a growing number of people are starting to connect the health implications of a plant-based diet with the ongoing struggle against race-based oppression.

For Kirabo, this goes beyond “people planting gardens and advocating for animal rights.” He argues that veganism is a “sociopolitical movement that renounces white-centered definitions of the world” and through that process “re-examines social norms imposed on us and calls out politics many of us take for granted.”

In other words, choosing not to eat animal products is a way of asserting a form of independence. “[We] take back control of [our] own diet in a system in which [we] are not in control of many of the things that we purchase,” performance artist and activist Jay Brave said in an interview with the BBC.

In the Times article, Zachary Toliver, a PETA columnist who appeared on Ko’s original list of black vegans, said, “I no longer feel like an endangered species out here.” Instead, Toliver and the growing community he represents are redefining what it means to be black and vegan. In the process, this movement is reframing the way society understands our relationships to animals, food and each other.

By Robin Scher/AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist


This Is How White Liberals Can Be Allies in Fighting Racism and Oppression of Minorities Someone has to start doing some giving.

In November, the Washington Post reported on an unexpected outcome of the Kevin Spacey sexual harassment scandal: a textbook example of a man being paid more than a woman for doing the same job. Following Stacey’s firing from the movie All the Money in the World, lead actress Michelle Williams received roughly $1,000 to reshoot scenes, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the $1.5 million paid to supporting actor Mark Wahlberg. Williams and Wahlberg are both represented by the William Morris Endeavor agency, though they have different agents, and director Ridley Scott had previously told USA Today that “everyone did [the reshoots] for nothing,” informational bits that seem to add to the situation’s overall shadiness. For all the exculpatory arguments being floated around the internet (Wahlberg’s agent is the real-life Ari Gold; Williams had a bum contract), a pay difference of 1,500 times remains laughably difficult to justify. Wahlberg donated his reshoot fee to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, along with a statement expressing the kind of sudden interest in gender pay parity frequently sparked by bad press.

The story stands in contrast to Tuesday’s news that actress Jessica Chastain, who is white, used her privilege to help ensure that actress Octavia Spencer, who is black, would receive the pay she deserves but is consistently denied due to racism and sexism. During a panel titled Women Breaking Barriers at the Sundance Film Festival, Spencer described how a conversation about the gender pay gap led to an exchange about the salary advantages white actresses have compared to actresses of color.

“We were dropping F-bombs and getting it all out there,” Spencer joked. “And then I said, but here’s the thing, women of color on that spectrum, we make far less than white women. So if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table. And I told her my story, and we talked numbers, and she was quiet, and she had no idea that’s what it was like for women of color.”

Chastain suggested they take a “favored nations” approach to salary negotiations on an upcoming comedy project the two will be starring in together. By tying their pay together, the actresses would take home the same paycheck. “Fast-forward to last week,” Spencer said. “We’re making five times what we asked for.”

This is a story that could be horribly misconstrued as a “love see no color” moment in the media, and if it is ever made into a film, Hollywood will surely insist that Sandra Bullock play Chastain. But get beyond whiteness’s reflexive tendency to applaud itself for every millimeter of power willingly given, and there are reasons it’s genuinely noteworthy. Chastain deserves recognition for doing the right thing, and for being the exception that proves the sad rule, unwittingly showing how rarely that happens. As Spencer noted, “People say a lot of things,” but doing is a lot harder. “She’s walking the walk and she’s actually talking the talk,” Spencer said of Chastain. “When it came down to it, she was right there and shoulder to shoulder.”

Performative allyship is always more abundant than action. Whenever a longstanding issue of inequality rises to the level of widespread visibility—meaning the groundswell of horrific stories forces the powerful to recognize what the disempowered have long told them existed—the country enters a period of “national conversation” that rarely goes much beyond words. The trickle-down effect, in terms of substantive corrective actions, can be hard to locate, because all too frequently there’s no there there. What passes for activism is often just virtue theatrics that play well in a society obsessed with optics, but aren’t necessarily aimed at leveling unbalanced playing fields.

It’s been noted again and again that the MeToo movement has overwhelmingly focused on the sexual bullying of white women who have fame and money, while ignoring the daily struggles of the most vulnerable women and non-binary folks. If the women who are calling men out keep failing to call themselves out—or asking men to push for equality while refusing to cede some of their influence—nothing changes. White women’s feminism and advocacy should look like what Chastain did, but it rarely does. We’re left with meaningless hot takes, pussy hats, and Facebook filters. The questions for people who say they want real equity are: what power do you wield and what are you giving up to make that happen? Solidarity is often a top-down matter. Folks on the lower rungs are often overlooked until their fates are linked to those whose presence is given greater value.

In her 2016 memoir, Taraji P. Henson wrote about how she was paid the “equivalent of sofa change” for her Oscar-nominated supporting role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, while Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt received millions. Henson didn’t have the name recognition of her costars at the time, nor the fame she has now, but even with those factors taken into account, the pay disparity seems outlandish given she was a “solid up-and-coming actress with a decent amount of critical acclaim for her work.” She got a low-six-figure deal, the smallest of fractions of her co-stars’ salaries, and was told she’d have to pay for her own hotel accommodations for the three-month shoot.

Henson spells out in her book why the onus is on those with power to speak up:

The math really is pretty simple: there are way more talented black actresses than there are intelligent, meaningful roles for them, and we’re consistently charged with diving for the crumbs of the scraps, lest we starve. I knew the stakes: no matter how talented, no matter how many accolades my prior work had received, if I pushed for more money, I’d be replaced and no one would so much as blink.

Last year, during an interview with Variety, Chastain said she was done “getting paid a quarter of what the male co-star is being paid. I’m not allowing that in my life.” Clearly, she realized it was a declaration that required a concurrent commitment to all the other women in the field to make sure they aren’t subject to starvation economy survival methods. Spencer—who for the record, beat out Chastain in the Oscar’s Best Actress Category—will hopefully receive a pay bump on every film from here on out, though Hollywood’s commitment to sexism and racism make that unlikely. On Twitter, Chastain suggested truly supportive male stars put their money where their mouths are to achieve gender pay fairness. “[Octavia] had been underpaid for so long,” she wrote in the message. “When I discovered that, I realized that I could tie her deal to mine to bring up her quote. Men should start doing this with their female costars.”

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, speaking at another Sundance talk, drove the point further home. “It’s nice to go out and march. We can do that. It’s nice to wear black at the Golden Globes—it’s nice to do that. But what are we doing behind closed doors? And I’ve got to give our sister Jessica Chastain her props because she stood up for Octavia and put it down. And that’s how we all need to do it for each other.”

By Kali Holloway/AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist