Intersectional Veganism Made Simple
Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a series of videos from vegan YouTubers questioning the validity of intersectional veganism, specifically and social justice in general.
Firstly, I’d like to state that I don’t consider myself an “intersectional” vegan. But I find intersectionality a very useful critical tool for understanding many of the challenges we face as a society.
The term intersectionality refers to the intersection of different forms of oppression. When Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term back in 1989, it referred very specifically to the way that racism, sexuality and sexism intersect in the lives of black women. Crenshaw theorized it was impossible to adequately address the challenges faced by african-American women using isolated analytical categories.
When you think about it, this is just common sense. It is pragmatic. Traditional analytical categories are far from pragmatic. Isolating a single issue (such as the plight of child soldiers), without making reference to the relationships between age, race, class, sexuality, and gender doesn’t even make sense. I strongly recommend watching Kimberle Crenshaw’s fabulous TedTalk on the subject for more information on intersectional theory.
How Does Intersectional Theory Apply to Veganism?
Now, what if we apply intersectional theory to veganism?
An intersectional approach is pragmatic because when engaging in vegan outreach and activism, nearly all people will come from different backgrounds, and may face very specific challenges to going vegan or to engaging in activism. They might also find it important to receive reassurance that they are in a safe and welcoming space where their concerns will be listened to.
I’m sympathetic who feel that it’s better to address individual issues, without tailoring their message to their audience. But I think it’s a mistake. It’s an outdated and ineffective approach the sidelines the vast majority of people.
I also realize that some people are uncomfortable with concept of interconnected systems of oppression, and the fact that these systems of oppression cannot be addressed individually.
I think the discomfort arises from the fact that we want to be able to solve things quickly and easily, which is understandable. But it is not practical.
The Complications of Intersectional Veganism
Generally, when people refer to intersectional veganism, they are referring to the vegans, not the animals. This is somewhat challenging, because it’s difficult to understand the actual oppression faced by animals. There are some small things we can do – I try to remember that as vegans we are attempting to give voice to the animals, rather than “be a voice” for the animals, since of course we cannot know their exact concerns.
Many vegans do draw parallels between human and animal slavery, or between the incarceration of animals and the Holocaust. Black vegans may find more compassion for animals because they see veganism as a tool for dismantling other forms of oppression:
Here at BVR we firmly believe that veganism and animal rights efforts are (or perhaps should be) an integral part of dismantling white supremacy. – Black Vegans Rock (BVR)
Speciesism, classism, racism, ableism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism – all these forms of oppression intersect.
Now, does intersectionality apply to animals? I believe it does, to a certain degree. Certainly the issues faced by dairy cows as females are rather different from those faced by animals raised mainly for their meat. Obviously to understand the different changes faced by these species is also a challenge. Sexuality of course is also an issue, since humans almost always attempt to control the reproduction of the animals under their “care.” Ageism of course is dramatic with farm animals, which are killed long before they have lived out their natural lifespans. And of course, speciesism affects animals in profound ways.
I’m not an Intersectional Vegan
As I stated at the outset, I don’t consider myself an intersectional vegan (again, mostly because I don’t see myself as a member of an oppressed group). I see the value of intersectional veganism, and I believe that many of the principles can be extremely helpful for understanding the intersection of various forms of oppression, including speciesism. I think an intersectional approach is invaluable.
Personally, social justice is a bit more my jam, and always has been. My next video and blog post will discuss social justice in a bit more depth, but for now I will simply say that my personal ties to the social justice movement go much deeper, and have been a part of my life for a long time. My background as a historian has given me the opportunity to learn about many different critical approaches, but I tend to consider them “tools in a toolbox” rather than ideologies to be fervently held. As I mention in the video that accompanies this post, most of my own academic work has a decidedly marxian slant, but that has more to do with my subject areas (Latin America and 19th century labour law) than it has to do with any personal conviction. Although, I must admit, even as a progressive capitalist-socialist, I find Karl Marx’ statement “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” rather more like common sense than ideology to me.