I thought I would write about white veganism and saviorship at length in light of my recent post.
The idea advanced was that less white people would be vegan if animals could speak and center themselves within the animal rights movement. This is not a novel idea, it has been discussed within and outside of vegan spaces, but it hasn’t been picked up in mainstream veganism because it calls out white folks in particular.
Just look at how Black people continue to be oppressed. We can use language, center ourselves, and tell people how they should show up and we are ALWAYS dismissed. It isn’t wild to assume that if animals could do the same, they would also be dismissed. The idea that animals are innocent and worthy of being saved because they are “voiceless” is something that lends itself well for folks to barge in and acts as saviors. And, if you look at it from a historical perspective, which group of individuals has been responsible for operating under this saviorship model? Ding ding ding, it is white people! Before you “not all white people” this, remember that there are only 22 countries or so in the world that Britain has not invaded and somehow attempted to impose their dominance/superiority over. The mission of “saving” POC from their hedonism (not being Christian) and “barbaric languages” (not speaking the queen’s English) were just some of the many excuses that white folks used to assert the dominance of others. In a similar light, non-human animals are the perfect victims for white people to swoop in and “save the day” because of their inability to use language and our ability to assert force over them and speak in their place.
If non-human animals could speak, it can be argued that more marginalized people would be vegan because animals would be centered instead of the egos of white people. As a Black femme, I can understand why other non-white individuals would not want to be vegan given how white and problematic mainstream veganism is portrayed in the media. If you look at veganism, you will note that there is a lot of ableism re: “there is no excuse not to go vegan” and with that, there is a lot of racism as well. When I first went vegan, I was also militant and perhaps embodied some traits of white veganism, but once I realized that I was vegan because I am against all forms of oppression, not exploiting non-human animals just became an extension of this wider stance on anti-oppression. For me, and many others who advocate for radical liberation, veganism is not the end goal, but simply a part of the bigger picture. If one is against all forms of oppression, then not exploiting animals becomes just one part of the story, but when you look at most white vegans, veganism is the entire story. Indeed, many are not doing the work to be anti-racist or to not be transphobic for instance because they are unwilling to extend their compassion to other groups of individuals and that’s the tea. Thus, the motivating factor for many (white) vegans to be vegan isn’t that they want to do the right thing, but rather the motivation to be vegan stems from a need to do something that you can feel good about and which doesn’t force you to recognize the different ways in which you continue to uphold problematic beliefs and oppressive structures.
Take anonymous for the voiceless for instance who has for the longest while refused to comment or advocate for Black folks. They have even stated that intersectionality is garbage and has no place in veganism. What’s the rationale behind that? Why would a group of people pride themselves in advocating for a select few to go vegan? Are Black people not people? Would you not want Black people to look at your page and think to themselves “ Let me listen to the points that this group raises about animal liberation because they are also here for the liberation of ALL individuals including Black people like me”. It makes no sense that groups want their activism to be LESS accessible, but then again, these people fall under the umbrella of folks for whom veganism IS the end all be all. Veganism for anonymous for the voiceless is not an extension of their compassion or consideration for other groups, it stems from a narrow-minded and single-issue focused activism. The solution isn’t for groups like anonymous for the voiceless to post about BLM 24/7 (I don’t think that would be genuine or productive to their mission), but they should be doing the work to be anti-racist so that they can encourage ALL people to go vegan regardless of their race. PS. I am aware that I framed this in a tacky manner (care about Black people so that you can encourage more Black folks to go vegan), but I did this because we operate in a white supremacist world wherein anti Blackness is rampant so I have to give people reasons to be pro-Black other than the fact that it is the right thing to do.
All of this to say that if people were vegan because they wanted to do the right thing, there would be no racist vegans, no ableist vegans, no sexist vegans, etc. The disheartening reality is that many vegans (mostly white folks) aren’t interested in ending the exploitation of all living beings, they are specifically interested in “saving” non-human animals because it is easy for them to center their egos without checking the problematic beliefs they hold with regards to race, gender, class, and levels of ability. If animals could speak, they would likely demand more from us and correct our activism so that it most accurately meets their varying needs. If animals could speak, they would center themselves and hold us to account. As such, the peace of mind and holier than thou attitude that many white folks get from being vegan would be disrupted.
With this said, if you are vegan, I strongly encourage you to question the reason why you are vegan and whether or not your veganism fits within a larger stance on radical liberation. If it does not and if your ego is centered in your activism, you’re only doing part of the work and you shouldn’t be satisfied or proud of yourself for upholding other systems of oppression while you denounce animal exploitation. Do more.
1 thought on “saviourship within veganism”
thank you so much for this. besides being well-written and very thorough, it was exactly the thing i needed to check myself as a white vegan. the unfortunate truth is that i never had to consider such things in my place of privilege. i am still learning how my white privilege plays a part in my day-to-day life, but i clearly have a lot left to learn. i don’t think i had even recognized how the vegan movement could be connected to the larger movement against oppression of all living things. i’m choosing to be better, as a vegan, as an activist, and as an ally. again, thank you writing this and i hope that many others are able to recognize its importance.