White Vegans: We Have A Race Problem

February 16, 2017
By Jacqueline Souza

People often go vegan so that they can fight for a cause: more often than not, the main objectives are to eliminate animal cruelty from our industries, and perhaps even the consumption of meat and dairy on a national level. These objectives are well-intended, but often, white vegans seem to develop a single-issue tunnel vision which is intensely adopted as time wears on.

It is estimated that out of the three percent of self-identifying vegetarian and vegan adults within the U.S. population, over sixty percent of those people are white; while a predominant interest in animal liberation is not inherently racist, the unexamined privilege of the community’s largest demographic allows them to choose animal liberation as their main priority as activists. Naturally, with that comes the nuanced and subliminal act of ignoring more socially pressing issues- many of those which affect vegans of color, who also strive for visibility within the vegan community. Of course, veganism was intended to actively protest the mistreatment and consumption of animals, and all social movements have a main objective- however, by ignoring the needs, motivations, and other social priorities of vegans of color, we are pretending like that part of our community is nonexistent and unimportant.

Amie “Breeze” Harper, a black feminist author out of Berkeley, California writes on her blog Sistah Vegan that by leaving the concept of white veganism unassessed, we “[ignore] the socio-historical context of skin color and the accouterments of white privilege that affect access to, and production of, local and global resources.” Too often, she believes, the differentiating motivations of black women who go vegan are ignored when compared to animal liberation: Harper notes that in her experience, “black female identified vegans that [she] had dialogued with had come to veganism from a completely different angle [like] reclaiming their womb health and fighting black health disparities.”

If we want to advance the U.S. vegan movement, we cannot leave people of color behind. We need to recognize that for some people, animal liberation is not a priority when issues like housing discrimination, police brutality, lack of healthcare, and lack of representation take the forefront. 

So, how do we make veganism more inclusive? How do we amplify the voices of vegans of color who already contribute to the movement?

Read the extended article in the March publication of New People.

Jacqueline Souza is an intern for New People and also studies sociology and journalism at the University of Pittsburgh. She is interested in racial justice, social movements, and U.S. politics.

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