Let’s say you’re an animal rights activist. You start dating a fellow vegan who runs a nonprofit that works to end sex trafficking.
During your relationship, you meet women and children your partner helped save. Your partner tells you the things they’ve seen, horrors they’ve faced, and just how much is happening right under your nose.
Over the years, you get to know your partner’s friends and colleagues. Their passion is contagious and you realize their cause is incredibly important. You’re so moved that you join them in the fight to end trafficking while still fighting for animal liberation.
But your partner’s friends don’t even consider going vegan. How could people who care so much about one injustice completely disregard another? You’ve been working hard to support their mission and you’re disappointed they aren’t receptive to yours.
Well, this is how I’ve felt most of this year.
I know the inner workings of animal abuse, but I’ve also been black for nearly 30 years. I’m living with the residual effects of a country built on racism, but I’m asked to silence that side of myself in vegan spaces.
Because I know speciesism and racism so well, I couldn’t look at the plight of either demographic and choose one to care about. Here’s how my fight to end human oppression opened my eyes to animal abuse and why both issues are important to me.
I was raised with a responsibility to give back to my community. My vegetarian upbringing and fairly recent vegan lifestyle made me want to bring nutritional education to black and brown neighborhoods.
African Americans lead the country in obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Helping my community take control of their health through plant-based eating was my way of giving back.
I figured animal advocates would be just as passionate about getting people to eat plants, so I dedicated a year to connect with as many as I could. I wanted to learn best practices and see which of your strategies I could apply to my work.
But something happened along the way. I learned so much about the horrors of animal agriculture that my heart was pulled towards a new cause. My community was still most important, but I wanted to learn more about animal agriculture.
I learned the fate of male chicks in the egg industry and talked my family out of a trip to the zoo. I’ve watched so much footage of animal murder this year that the sight of meat is nauseating.
I’ve connected with vegans through my Instagram, my writing and in vegan spaces across the country. When human rights issues were ever mentioned, they didn’t seem welcome.
Vegans are beautiful people, but it was disheartening to see such disregard for the child labor laws being violated to make a pleather coat, the enslavement associated with a “cruelty free” candy bar, and the lack of diversity in the mainstream animal rights community.
These weren’t even topics I brought up. As a sign of respect, I never mentioned human rights issues in animal rights spaces, but I noticed a pattern in online chatter, casual conversations and the backlash intersectional vegans constantly face.
There’s this attitude of, “As long as no animals were hurt, I’ll buy it!” in the vegan community. It’s hard seeing people with such a capacity to care overlook the other injustices they support and judge vegans who recognized them.
But isn’t it okay to care about other things? Shouldn’t we show compassion to all animals?
I’m not here begging vegans to care about things like racism. With speakers like Aph Ko gaining more attention and organizations like Farm Sanctuary communicating veganism with respect to the black community, I trust change will come.
But I’ll ask that you stop judging vegans who fight for more than just non-human animals. I shouldn’t have my commitment to the cause questioned just because I consider other social justice issues.
I don’t have to overlook racism, sexism, poverty, enslavement and other injustices to advocate for animals. I couldn’t violate another cause I care about in the name of animal rights.
The same way I wouldn’t buy non-vegan food to support a black-owned business, I wouldn’t buy a vegan sweater made by children in Uzbekistan to support a vegan clothing line. It’s a balancing act, but it’s fulfilling to know both human and non-human animals weren’t knowingly harmed in the making of things I consume.
I named my vegan initiative “Wanyama” (which means “animals” in Swahili) to remind myself of the two causes I care about most: animals and my heritage.
The goal of each Wanyama Box is to stop people from eating animals by showing how delicious vegan food really is, but giving this vegan box an African name reminds me how I got here and what I stand for.
So call off the witch hunt. Just because certain vegans bring up human rights issues doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten the animals. Our hearts are big enough for more than one cause and we’re sure your heart is too.
For more on my initiative to get our loved ones to stop eating animals, visit Wanyama Box.