Friday, November 27, 2015

Sickos, Psychos, and Idiots: Is Your Activism Ableist?

Animal rights graphic of a fox, reads, "Fur is for animals not rich idiots"

What do you think? Are meat-eaters sick? Are animal abusers psychopaths? Do you think people who love some animals but eat other animals are morally schizophrenic?

There is an awful lot of ableist claimsmaking taking place in the American Nonhuman Animal rights movement. In my new article, published with the leading journal in disabilities studies, Disability & Society, I explored this issue quantitatively.

In addition to coding mainstream newspapers for comparison (as consistent with earlier studies, anti-speciesism activists were mostly portrayed negatively), I also coded 50 leading vegan and Nonhuman Animal rights blogs from across the spectrum.

Overall, about one fourth of the blogs in the study were using ableism enough to be coded as ableist or very ableist. The most frequently surfacing words among nonvegan newspapers were "crazy," "problem" (in the context of, say, 'this activist has a problem'), "loony," "nuts," "different" and "freak."

Although Vegan Sidekick was not included in the study, the memes it produces are excellent examples of the disability framework used to frame speciesism

And activists? A greater variety of disability stereotypes were used in addition to "crazy" and "different," such as "dumb," "depressed," "insane," "psycho," "sad," capable of "violence," and "schizophrenic."

It turned out that food blogs and non-profit blogs were less likely to frame speciesism as a symptom of mental illness, but theory-based blogs not associated with any organization were the real sites of ableist rabble-rousing. In fact, Gary Francione's Abolitionist Approach blog was the outlier in the study, averaging more than one ableist term for each essay included in the sample (in total, 319 hits were attributed to this blog, mostly the term "schizophrenic").

The problem is that using disability as a pejorative in a social movement framework to villainize or shame the audience into accepting the movement's claim actually banks on social inequality as a point of resonance. This should be problematic for any social movement that has egalitarianism as an end goal.

Unfortunately, the study has some limits. Some words like "problem" and "violent," that were included as disability stereotypes (I used list of terms used by disability researchers in another study) can muddy interpretation, as speciesism necessarily entails violence and any social movement is likely to frame its target as having a "problem." Coders were instructed to mark these terms as present only when a person or humans were specifically targeted, rather than abstract ideas ("Meat-eaters engage in violence" would be flagged, for instance, while, "Speciesism entails violence" would not). Some disability pejoratives like "stupid" or "idiotic" were not included, though these words are highly likely to have surfaced. Finally, I used VeganFeed to select the blog sample, as it provided a good variety of blog types. Unfortunately, it excluded some prominent non-profit organizations such as PETA. Additional studies could expand on these findings.

The first 50 visitors can download a copy free of charge by clicking here. Otherwise, you may access the research by visiting my profile.

Wonka meme, reads, "So you pay someone to kill for you and you eat the dead bodies, but you're not a psychopath?"

Nonhuman Animal rights activists are sometimes dismissed as ‘crazy’ or irrational by countermovements seeking to protect status quo social structures. Social movements themselves often utilize disability narratives in their claims-making as well. In this article, we argue that Nonhuman Animal exploitation and Nonhuman Animal rights activism are sometimes medicalized in frame disputes. The contestation over mental ability ultimately exploits humans with disabilities. The medicalization of Nonhuman Animal rights activism diminishes activists’ social justice claims, but the movement’s medicalization of Nonhuman Animal use unfairly otherizes its target population and treats disability identity as a pejorative. Utilizing a content analysis of major newspapers and anti-speciesist activist blogs published between 2009 and 2013, it is argued that disability has been incorporated into the tactical repertoires of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and countermovements, becoming a site of frame contestation. The findings could have implications for a number of other social movements that also negatively utilize disability narratives.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Is it Vegan to Eat Mock Meats?

Tofurky: Closer in relation to a bird or a football?

"Let me ask you a question," my mother queried to me one day, "If you are against eating meat because it comes from animals, why do you eat veggie dogs?" 

Ah, the ol' mock meat "gotcha" question. But let's give her some credit. My mother, whose diet is probably 80% plant-based, was genuinely curious, so I tried to offer a genuine response. 

To me, it boils down to this: what's a hot dog have to do with Nonhuman Animals anymore than a veggie dog? Both of them are just protein links heavily seasoned and artificially shaped for palate pleasure. Neither of them look, smell, or taste anything like a pig's corpse.

Theoretically, I see mock meats as culturally relevant in the way that pornography is to women. The mock meat industry and the pornography industry exist as symbolic representations of violence against the vulnerable (with the exception being that pornography entails the physical harm of actual women in its production process). I think we are right to be critical of mock meat as a cultural matter.

However, based on my observations in the vegan community over the years, mock meats do not seem to take up a huge part of the diet, and most people who stay vegan long enough transition off of them. Mock meats, while convenient, are frequently expensive and unhealthy. For those living in food deserts and underserved communities, they're also difficult to source for most.  

I also project that, in another few decades, mock meats probably won't even be associated with the Nonhuman Animals they are supposed to be mimicking. The objectification and commodification process is a sophisticated one that easily removes the "person" from the product.   

Allow me to explain what I mean by this. For most consumers who have not had their consciousness raised (which is true of most nonvegans), Nonhuman Animal products are already shaped and flavored in a way that removes them from the being they once were, and few are consciously aware of this absent referent (to use the language of Carol J. Adams). Sure, if you think about it, a hamburger or milkshake was once part of a living breathing person. But marketing works hard to eliminate that guilt-inducing, not so pleasurable reminder. Few people really, truly do think about it. Food consumption is socially constructed behavior--the system is structured in a way to encourage mindless eating and eliminate critical thinking and personal agency. If this happens so seamlessly for actual Nonhuman Animal products, then I predict that plant-based foods (those that are mocking animal-based foods, which are themselves pretending not to be animal-based) will probably absorb fully into unconscious consumption patterns. 

 meats, just like "real" meats, are shaped, flavored, and textured to encourage consumption. They no more resemble Nonhuman Animals than potato chips resemble potatoes, or fruit punch resembles fresh fruit. It's processed junk that appeals to the base nature of human desire: smells and tastes of fat, sugar, and carbohydrates.

I asked a colleague of mine for their thoughts, "I didn't go vegan because I reject certain shapes or flavors. And even as a nonvegan, I didn't sit there and relish the killing. I relished the flavors."  

And then there is my partner, also vegan for reasons of ethical concern, who just cannot bring himself to eat vegetables. Where would he be without smoked tofu? Would he live? Sure. Is it worth arguing over because it might be shaped and flavored like animal corpses sometimes are? I don't think so.

For that matter, where would Asian culture be without smoked tofu? Buddhists have been creating soy-based (and wheat-based) protein products for centuries. It is a practice also based in ethics, and mock "meats" are understood to be foundational to living non-violently. Western markets may have corporatized plant-based proteins (and The Vegan Society actually encourages the development of animal-free alternatives),1 but, long rooted in Asian traditions, their history is much older than that. To make sweeping claims about the inherent unethical nature of mock meats is to run the risk of ethnocentrism. 

So to answer your question, Mom, if we're talking about mock meats that strongly resemble the corpses of other animals, okay, this is problematic in the context of a deeply speciesist society. But if we are talking about chunks of protein that are shaped and flavored and don't resemble anyone, then these are foods I'm not especially worried about. I have more important concerns on my anti-speciesist agenda.

1. The definition of veganism according to The Vegan Society (emphasis added): "A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

'It is Anything But': Sarah K. Woodcock Comments on Equality in Abolitionist Spaces

Dear colleagues,

I share this important letter that was today posted publicly on a social media page by my good friend Sarah K. Woodcock, founder of The Abolitionist Vegan Society (TAVS). This is the first time she has responded publicly to the racist microaggressions and harassment that the abolitionist movement has directed at her and other "intersectionalists" (a slur used by some abolitionists to describe abolitionist vegans who take a pro-intersectional approach) since the recent movement disruption documented on Vegan Trove (an anti-intersectional abolitionist platform that has been rejected by but still promotes Francione, a prominent abolitionist icon).

The concern over in-fighting and intra-movement violence in abolitionist spaces is nothing new. In Woodcock's case, she was forced to the center of this turmoil just over a year ago (TAVS has issued a public statement on the matter here and here). Woodcock and others have been upsetting the privilege and white-centrism of the abolitionist faction, only to be met with considerable hostility and limited support. Indeed, many white abolitionists remained silent on the matter of her victimization, or, worse, joined in it.

The message published here remains pertinent today as the pro-intersectional abolitionist community's commitment to nonviolence continues to encourage negative (and sometimes aggressive) responses from abolitionist leaders. I have omitted the names of those for whom the letter is specifically addressed, as the content of the letter actually speaks to a systemic issue. It is shared here with her permission.

[ . . . ] The abolitionist movement is racist and hostile to people of color. While it spouts off great ideas about being “against all forms of oppression,” its actions are not aligned with its words. It is *uncannily* similar to how nonvegans spout off great ideas about being “against animal cruelty” but live nonvegan. That is why I coined the term badgeally (Corey’s essay with examples, not just accusations here). The abolitionist movement is rampant with badgeallies.

And before you or anyone say this “This isn’t about race,” remember that saying that is a privilege only white people have. Please check your privilege.

Because society is systemically racist, the abolitionist movement replicates that system of inequality. White abolitionists have a responsibility to make the movement safe and inclusive for people of color. It is anything but. This is what Corey and I speak up about, and if you [...] and others have a problem with that, that should tell all of you something. I have been experiencing marginalization and microaggressions from white abolitionists since day 1 of my entering the movement. I have been and continue to be invisibilized, which is a classic racist tactic, by white abolitionists since day 1. In the beginning, when I na├»vely thought white abolitionists would be concerned about this because they claim to be “against racism,” I raised my concerns to several white abolitionists. I was met with denial, more marginalization, more microaggressions, and more invisibilization.

One of the greatest things that happened since I split with Francione & Co. was that I came to the harsh realization that the abolitionist movement is not actually against racism. Of course, it and everyone in it claims to be against racism. But people of color don’t have the privilege or luxury of not seeing the truth behind those claims.

As for reconciliation, it is just like the abolitionist/nonabolitionist movements. There are fundamental ethical issues at stake here. Just as the abolitionist movement cannot “reconcile” with the nonabolitionist movement because it would mean compromising on fundamental ethical issues, the anti-racist abolitionist movement cannot “reconcile” with the racist abolitionist movement because it would mean compromising on fundamental ethical issues. To me, as a person of color, denying the racism in the abolitionist movement is as unacceptable as denying the speciesism in the vegan movement. For those who want to learn more about the racism (as well as the other forms of oppression) in the abolitionist movement, I recommend checking out The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. Wrenn has written extensively on these topics.

That is one of the things that makes TAVS different from the rest of the abolitionist movement. We refuse to deny and be silent about the racism in the abolitionist movement. We are building a movement that is safe (or safer) for people of color.

Well, as I wrote in my recent post on the TAVS page, I rarely post about drama in the abolitionist vegan movement because my time and energy is better spent on building the movement I want, not having exchanges like this, so I will be turning off notifications now. Take care, everyone.


If you take anti-oppression seriously, it must extend beyond Nonhuman Animals to include all beings who are vulnerable to systemic violence. It's not only the just and moral approach; it simply makes good sense as a strategic matter.

Allies are requested to please show their support for Woodcock and The Abolitionist Vegan Society by getting involved with one or more of the many amazing ongoing non-violent, vegan, pro-intersectional campaigns that TAVS is currently running. Readers can join TAVS by visiting the website or link up by visiting TAVS on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Effective Messaging: Is Appealing to Social Justice, Environment, or Efficient, More Profitable Exploitation More Effective?

If abolitionists conducted research like welfarists....

The Humane League's "labs" recently conducted a "study" inappropriately framing abolitionism as a matter of "purity" in its bid to prove that welfarism (THL's approach) was most effective. This "purity" label, as I have explained in previous writings, sets up an immediate bias. First, what abolitionist frames their work as a matter of purity? Really? Second, given the choice between "cruelty" and "purity," what participant would ever look fondly on this fictional stickler? The study was rigged, specifically designed to fail abolitionists.

Just today, Faunalytics (a non-profit that benefits from grants supplied by elite-run foundations which profit from status-quo inequality) was promoting the "study" with a title that reflects THL's biased framework: "Effective Messaging: Is Appealing to Purity, Environment, or Cruelty More Effective?" When assessing self-produced, self-serving research, it is important to think structurally. Like Faunalytics, THL also remains "in business" by appealing to speciesism. Speciesism is where the money is.

It should go without saying, but abolitionism isn't about purity. Abolitionism uses the frame of social justice and liberation, and this frame that is threatening to elites. This is why non-profits like Faunalytics, THL, etc. do the work of speciesists in regularly mischaracterizing abolitionist activism. They must distance themselves from this threat in order to protect their income.

The sharp increase in "science" used to support corrupted approaches is a theme I explore in my new book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. It is available for purchase through Palgrave Macmillan.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What’s Wrong with the Israeli Animal Rights Movement, 269?

Content warning/Not Safe for WorkThis article, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and racial violence which may be upsetting. Some quotes contain strong language. Many images included are graphic and disturbing.

By shawndeez davari jadalizadeh

Last month, on September 26, people gathered in city centers to take part in the international day of protest, Respect Life. Spanning across seventy cities worldwide, the Respect Life protest “is to bring animal liberation to the forefront of human consciousness.” The goal, as stated by the organizing group 269 Life, is to raise awareness about the “animal holocaust.” Many praise the group 269 Life for its daring animal rights activism and participate in their international calls to action. However, there is a growing consciousness in the broader animal rights movement that this group is in fact rooted entirely in unsound ideology. Only three years old, the Israeli animal rights group 269 Life is undoubtedly the largest animal rights group in Israel. With significant followership across the globe, understanding 269 is the key to understanding the Israeli animal rights movement more broadly.

The foundation of 269 is based on a Declaration entitled the Non-Humans First Declaration which unequivocally defines human oppressions, such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., as irrelevant and unimportant to fighting for animal rights. The Declaration consists of three main Articles, the first of which is that “no one should be excluded from participation in animal rights activities based on their views on human issues.” Making clear the disregard for human oppression, the Declaration specifically makes room for activists who have no interest in intersectionality. In particular, this defining Article condones racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia in the animal rights movement by allowing activists to enter without engaging a critical stance on systematic oppression. This type of mandate allows individuals who do not want to struggle against the arduous and complex network of oppressions to join a movement where they can participate in animal rights activism, while continuing to be racist, sexist, homophobes.

The second article states that “tactics should prioritise non-human animals” and that “no tactical idea should be excluded from the discussion based on its conflict with human rights ideology.” This point is imperative in understanding 269’s style of activism. Famous for their brutal and inflammatory demonstrations, 269 has a history of engaging in protest tactics which involve violence against human beings.

For example, the group conducted a “performance” in which a group of men wearing all black ski masks abduct a young woman, rip her baby away from her, and forcibly milk her like a cow while beating her, all on a public sidewalk. In yet another instance of senseless and offensive activism last year, 269 activists donned pointed white hoods covered in blood, eerily resembling the KKK. Corey Wrenn describes the problematic nature of one of 269’s branding demonstrations in how “these branded men in chains draw on a history of human slavery. There’s something disturbing about white skinned activists from a mostly white organization reenacting a history of racial oppression while simultaneously failing to acknowledge it in their narrative.” Triggering and traumatic, 269’s approaches to animal rights are perpetuating very real notions of violence against women, People of Color, and children.

The third and final article of the Declaration is a “call on human beings to free their own (non-human) slaves before demanding their own rights.” Building off of an embedded privilege, the language of the Declaration implies that humans are to give up concern and pursuit of their own rights. Evidently, individuals with identities which face more systematic oppression (People of Color, women, working class, queer, disabled, etc.) will likely not be able to get behind the concept of putting the animals’ first, nor should they, as simply surviving is often a struggle. It is in this Article where all the privileges apparent in the rationale behind the 269 Declaration manifest. It is also more than apparent in the title as well as the language of the Declaration that this is fundamentally an agenda to promote animal rights at the expense of human rights, under the guise of “urgency” for animals.

The central issue with the Non-Humans First Declaration is that it openly calls for classification of animal oppression as wholly more important and necessary to fight than human oppression, in addition to inviting racists and sexists to join the ranks. As a fixture of Israeli animal rights, we must note that the Non-Humans First Declaration is publicly signed by the founder of the group, Sasha Bojoor, as well as four 269 Life chapters. Therefore any group which supports the Non-Humans First Declaration, 269 Life in particular, should be seen for what it is – an anti-intersectional animal rights group, which not only accepts, but normalizes violence against humans.

269’s staunch Non-Humans First stance, as well as their sizeable global followership, demonstrates a structural problem within the animal rights movement today. Emblematic of the underlying oppressions embedded in animal rights activism more generally, 269 openly houses and nurtures anti-intersectional activists. In particular, their activism which champions violence against women, children, and People of Color, fortifies violence against traditionally oppressed bodies. Therefore, activists and groups which continue to collaborate with 269 should be rebranded as anti-intersectional.  

Examples of Problematic 269 Activism

Because 269 uses the fundamentally problematic Non-Humans First Declaration as their manifesto, the activism which emerges from 269 is likewise deeply troubling. Almost all of their strategy is designed to evoke visceral reactions, generated in large part by acts of violence against humans. In performing these actions however, hegemonic narratives of violence against certain bodies are reified and therefore normalize those perceptions.

The following sections are designed to help outline the varying problems with 269’s attempt at activism. Due to the complex networks of oppression, it is entirely impossible to remove race analysis from gender analysis, so on and so forth. Therefore, I have chosen to place examples under general titles to which I believe they best fit. However there is an undoubtable overlap between oppressions and I acknowledge that certain examples could be placed in multiple categories.  

Violence Against Women

One of the most basic violences which 269’s activism contributes to is their recurring activist theme of violence against women. Their activism entirely disregards historic and ongoing power dynamics of male supremacy. In fact, a majority of their actions rely heavily on the subordination, suppression, or violent attack of women, almost always conducted by men.

Street demonstration, men holding down a woman who is screaming as she is branded with a hot iron

Street demonstration; two men lead a woman dressed in white wearing a cow mask, head down

Street demonstration, woman winces as she is branded with a hot iron by a man

The repetitive performance of violence against women’s bodies is unhelpful, to say the least, in challenging the very real threats which women today face all over the world. In case it is unclear to 269, domestic violence, sexual assault, and murder are still rampant worldwide social ills. It is now well-known that one in three women globally will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. As 269 continues to conduct these demonstrations in city centers across the world, their “activism” actually works to normalize this violence against women.

By designing these deeply gendered performances, 269’s work supports the notion that violence against women is possible, and worse, acceptable.

Irrespective of the consensual nature of the act, meaning even if we are to assume that the woman has agreed to participate of her own accord in an action which deliberately brings harm to her body, the violence still occurs. And 269 uses that violence against her body as a performance by which to sell, or advertise, the idea of veganism. Through a deeper understanding of the gender violence perpetuated in 269’s activism, the parallels between their stunts and capitalist exploitation of female bodies becomes eerily similar. By designing these deeply gendered performances, 269’s work supports the notion that violence against women is possible, and worse, acceptable. The repetitive production of such gendered violence further supports that conclusion.

Considering that our society has conditioned us to accept violence against women’s bodies as a routine or nonsignificant norm, the recreation of this particular violence continues to enforce that understanding. The repetitive consumption of violence against women’s bodies works to make regular, or “normal,” the violence women experience. And any activism which contributes to these normalizations is incredibly dangerous.

In addition to their street demonstrations, some of 269’s poster designs are extremely troubling. One of the most egregious examples of this is a poster with the phrase, “Got Rape?” Wholly ignorant and disrespectful to human survivors of sexual violence, 269’s poster designs reify violence against women, with rhetoric indistinguishable from Men’s Rights Activists’. Their sheer disregard for the triggering aspects of their tactics and the violences they contribute to demonstrates either their overwhelming privilege, their ignorance, or a combination of both.

  Gloved arm is forced into a milk carton that has bottom that resembles that of a cow. Reads, "Got rape?" 

Maintaining Racial Hierarchies, White Supremacist Power Structures, and The Israeli Occupation

In addition to violence against women, 269’s activism contributes to maintaining racial hierarchies, white supremacist political power structures, and the Israeli occupation. Through much of their activism, 269 continues to circulate images which support existing racist structures. In one instance, the group used a highly offensive poster to advertise an event in March of 2014. The picture, shown below, situates an image of half of a Black male face adjacent to half of a white cow face with the words “Eradicating Human Supremacy.”

Poster for march, shows half of a Black man's face juxtaposed with half of a white cow's face

Firstly, given that this is one of the only, if not the only, times in which a Black individual is present in 269’s activism is a problem in an of itself, considering the severe anti-Blackness prevalent in animal rights activism. More importantly, the way in which they chose to depict this Black man’s face is wholly unsettling because it is not even designed to tokenize and represent this identity as a symbol of diversity for the group. Rather, the half-image is used to advertise for an event to “Eradicate Human Supremacy,” more clearly, to criminalize the Black individual as the symbol of wrongdoing in a speciesist society. The blatant insensitivity present in this photo demonstrates how 269 disregards the traumatic, horrific, and disgusting histories of worldwide slavery. Their choice of a Black man in this photo to visualize the eradication of human supremacy shows the complete lack of recognition of the ongoing human supremacy known as white supremacy.

An even deeper reading of the photograph allows for discerning the deeply embedded racist undertones by analyzing the juxtaposition of the Blackness of the Black face and the whiteness of the cow face. Given the said goal of the event and the ideology of 269’s Non-Humans First Declaration, animal life is seen as pure, sacred, and innocent as juxtaposed by the Black face, understood as the opposite of those qualities. Therefore, this construction of the Black face, seen as the human supremacist in the photograph, is defined in part by the contrast with the white cow face, seen as innocent and sacred. Additionally, the fact that the group leader, Sasha Bojoor, is responsible for circulating this image on social media as his Facebook profile picture further supports how the group leadership is oblivious to its perpetuation of anti-Black racism.

In addition to 269’s racist posters, one of their demonstrations for the Eradicating Human Supremacy Day in Italy exemplifies how ignorant and disrespectful they are with respect to race matters. Their description of the event reads as follows:
The 21st of March is the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. We have chosen this day to continue spreading our message of animal liberation and call for the complete eradication of human supremacy over all other life forms! We are acting in unity with the UN’s intention for this day. The following excerpt is taken from their website: “The theme for this year's event is ‘Racism and Conflict,’ highlighting the fact that racism and discrimination often are at the root of deadly conflict.” ...We believe that there cannot be peace, nor an end to human prejudice while our hands are wet with the blood of billions of innocent animals!
Choosing to organize their day of action on the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is in effect seizing and dominating the one space and time set aside specifically for the discussion of racial violence. First, we have to recognize the painstaking difficulty of successfully centering race, racial violence, and the systematic oppressions of white supremacy at the United Nations. Knowing that it took strategic organizing and dedication on the parts of People of Color to centralize a discussion on race at the international level, it is simply absurd for animal rights activists, white animal rights activists, to interdict, claim, and take ownership over that space.

Instead of organizing their protest on another day, which would have allowed the much-needed space for the discussion of racial violence, they decide to take over and monopolize the space for their own ambitions, all while ignoring systemic racism within animal rights movements as an anti-intersectional group.

This is an upsetting manifestation of white animal rights activists downplaying the severity of racial violence and co-opting a space designed to address racial violence to meet their own needs. Furthermore, given that the 269 group could organize its demonstration quite literally any other day, demonstrates the arrogance of their activism. Instead of organizing their protest on another day, which would have allowed the much-needed space for the discussion of racial violence, they decide to take over and monopolize the space for their own ambitions, all while ignoring systemic racism within animal rights movements as an anti-intersectional group. The photo below is a part of their action, disrupting the space in front of the building which housed the meeting.

Woman in her underwear is seran wrapped like meat laying on the ground in a street protest

Continuing the trend of co-opting “International Days,” 269 Czech Republic also designed an action titled “Slave Auction Event.” In this blatantly derogatory event, a group of white Czechs simulated a human slave auction on the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery.

  Advertisement created by 269 Life that is brown with old font made to resemble a slave auction notice; refers to nonhuman animals

Live demo by 269life, shows white activists dressed as slaves on auction block

Drawing on the horrendous history of slavery, without due recognition, apology, or respect, this event is outright offensive. Again, co-opting a space which is not theirs to take and co-opting a history which is not theirs to reproduce, 269’s activism strategically swallows the space set aside to address the brutalities of slavery by staging a demonstration in front of the UN International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery Conference. In addition to being simply insulting, 269’s slavery-activism diminishes the material implications of slavery which still very much exist to this day. Shockingly self-serving, 269’s slavery-activism demonstrates how entirely clueless the group is to race, racial dynamics, and histories/realities of racial hierarchies.

Unfortunately, this is a recurring theme within 269 activism, in which white people repeatedly act as slaves, dawn chains, and get branded without taking any responsibility for their appropriative and insulting actions. As argued by Aph Ko in Everyday Feminism, “comparing oppressions is violent and exploitative, particularly because black oppression isn’t over.” Exploiting Black history and recreating triggering visuals with an overwhelming degree of disregard for histories of slavery, 269 pursues its anti-intersectional activism while actively reproducing anti-Black racism within animal rights.

Another image circulated by 269 which fortifies racist hierarchies is an image of what is perceived to be a Person of Color over a slaughtered sheep.

  Picture of a Muslim man who has just slaughtered a sheep. The sheep's corpse lays in the street in a pool of blood as he cleans his knife.   

The iconography in the photograph, along with the rhetoric “When you eat meat you’re forcing others to die for your beliefs” recreates the recurring problem of white-supremacist animal rights work. This type of whiteness-centric activism can be defined as activism organized and designed by white people and white groups in demonizing and targeting People of Color. In this instance, 269, an overwhelmingly white group is showcasing an image which falls quite literally into the whiteness-centric, racially profiling setup of “animal whites.”

Islamophobia is increasingly on the rise and entirely unaddressed within the animal rights community.

Furthermore, the Orientalism at play in this photograph contribute to existing Islamophobic notions of barbarity and savagery of Middle Eastern peoples. This point is not to be taken lightly, as Islamophobia is increasingly on the rise and entirely unaddressed within the animal rights community. Photos such as this which get widely circulated throughout social media reinforce Islamophobic and Orientalizing perceptions of Middle Easterners. In addition to the Orientalizing nature of some of 269’s activism, it is fundamental to outline how their unsound ideology manifests in violence towards human populations, in particular, the Palestinian people. An interview with Santiago Gomez, one of the original group members who participated in the original “branding” event in Rabin Square of Tel Aviv, shared his ideological transition of once being against the Israeli occupation to now supporting it.

The concept of “normalization,” borrowed from the Palestinian issue and applied to human/nonhuman interaction, was another peppery eye-opener towards the end of my time as a human rights activist. For those not familiar with the political parlance, “normalization” refers to any organization, group or program that brings together Palestinians and Israelis under vague and nonpolitical banners of “coexistence,” without direct and explicit acknowledgement of the occupation, apartheid, histories of displacement and the overall oppression of the former by the latter, as well as the need to combat it. It is essentially a way to whitewash oppressor/oppressed relations through the creation of a false sense of symmetry and sameness. And I maintain that the concept of a “one struggle” is a mechanism which basically serves the same purpose.”

In this instance, Gomez is arguing a very nuanced yet crucial point to understanding his transition out of an intersectional activist stance. After outlining his epiphany of realizing the contradictions in his stance against the Israeli occupation, Gomez articulates his non-humans first stance by claiming that the concept of “one struggle,” or intersectionality, is equivalent to human supremacy. Therefore, Gomez is arguing that intersectionality is fundamentally a human-centric cause and that he himself disagrees with the efforts to challenge the occupation, apartheid, histories of displacement, and the overall oppression embedded in the Israeli occupation. Rooting his rationale in the Non-Humans First rhetoric, it is evident that his logic strategically dismisses, erases, and removes any concern with Palestinian rights. More broadly, his analysis is based on erasing context, or histories of violence, in order to focus all efforts entirely on animal rights work.

Gomez goes on in the interview to explain how he now supports the Israeli occupation because the embargo limits the number of cows allowed into Palestine and because Israeli military attacks have caused the near collapse of the Gaza fishing industry. He details his rationale beforehand as an intersectional activist who was insulted at such an argument and how he now supports the Israeli military occupation and violence towards the Palestinian people.

Further emphasizing his point, Gomez claims,
The oft-repeated argument that the animal rights movement should concern itself with human rights because “humans are animals too” would be a prime example of such a linkage, as would any reference to the low wages or dangerous work conditions of those poor slaughterhouse workers. The chant “human freedom, animal rights, one struggle, one fight!”—an ahistorical, apolitical, decontextualized and across-the-board flawed syllogism if there ever was one—would be a close third.
Citing the crux of intersectional activism, concern for human struggles, as an antithesis to his activism, Gomez illustrates his aversion to intersectional activism. Ridiculing the notion that humans are animals too as an arm of whitewashing oppressed/oppressor relations, Gomez is again, reifying the Non-Humans First Declaration.

Emphasizing his stances, Gomez unashamedly points to the ability of 269 Life to make its unequivocal stances against human rights issues.
For all the faults you may find with 269, it is at least free of that pernicious political inferiority complex which plagues animal rights activism, in that it is definitely *not* about seeking validation through pathetic attempts at riding the coattails of “more pressing” (read: human-centered) causes. And that’s pretty rare in our movement.
Boasting of 269’s disregard with “human-centered causes” as a “freedom,” Gomez’s articulation demonstrates the utter aversion to human rights. Not only is the group relieved to boldly align itself as a Non-Humans First group, it has in fact taken this disregard for human life and human well-being as a political advantage and worse, something to be proud of.

Nonetheless, Gomez does articulate at the beginning of the interview that these are his thoughts and his thoughts alone, not to be held as the ideals of the entirety of the 269 Life group. However, we must not ignore that this individual was one of the original members of the group and therefore has an ideological base which matched up with the founding members. More importantly, it is of crucial importance to note that the transcript of this interview has been publicly endorsed and shared by the founder and leader of the group 269 Life, Sasha Bojoor. In his public endorsement of the interview, Bojoor writes, “A true [Animal Rights Activist], completely dedicated to the cause and true to himself. Only wish, more activists had an infinitesimal portion of his integrity and intelligence.” Directly upholding Gomez’s positions, Bojoor’s public praise for Gomez shows how even the leader of 269 comes to support and endorse these oppressive stances.

The group has effectively designed a logic, the Non-Humans First pro-Israeli occupation logic, which permits its followers to support the Israeli occupation in justifying their animal rights activism.

Gomez’s logic, publicly endorsed and validated by Bojoor, demonstrate how the group is fundamentally a zionist group. By claiming the Non-Humans First stance, disassociating with human rights causes (Palestinian rights) entirely, and arguing that the occupation is actually good for animal rights as Gomez does, 269’s ideology becomes synonymous with zionist politics. The group has effectively designed a logic, the Non-Humans First pro-Israeli occupation logic, which permits its followers to support the Israeli occupation in justifying their animal rights activism.

Indeed, there are a few instances, either two or three, in which animal rights activists from Palestine have been invited to join in an animal rights demonstration with Israeli 269 activists. In one particular demonstration in the village of Shefa `Amr, activists gathered to distribute leaflets about veganism. 

However, in the description of the demonstration, the 269 Life activists reinserted their sheer disregard for human life yet again by claiming, “Politics and nationalism means nothing, as long as the animals are suffering and dying by the billions, all over the world.” This argument may seem less offensive had it been coming from Luxembourg or Nepal, yet when it is coming from activists physically located in a country which is militarily occupying another country, attacking and slaughtering its people on a daily basis, and systematically annihilating their Palestinian identity, the language carries another meaning. It is effectively a method to reduce the Palestinian struggle to nothing and erase its significance.

For an Israeli based animal rights group to claim that “politics and nationalism means nothing,” while their government continues its violent military occupation and attack on Palestinian people is situating its activism in support of zionism. Just because Palestinians join 269 in a demonstration for animal rights does not mean that the group 269 is not supporting zionist politics. The political stances of 269 unequivocally demonstrate how the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the ongoing slaughter of Palestinian people, and erasure of Palestinian identity is of no significance to them whatsoever. It is imperative to understand how 269’s activism, regardless of whether or not Palestinians may sporadically participate, systematically deprioritizes the Palestinian struggle.  

Normalizing Violence

Overall, 269’s framework and activism are deeply problematic in that they wholeheartedly support hegemonic narratives of violence and power. In addition to the racist, sexist, and zionist themes which flavor a majority of their tactical approaches to activism, 269’s leader Bojoor is also an adamant voice for violence against humans as well as being publicly against intersectionality. He is often seen sharing images, memes, and stories which support physical violence against humans.

Although all animal rights activists can, to some extent, understand the anger and frustration with humans which cause violence towards animals, the idea of encouraging violence towards humans cannot and will not resolve the issue of violence against animals.

For example, in reference to Kim Kardashian wearing fur, Bojoor writes that he “hope[s] that obnoxious piece of shit dies a slow and painful death. #fuckyouKimKardashian.” In another instance of supporting violence against humans, Bojoor shared an image which read “Save an animal. Encourage hunters to drink and drive.” Although all animal rights activists can, to some extent, understand the anger and frustration with humans which cause violence towards animals, the idea of encouraging violence towards humans cannot and will not resolve the issue of violence against animals. Suggesting the death of humans, no matter how much we disagree with them, is a clear articulation of irresponsible, ungrounded, and irrational activism. More importantly, it cannot bring about nonviolence or compassion towards animals, as Bojoor’s posts suggest.

Even more problematic, Bojoor deliberately and unequivocally stands against intersectionality as a baseline for social justice activism. He writes, “Intersectionality is a bankrupt ideology, the proof is easy to see, its all around us.” Whatever proof Bojoor is referring to, I have yet to see it. The only proof I am repeatedly encountering is how pathetically bankrupt anti-intersectional activism is ideologically. In addition to his emphatic anti-intersectional stance, Bojoor aligns himself with animal rights groups known to belittle and disregard intersectionality, such as PETA, Gary Yourofsky, and Direct Action Everywhere. It is no secret that Bojoor heavily cites, references, and endorses activism by each of these entities mentioned, and in so doing, solidifies his blatant disregard for intersectionality.


Given 269’s anti-intersectional stance, it is crucial to locate their narrow-minded activism within the larger scope of oppressive animal rights work. Proudly Non-Humans First, 269 Life continues to perpetuate violence against marginalized groups through its theoretical basis, social media materials, and social activism stunts. Acting as the apex of Israeli animal rights, 269 boasts its non-human animals first rhetoric in a cyclical reproduction of oppressive ideologies, targeting women, People of Color, Palestinians, and other oppressed groups. By strategically placing non-human oppressions as above, and therefore the only relevant priority, 269 structurally attracts animal rights activists which contribute to oppressive systems in an activism design which continues to make the world unsafe for marginalized groups.

In addition, it is critical that we mark 269’s activism as co-optive and exploitative of marginalized groups. By creating visually striking stunts to garner media attention, traction, and popularity in the animal rights community and beyond, 269 is profiting off of violence against oppressed bodies. Using this violence and its circulation as a means of increasing support, the group is in effect exploiting the oppressed for its own personal advancement.

This is a call to the global animal rights community: if you support 269 Life, you are supporting the oppression of human animals. To support 269 Life means to disregard the oppression of Palestinians, women, sexual violence victims and survivors, and People of Color. This group is a dangerous, violent, cooptation of compassion. If we seek to be intersectional in our approach to animal rights activism, there is no room for 269 Life in the movement, or animal rights groups which proudly associate with them. As intersectional animal rights activists, we must not fall for the trap of supporting a publicly anti-human rights group. Rather, we must do everything in our power to distance ourselves from a group known to align itself with such violence and disregard for human life. Although it may be initially tempting for those untrained to detect racism, sexism, and white supremacy, 269 is nothing more than a group of offensive, yet passionate, human oppressors. We must make clear in the animal rights community, yet again – the revolution will be intersectional or it won’t be my revolution.  

shawndeez is a PhD student in Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Everyday Vegan Racism: Cinco de Meow

I'm not a betting woman, but if I were, I believe it would be a safe bet that this adoption promotion was designed by a white-identified person:

Adoption promotion that reads, "Cinco de Meow! $5 adoptions all day. Una Gran Fiesta" Shows a cat wearing a sombrero and a moustache while smoking a cigarello

And what are the odds that No Kill Learning, the website that promoted this image as a positive example, is operated by someone who is white-identified? Pretty good, I think.

The author writes:
[...] fun, creative adoption promotions, like the one [featuring the racialized cat], engage people, dramatically increase adoptions and save lives [...]
And finally, what are the odds that non-white people would be interested in adopting or joining a movement when their culture is stereotyped and mocked?

Place your bets.

The author continues:
As I have previously written, Engaging the Public is one of the most important aspects of animal sheltering and rescue. Without doing that, you basically can't do anything else. 
What public exactly?

This is a brilliant example of how white-centrism in animal advocacy creates significant disconnects, disconnects that disempower our message and aggravate the very social inequality we seek to dismantle.

Unfortunately, Google reaffirms that companion animal "shelters" are white spaces intended for white visitors:

And, no, just in case you were wondering, slapping a mustache and a sombrero on a cat is not "honoring" Mexican culture. It's stereotyping Mexican culture to appeal to a perceived white audience and nothing more.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Why Do Vegans Love Non-Vegan Companies So Much?

For some years now, I have been outspoken in my criticism against LUSH Cosmetics, a non-vegan company that regularly engages misogynistic stunts to promote its products. Among other things, LUSH sexually objectifies female employees, blames women for speciesism (although the forms of speciesism LUSH concerns itself with are male-led industries), and uses women's bodies as stand-ins for graphic displays of speciesist violence, drawing on clear scripts of violence against women for the stunts to "make sense."

But, with every renewed complaint about the company, I can expect a number of LUSH devotees to come to the company's defense. This has always been rather curious to me, as LUSH isn't even a vegan company. Indeed, LUSH not only profits from the exploitation of women, but it also profits from the exploitation of other animals.

By way of an example, one anti-speciesism non-profit leader who was familiar with my work approached me seeking advice as to whether or not to solicit a grant from LUSH. They were unsure about the decision given LUSH's treatment of women. I suggested they try their luck with The Body Shop, a similar company that doesn't advertise with misogyny. I was told that their non-profit would never consider The Body Shop because it is owned by a company that engages vivisection. So, this non-profit was completely writing off The Body Shop, a non-misogynist, almost vegan company that does not test its own products on animals, in favor of LUSH, a clearly sexist company that is nowhere near vegan.

What's the disconnect here? Why are vegans so committed?

In a nutshell, companies invest quite a lot of time and expertise into facilitating consumer trust and brand loyalty. There's a neuroscience to it.

First, we can form actual, physical relationships with a brand. When researchers measured participant skin response to pictures of beloved brands in comparison to their response to images of good friends:
They found no significant differences in skin arousal. It is, of course, true that this is just a physiological response, which a number of things can elicit. But the researchers argue that, if we don't quite fall in love with brands, we are at least capable of falling in deep like with some of them. 
Relatedly, brands can also become tied to people's own identity:
The authors of one recent paper in the Journal of Consumer Research argue that people feel ashamed and insecure when a company betrayal is discovered, much like what would happen when trust is broken in an interpersonal relationship, precisely because of the fact that their self-concept has been tied up with their products. 

So it's no wonder that folks become so adamant about their Karma soap and LUSH bath bombs. There's a serious psychological relationship here.

Certainly, this research will also have implications for other vegan outreach. Strong consumer relationships with "meat" and dairy brands like Oscar Meyer, Jimmy Dean, Carnation, and Cadbury's will certainly complicate activist efforts.