Just say "no" to the "yes men"

Coincidentally, the day I start to re-read Aphro-ism is also the day I read about collaboration between certain environmental and animal advocacy organisations.

But why is that a coincidence? And why isn't it necessarily a good thing...?

Unfortunately, leading individuals and organisations in this collaboration have a history of contributing to the oppression of marginalised groups. And the inclusion of a few People of Colour doesn't mitigate this issue.

As Syl Ko writes in the opening essay of Aphro-ism:

"diversity" is the presence of black bodies, as opposed to the presence of black ideas born from black perspectives, in predominantly white spaces.

This is an idea that is echoed in "8 Ways People of Colour are Tokenised in Nonprofits" by Helen Kim Ho. And until this is addressed, we're going to continue handing our audience a myriad of reasons to reject the vegan message.

Just this week, I saw a widely shared video of a "celebrity vegan activist" (a perverse concept in itself) being rebuffed by a member of their audience who said that there were more important things to worry about. And the vegan community as one seemed to mock this response, citing the numbers of nonhuman animals exploited in animal agriculture.

While such numbers are shocking, this response completely misses the point. It is vegan advocates who regularly use such arguments to ignore the oppression of minoritised humans. It is vegan advocates who perpetuate the myth that we can only care about one form of oppression (by rejecting calls to also consider human oppression). This tells those who currently experience oppression themselves (and their allies) that they should stop caring about their own oppression, and only care about the oppression of nonhuman animals - clearly a counter-productive approach!

Only when we demonstrate that it's possible to care about multiple oppressions, that we do care about the oppression of marginalised people as well as the oppression of nonhuman animals, can we hope to advocate to the widest possible audience.

Or, as Andy Tabar of The Bearded Vegans puts it:

We're not going to have a global animal rights movement if it's actively excluding so many people.

The Bearded Vegans: "Should We Abandon The Mainstream Animal Rights Movement? – Episode 76"

In Aphro-ism, Aph Ko also explains how oppressions such as racism and speciesism have a common source: white human violence. And Syl Ko describes the process whereby the dominant class of white men "otherise" (or "animalise") those who do not fit this archetype.

We're not going to be successful in challenging speciesism unless we address these root causes. Therefore, ignoring human oppression is self-defeating.

Furthermore, ignoring human oppression literally gifts non-vegans an excuse to reject our message: "you vegans only care about animals, never humans". And how can we make claims for "compassion" or "justice" when we show neither for other members of our own species?

But aside from how ignoring human oppression hurts our animal advocacy, it obviously hurts humans. And that should be reason enough to ensure that respect for marginalised humans is integral to our advocacy for nonhuman animals.

So that's why I'm concerned about the proposed creation of a mass movement for nonhuman animals led by organisations and individuals who prioritise self-promotion, demonstrate wilful ignorance on racial issues, exploit young women, or otherwise fail to recognise that others may not enjoy the same privileges that they do. This is likely to be suboptimal for nonhuman animals, and harmful for marginalised humans.

But could these individuals and organisations have learnt from their past mistakes? Could they start to understand the need to consider human oppression too? Unfortunately, there's been no sign of that so far. Instead, they reject constructive criticism, make ad hominem attacks on their critics, and create an echo chamber of "yes men". And, yes, they are mostly men...

Which brings me neatly to another video that I've coincidentally been watching this week:

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