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Reflections on my Privileged Veganism

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I remember, before I went vegan, being staunchly anti-feminist. There was quite a bit of painful experience tied up with that view, and it was only through recognising the moral personhood of another oppressed female—a cow—that I came to recognise my own and to shake that conditioning away.

I remember being vegan, and asserting that I was a voice for the voiceless, and that since animals are the most oppressed beings on the planet I would speak for them and leave human issues to other humans.

I remember uttering the words “that’s not what veganism is about” in response to an appeal that we be pro-intersectional in our approach.

I don’t remember why I guarded the idea of advocating solely for nonhumans so jealously, and if I did I wouldn’t tell you because my approach was inexcusable and I don’t want to even attempt to justify it.

I do know, though, that my belief that justice could be forced through a narrow lens and directed to one group alone was a manifestation of my privilege.

Now, if you don’t know how privilege manifests itself in your advocacy, here’s how I understand it: privilege is the ability to be selective in your campaigns and to work for animal issues as though they are divorced from human issues. Privilege is the ability to dismiss forms of oppression that aren’t on your experiential radar. Privilege is being able to pick and choose which struggles you concern yourself with. Privilege is not being able to understand how oppressed people are not heard when they speak for themselves. Privilege is the assumption that the advantages that we have by virtue of our birth are universal.

I remember thinking I was doing just fine as a human being because I never actively discriminated against anyone. And I remember thinking that the task of dealing with human issues was just too massive and too scary for me. Me: the white, able-bodied cis woman who didn’t experience a fraction of the disadvantages and discrimination that keeps my human siblings oppressed. Privilege.

That kind of privilege doesn’t make us wicked or evil. It merely means we have to open our eyes, to try to transcend the benefits and advantages we have. We don’t have the luxury of being selective in our campaigns, because if we believe in justice, then we must believe in justice for all. Justice for only some is inherently anti-just.

If you’re not vegan, be vegan. If you are vegan, please recognise that the ethical system you embrace is one that is about creating a better world: a world of peace and love, free from discrimination, exploitation and oppression. This means that we must always advocate veganism unequivocally as the moral imperative that it is. We must also actively oppose all forms of discrimination, and this means that we have to work hard to learn how to be better allies to humans who do not benefit from the same privileges as us.

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  • HGN

    While we all should be mindful of our privilege, and should not deny the oppression of victimized groups of people, we also should remember that there are differences of degree. Most feminists understand that there are aspects of our society which are unfair and harmful to men, but when men’s rights activists focus on these problems and fail to place them in perspective, they often fall into ignoring and justifying sexism.

    Few human beings spend their whole lives in captivity. Few are systematically annihilated in mass killings. None are brought into existence for the express purpose of being slaughtered. None are genetically engineered or made to suffer horrible afflictions, just to see what happens to them. None are shipped in boxes for these purposes, with the full support of all legal authorities.

    Humans do suffer, sometimes horribly. But mindfulness of our privilege ought to extend to the recognition that we are the most privileged species on this planet. As vegans, we may imagine that we are not oppressors simply because we do not bodily devour our species’ victims. In that regard, yes, you are a very privileged vegan.

  • AlpineDan

    There is oppression, and then there is OPPRESSION. When humans are bred, confined and slaughtered at the rate of 60 billion individuals (as land animals are) annually and even more water animals annually, then I’ll compare the two. Until then, the difference is not a matter of mere degree, but of kind.

    I’m all for eliminating oppression wherever it raises its ugly head, and especially when it causes the oppressed to oppress others more than they otherwise would (e.g. food deserts). I’ll sometimes even strongly advocate for ending lesser forms of oppression. But I will focus my time and effort on nonhuman animals because there’s oppression and then there’s OPPRESSION, and the two are not really comparable.

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