Aphro-ism Is Turning Into a Book!

By: Aph Ko

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We are beyond thrilled to announce that our essays on Aphro-ism are being turned into a book! In 2017,  Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters will be published through Lantern Books. Lantern has published groundbreaking literature including Sistah Vegan, Entangled Empathy, The Pornography of Meat, etc.

A lot of folks have been wondering why Syl and I haven’t been writing anything online or updating our website. We have silently and diligently been working on this project and we are really proud of what we have accomplished so far. We are very excited to share this book with everyone, and when the publication date nears, we will update you with more information!

The cover (featured above) was designed by EastRand Studios. Alise and Jack are absolutely epic designers and artists and we are very excited that they produced such a unique and engaging cover. (They also created the art work for Black Vegans Rock).

Stay tuned for updates about the book.

Why Animal Liberation Requires an Epistemological Revolution

By: Aph Ko

When you learn the language of the oppressor, you also inherit their world view. As Franz Fanon argues in Black Skin, White Masks, “A man who possesses a language possesses as an indirect consequence the world expressed and implied by this language.” [1]

In most of our mainstream social justice movements, whenever we talk about “whiteness” we tend to talk about it only in terms of representation or leadership, however, very rarely do we speak about it in terms of the actual theory we use to structure our understanding of oppression. 

A lot of activists speak of ‘decolonizing’ themselves from the system without realizing that the basic building blocks they have used to structure their activist campaigns are actually products of the very same system they’re trying to fight. We’ve inherited our conceptual tools and activist theories from the Eurocentric system that we’ve been trying to dismantle this whole time.

Before we can start “dismantling” systems of oppression, we first need to understand how we’re still chained to these systems through the theory we employ to understand and discuss oppression.

In other words, animal liberation can’t happen until we change the way we understand animal oppression.

In our mainstream animal rights movements, the dominant thought it: animal oppression is it’s own oppression and it has nothing to do with race or gender (or any other marker of difference).

This is a line of thought I’m quite familiar with considering I am constantly getting tweets or messages from animal rights activists who are upset with the mission of Black Vegans Rock. These folks are offended when activists try to talk about race and animal oppression…at the same time. Here is one quick example:

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One of my activist friends shared Black Vegan Rock with his friends on social media, and someone wrote this.

(For the record, there are also some vegans of color who agree with this sentiment precisely because they too have inherited a Eurocentric blueprint for animal rights activism that confirms the world view of the dominant class.)

The idea that oppressions manifest separately and then randomly “connect” at different points is exactly the problem I’m having with the animal rights movement and most other mainstream social justice movements.

What’s more, when activists who subscribe to Eurocentric thinking attempt to “connect” these issues or oppressions, they usually make disingenuous connections.

As Syl argues:

“Not only are these types of comparisons or connections absurd- even worse, they are over-simplistic characterizations of the ways in which these struggles and these wounded subjectivities relate to one another…So, really we’re not “comparing” anything in this type of thinking. We’re noting a common source. The connection we make is not found in the oppressions themselves or the oppressed bodies.”

Some activists share memes where different violated bodies are held up as examples of connecting oppressions, as though these bodies connect because of the ways their bodies are treated. In our movements, we have been organizing and theorizing around the literal physical bodies of the oppressed, rather than going to the root of these oppressions conceptually

meme

Most well-intentioned activists who use these memes are missing the point: What makes the physical violation of these bodies possible is their citizenship to the space of “the other” or the “sub-human.” 

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Comparing and contrasting the literal/physical violations these subjects experience misses the conceptual boat because the reason why they are each oppressed is precisely because they ALL are citizens of the same sub-human space. Naturally, their oppressions might physically resemble one another because they have a common oppressor.They are not being oppressed because they are “like” each other. They are being oppressed because they have been labeled as “less-than-human” where human is defined as the superior and ideal white species.To keep “comparing” these literal/physical oppressions to one another to show how they are the same is tautological.

For example, saying, “Black people experience racism and, therefore, are treated like animals” is redundant simply because racism is already entangled with speciesism. What black folks are experiencing isn’t “like” non-human animal oppression…it is a layer of it. We are spending way too much time in our movements organizing around the physical oppressions of these bodies which is problematic because we’re not getting to the conceptual root of why these oppressions are happening in the first place. As activists, if we don’t get to the root of oppressive behavior, then we risk reproducing the oppressive framework in our own liberation movements.

This signifies that we are having a problem in our movements at the theoretical level.

We seem to be experiencing a crisis of uncritical thinking in our movements, partly because the theory we’re using to structure our movements is Eurocentric which is why folks are trying to make these oppressions “connect” rather than understanding how they’re fused to begin with. Eurocentric social justice theory suggests that all oppressions manifest independently and then connect at some point down the road.

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There are more systems of oppression than I have labeled here in this diagram.

Syl writes, “It hasn’t occurred to many of us that this model of compartmentalizing oppressions tracks the problematic Eurocentric compartmentalization of the world and its members in general…”

A Eurocentric GPS 

Imagine you get into a car and you have a GPS. When you type in the address you get a map, a representation of the territory you’re in.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 1.24.24 PMThe issue we’re having in our activist movements is the map that’s showing up on our activist GPS screen currently isn’t matching the landscape we’re on. This is because the map for liberation has been provided to us by the dominant class. Therefore, all of the oppressed are in traffic, honking at one another. We are all lost trying to find the different roads the map keeps directing us to, but they don’t seem to be existing on our terrain. The map isn’t a real representation of what’s before us and all it’s doing is making us drive in circles, under the illusion that we are making progress on our trip.

In other words, the “intersections” the map tells us is there simply aren’t real because the territory we’re on has no intersections. We are existing on one massive field labeled sub-human where these systems are fused together and embedded within the soil of the terrain. Syl writes:

“The territory is this massive domain of Others, whose scope can only be grasped when we dig deeper to go beyond the constraints of the specific -isms and see ourselves as- following Frantz Fanon’s words- damned beings by virtue of lacking a full ‘human’ status.”

Eurocentric Logic

Our activist GPS is programmed with coordinates from the “Human” terrain which is why we can’t get to our destination. The activist GPS we’re using doesn’t realize that these oppressions are fused together already. The goal for those of us who are minoritized is to spend time creating new maps. We need to orient ourselves towards the human/animal divide, rather than only our own specific physical oppression.

Some activists fail to realize how the maps they’re using to guide themselves towards liberation are very Eurocentric. My proof is in the ways some activists try to analyze their own oppression without a meaningful analysis of speciesism. For example, check out this video Everyday Feminism shared where a feminist goes on for 11 minutes explaining how animal oppression doesn’t really relate to women’s oppression which is absolutely ironic. Eurocentric maps for liberation make it possible for other popular feminists like Akilah to explain intersectionality to feminists using animal products as props. [2]

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There’s almost something tragic and comical about activists failing to realize the blatant missing piece to the activist puzzle: that your own oppression is anchored to your citizenship as a “sub-human” or “animal” in contemporary society. This is what makes racism, sexism, and all other “isms” possible. These “isms” are expressions of being labeled “less-than-human.” Therefore, this isn’t just a race-based or gender-based issue, it’s simultaneously one of species as well.

If we’re not organizing around this human/animal divide, then we aren’t properly getting to the root of our oppression.   

Within a Eurocentric analysis, activists have to spend all of their time “connecting” issues together because everything is always and already singular and separate at the root (which should be our first sign that the theory we’re using is designed around the experiences of the dominant class…not our own). 

When White People Become Racialized/Animalized

This massive domain of sub-humans also includes some white folks who fail at attaining “ideal” homo sapien status. We can look at the ways low-income white people in the U.S. are racialized and framed through a sub-human narrative where “redneck” is used as a racial marker to distinguish between ideal white homo sapiens who are successful, wealthy, and “civilized,” and low-income folks who are “naturally inferior” and beyond recuperation.

Shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” ride on “trailer-trash” aesthetics and redneck/country stereotypes in order to propel the narrative of the show. In this article on Jezebel titled, “Honey Boo Boo Struggles with Bodily Functions” the writer features a video from the show where Alana (the lead character known as Honey Boo Boo) is sitting with Miss Georgia, who is framed as the ideal white human subject.

Alana’s character is juxtaposed with this white ideal woman to demonstrate how Alana is naturally inferior because of her class status, such that she can’t even perform ideal white femininity. It’s so far removed from her natural character. Alana shoves cake into her mouth and expels gas on camera. The fact that Alana is so young bolsters the idea that her inferiority (due to her “low class” status) is innate. She even uses “ratchet-style” language, suggesting that her class status positions her as being “closer” to blackness than ideal whiteness. Her inability to restrain herself and perform as a proper white human feminine subject marks her as naturally inferior and inherently needing to be “tamed” and “controlled.” [3]

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Miss Georgia is to the left and Alana is to the right.

 The animalization of beings labeled or framed as “sub-human” suggests that ‘animal’ is itself a racial opposite to the glorified white species. This means that “whiteness” signifies not only race and skin tone, but also an ideal way of being. “Animal” signifies a different type of racial citizenship that’s informed by characteristics from those labeled “sub-human.” 

Exploring the “Sub-Human” Territory and Abandoning the Eurocentric Map:

Let me just say this now: Our mainstream social justice movements are doomed so long as Eurocentric theory is used to structure the logic of these movements. (Yes, this means that even activists of color can be reproducing some of these issues in their campaigns).

The fact that some folks are able to subtract race from the animal oppression conversation is terrifying simply because for so long, the mainstream movement has been celebrating and throwing resources at efforts to “fix” the problem without thoroughly examining what the actual problem is and how it’s sustained. How are we supposed to ignore the racial elements to the speciesist hierarchy? The farther you stray from the ideal white homo sapien imagination, the easier it is for you to be labeled “sub-human” or “animal.”

This is also scary because oppressed people who are buying into Eurocentric logic are using that same logic to supposedly fight Eurocentric systems that are oppressing them.  You can’t create effective liberation movements if you don’t completely understand the anatomy of your oppression. 

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Syl writes:

“White” is not just the superior race; it is also the superior mode of being. Residing at the top of the racial hierarchy is the white human, where species and race coincide to create the master being. And resting at the bottom as the abject opposite of the human, of whiteness, is the (necessarily) nebulous notion of “the animal”.

In order for the oppressed (sub-humans) to have a new citizenship that isn’t inferior to those in the dominant class (glorified white humans), we need to have an epistemological revolution. This means that as critical black folks who reject Eurocentric logic, we have to fight, not just for vapid superficial representation in the mainstream movement, but for the right to produce knowledge, to create theory, and to re-articulate the way oppression actually manifests.Through this, animal liberation will be a byproduct of our epistemological revolution.

*

Notes:

[1] Obviously using “man” to refer to all beings is problematic. However, I agree with the premise that when you inhabit a given space (where you don’t set the terms), you tend to inherit the problematic norms of that space.

[2] I am not suggesting that activists can’t learn and grow throughout their careers. If you read some stuff I wrote even LAST year, you would be shocked at how much my perspectives have shifted. However, I’m merely pointing out a trend (especially within mainstream feminist spaces) that clearly disregards animal oppression, partly because a lot of feminists don’t know how to include it in their analyses or they don’t think it really matters. This points to an even larger problem with the theory they’re using to understand their own oppression considering our oppression is overtly anchored to the human/animal divide. These popular analyses are celebrated by the mainstream precisely because they don’t tamper with the comfortable frameworks people are already using.

[3] I first saw this clip from “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” when I was taking a PhD seminar in Feminist Surveillance Studies with Dr. Rachel Dubrofsky. One of my classmates was writing a paper on this topic and I remember we were analyzing this clip. At the time, I didn’t have the analysis I currently do now, but looking back, I see the ways that Alana is framed as being “sub-human” and “wild.”

Vegans of Color and Respectability Politics: When Eurocentric Veganism is Used to Rehabilitate Minorities

By: Aph Ko

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This is a screen shot of an article.

Now that the mainstream is slowly taking notice of black and brown vegans because some folks are legitimately excited about this (and others are realizing that it’s marketable), there seems to be a new, but unsurprising, trend popping up. Because of the mainstream reductive framing of black veganism as simply black people planting gardens and advocating for animal rights (rather than a socio-political movement that uses the black social experience as a launching pad for re-articulating animal oppression), there seems to be an unfortunate air of respectability politics emerging from mainstream stories about black vegans and other vegans of color.

Because mainstream veganism is saturated with Eurocentric logic, the assumption is that black folks who go vegan are “transcending” their negative situations, not only in terms of their health, but also in terms of their racial location.

In particular, the mainstream seems to be obsessing over former black ‘gang-members’ going vegan or ‘gangsters’ who are now vegan. There’s not one week that goes by that I’m not seeing stories coming from certain mainstream pages centering on former black gang-members or ‘gangsters’ who have seen the light and are now vegan and ‘peaceful.’

Guerrilla gardeners like Ron Finley (known as the Gangsta Gardener) are fighting white supremacy in creative ways, despite the fact that he doesn’t explicitly say this. However, his story is being de-contextualized and re-framed through a narrative that makes the dominant class comfortable. Wow-If black people just stopped being lazy and cleaned up their communities, they would be respected more!

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However, Ron isn’t just digging holes in the ground and planting food for fun. He’s fighting a white supremacist capitalist system that has shoved certain bodies into communities where there’s no access to fresh foods and good healthcare. Actually, it’s sad that black people need to plant gardens on curbs because our government doesn’t care that these bodies are nutritionally starving. This is an epidemic that goes hand-in-hand with communities in Flint, Michigan drinking poisoned water. This isn’t a romantic, “feel good” story. This is fucked up—plain and simple.

There’s something ironic about a man like Ron Finley, who plants gardens in spaces white supremacy created to nutritionally and intellectually starve minorities, being celebrated by the mainstream news media.

The goal of guerrilla gardening isn’t to make black folks look more peaceful and benevolent—it’s to engage in a new type of  fight where we are taking care of ourselves in an era that’s actively trying to poison us and kill us. It’s an act of survival.

It’s great that people like Ron and other urban farmers are engaging with DIY, grassroots activism to fight back, however, we need to watch how we frame their stories and who is framing their stories.

Ron’s story is treated very similarly to black vegan gang-member transformation stories which are currently being used to show the “mainstream” how black people can be civilized, nurturing, productive, and peaceful, especially at a time when the dominant class is panicking because of Black Lives Matter protests and riots. However, the framing of these stories coincidentally leaves out any mention of white supremacy and systemic racism which is why these folks are in gangs in the first place and why they are forced to garden on curbs and other nontraditional spaces.

This rhetoric reeks of black-on-black crime nostalgia as though black folks are individually responsible for “cleaning up” crime-filled communities that they seemingly created, even though these spaces are a product of systemic racism and classism. The responsibility is still on the minorities.

There’s something infantilizing about the framing of these black vegan stories and spotlights. It reminds me of people who chalk up black-on-blame crime to “fatherless” men rather than systemic racism and generations worth of racial terrorism. Black men are seemingly “acting out” because “their fathers are absent.”

Similarly, black vegans who were former gang-members are framed through a narrative of transformation and maturation as though they were merely dangerous irresponsible black children before, and now they’re respectable, civilized grown adults who are individually “transcending” racial stereotypes because they made the individual choice to go vegan and plant gardens.

Eurocentric articulations of veganism are framed as a therapeutic corrective to racism.

Because veganism is still associated with whiteness, there’s a mythological narrative that says vegans are (conveniently) peaceful, non-violent, intelligent and evolved, which is why minorities who go vegan are treated as if they’ve transcended their race. The framing of ‘gang-member’ to ‘gardener’ is saturated with a racialized narrative.

This is generally why I dislike videos that display non-vegan minorities trying vegan foods because it is always wrapped up in racialized stereotypes. Check out this video below of minority “gangsters” trying vegan food for the first time which relies on tropes of violence and drug-use to show just how backwards these particular folks are because they are not vegan. In fact, all of these “gangsters” think the kale is weed. Veganism is so far removed from their everyday discourse and they are framed as unintelligent, infantile, and criminal. We are supposed to be entertained by their lack of familiarity with healthy foods.

Because minorities are viewed as sub-human, watching these folks try healthy vegan foods (read as white people foods) is framed in a comical way that’s reminiscent of watching a chimpanzee wear a tuxedo. In both scenarios, they are framed as emulating “ideal homo sapiens” (read as white humans) and miserably failing, naturalizing their supposed inferiority and the superiority of the dominant class.

Those of us who actively frame veganism within a non-Eurocentric framework know that the “vegans are peaceful” trope isn’t necessarily true considering we’re consistently dealing with racial attacks and violence almost every day from mainstream vegans because they are uncomfortable with our articulation of vegan activism.

So long as we plant gardens and advocate for animals outside of an explicit racial context, we are fine, but when we start to create our own movements and theories that take into account our racial experiences within white supremacist capitalism, then we are attacked.

Unsurprisingly, veganism and animal rights are domains that the dominant class feels ownership over which is why they incessantly feel the need to insert their comments into our spaces when our projects have absolutely nothing to do with them. They approve of the Ron Finley’s of the world and in the next breath, chastise the Syl Ko’s of the world who are actively trying to articulate a vegan politic that doesn’t conflict with racial oppression.

Since veganism is seemingly associated with whiteness, there’s an unfortunate narrative of racial transcendence for minority folks who embrace the vegan lifestyle. So, when we still insert our racial experiences even after we embrace veganism, the dominant class is confused. What does race have to do with veganism? We let you into this space where you won’t have the baggage of racial stereotypes!

 In fact, many from the dominant class get offended when we speak of our racial oppression as a phenomenon that’s entangled with animal oppression because through veganism, the dominant class seemingly gave us a new black citizenship, a refuge from racial prejudice, a passport of sorts to a new ‘post-racial’ landscape. By conjuring up “race” again in this new territory, we are displaying signs that we’re not “fully” rehabilitated.

This is why a lot of folks from the dominant class like to talk about former gang-members as “gardeners” which is a different type of racial citizenship for black folks that they approve of. It’s respectable.

Veganism shouldn’t be a tool the dominant class uses to rehabilitate blackness, as though blackness is inherently criminal, deviant, and barbaric.

The consistent focus on former gang-members turned vegan perpetuates this narrative that veganism is peaceful and automatically leads to social justice.

Veganism is sold as the perfect antidote to years of systemic racism. 

I’m writing this piece as conversations about the overwhelming whiteness of the Oscars is taking place and I would like to connect the two issues.

Black people who are interested in authoring their own unique stories and who want to produce new narratives about black life aren’t celebrated. The black filmmakers who are celebrated are the ones who share stories about slavery or hyper-racialized themes that make the dominant class feel comfortable. Similarly, vegan stories that continue this narrative of poor-black-person-struggling-to-survive-and-be-better seems to be shared and celebrated because the dominant class is erased from the story line. They are absolved of their guilt and can now try to “help” us in the way adults help children who want to set up a lemonade stand in their neighborhood to raise money to buy a bike. It’s non-threatening.

As soon as black folks want to create new vegan theories or new models to re-articulate animal oppression or new intellectual projects to cater to underserved audiences, we’re chastised by the dominant class and ridiculed because they aren’t the main authors of the project.

Of course within both Hollywood slave films as well as vegan stories about guerrilla gardeners or rehabilitated gang members, white supremacy is conveniently pushed to the back drop. We can easily talk about Ron Finley and guerrilla gardeners without ever mentioning white supremacy. We can easily talk about food deserts without ever mentioning capitalism or whiteness and that makes everyone comfortable.

Ron and other black folks who are framed as being “rehabilitated” through veganism are held up as an example for all other black folks to follow. It’s cosmetic diversity at it’s finest: black faces are advertised and white authors are writing the story.

Euroentric logic attempts to frame Ron as a modern-day Martin Luther King Jr. figure who is seemingly peaceful and calm, without realizing that his shovel is his weapon, not a marker of his subservience.

Ron Finley

We need to stop expecting veganism to correct systemic racism. We need to let the oppressed folks write their own movements with their own voices. The dominant class needs to stop trying to find their next Martin Luther King Jr. to manipulate black folks into being calm and “civilized” because what Ron and other guerrilla gardeners are doing has nothing to do with being peaceful and everything to do with survival and protest.