Tag Archives: Intersectionality

The Thug Kitchen Cookbook and the Problem of Vegan Blackface

 

In 2014, it was revealed that the authors of the Thug Kitchena best selling cookbook utilizing basic ingredients, colloquial Black English, and gangster tropes, were white identified. To begin, I believe their intentions were good. Similar to the Vegan Black Metal Chef and the Vegan Zombie, Thug Kitchen probably had hopes of making veganism appear fun and culturally relevant.

Heavy metal musicians, however, are not a disenfranchised group,1 and zombies are not even real. “Thugs,” however, refer to a very real, very marginalized group of people. In American society,2 “thugs” are profiled and assaulted by police, mass incarcerated, stigmatized, and otherized. Oftentimes, their lives are cut short as a result.

These experiences are wholly divorced from that of the white middle-class authors of Thug Kitchen, making this white appropriation of Black culture for the profit and amusement of white audiences a form of literary Blackface.

White-presenting couple standing in front of a food spread. Man is throwing back a large bottle of alcohol. Thug Kitchen authors 

What is Blackface?

Blackface is present when whites represent themselves as Blacks for the amusement of white audiences. Historically, white entertainers would paint their faces and change their dress accordingly, but Blackface more generally relates to the use of nonwhite cultural stereotypes for whites by whites.

Blackface reflects a white legacy of entitlement and control over nonwhite spaces. It is problematic because whites pull on cultural items of value from the safety and comfort of their spaces of privilege while leaving structural discrimination in tact.

As an example, consider the popularity of Black jazz music among young whites in the early 20th century. Whites audiences and white jazz bands enjoyed Black culture in white spaces, while Americans of African descent suffered the Jim Crow violence of enforced poverty, segregation, voting disenfranchisement, and lynching.

By way of another example, consider the mass extermination of Native Americans in the 17th-19th centuries compounded by poverty, mental illness, suicide, and environmental injustice that persists today. Despite this unimaginable state-imposed oppression, whites of European ancestry idealistically lay claim to native geneology, proudly display tattoos of sacred indigenous symbols, and enthusiastically defend the “Redskins” team name and logo as respectful of native culture.

The Thug Cookbook enterprise is supposed to be humerous because it showcases white people “acting Black.”  By extension, being nonwhite is marked as funny because nonwhite culture is supposedly ignorant, primitive, and uncivilized. The cultures of people of color are thus usurped for the entertainment of a presumed white audience, but there is a complete disregard for the dangerous reality of white supremacy in which this minstrelism will be interpreted.

Thug Politics

The rhetoric of vegan Blackface is problematic because “thug” is an extremely politicized word. For those who must live under the label, it can be a matter of life and death. To be labeled “thug” in white America means to be denied opportunities, civil rights, and fair life chances.

“Thug” politics also influence the epistemologies of white Americans. For instance, the murder of young teen Trayvon Martin was deemed acceptable to many because this young, unarmed man walking home from the store with snacks was perceived to fit the thug profile. Martin was young, black, male, in a hoodie, and in a white neighborhood. For this, he was killed.

“Thug” has become the new n-word.  It is a means of referring to race without actually mentioning it. It a “color-blind” modern society, it maintains the cultural language about Blackness as a public threat.2  “Thug” acts as a racial identifier. It also becomes a qualifier. We are more likely to believe that thugs are innately deserving of whatever institutionalized violence is enacted upon them.  Subsequently, there is no race-neutrality to thug rhetoric.  It works to maintain a system of violence against people of color.

Vegan Blackface

Thug symbolism cannot be disassociated from a long and ongoing history of white supremacy, of which the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has played a part. Early anti-cruelty efforts were framed in white supremacist, nationalist terms. Despite the fact that many activists of the 19th and early 20th century were also heavily involved in human rights causes, they levied humaneness as a means of civilization. Make no mistake, this framework was (and is) highly detrimental to nonwhite, indigenous, and immigrant groups. There are thriving vegan communities of color today, but the mainstream vegan movement continues to be white-dominated in both theory and practice. This documented problem with racism makes vegan Blackface all the more dangerous.

Just as it is inappropriate for whites to wear indigenous headdresses to music festivals or wear sombreros with ponchos to Halloween parties, it is also unacceptable to play “thug” to sell books, t-shirts, or other vegan merchandise.  This is especially so when the dominant ideology of the vegan movement centers the white experience and has historically been used to uphold white supremacy.

 

Notes

1.  It has been suggested that the heavy metal genre actually appropriates African, Asian, and Middle Eastern music to some extent, as well as having historical ties to racist ideology.
2.  UK readers may have a different contemporary understanding of “thug” than Americans, but it is important to note here that the term derives from the Hindi word, “thugee,” and Indians branded as “thugs” were violently oppressed under British colonial rule.
3. Other communities of color are also impacted by thug politics.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.
Readers can learn more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on September 30, 2014 on The Academic Activist Vegan.
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A Month of Vegan Research: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation

animal-rights-dakota-pipeline

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


nibert-entanglementsDavid Nibert. 2002. Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation.  

Animal Rights/Human Rights makes a clear and convincing sociological argument for the social construction of speciesism and stratification. Human oppression and the oppression of other animals are inextricably linked and often compound one another. This oppression is a product of an economically-driven unequal power dynamic.  Those who benefit from this inequality seek to reinforce and perpetuate the system with the support of ideology, the state, and the internalization of powerlessness by those being exploited.

Nibert makes the interesting observation that our use of other animals is not a natural or inevitable phenomenon, but rather a cultural manifestation that reflects institutional arrangements. Human animals once lived harmoniously in their ecosystem as foragers, as this system was much more reliable and efficient. It was not until major changes in the landscape and the increased presence of migrating large mammals approximately 20,000 years ago that hunting became accessible to humans. Nibert notes that the switch to hunting (and eventually livestock keeping) moved human society away from egalitarianism.  This marked the beginning of speciesism, but also the beginning of gender and class divisions soon thereafter. Inequality developed with a fervor from this point and ideologies and state institutions were promulgated to support it.

Nibert argues that this indoctrination is achieved through daily experiences in a stratified and hegemonically controlled society.  Speciesism and other systems of oppression are largely a product of the economic system in which they operate. To develop this proposition, Nibert walks us through progression of human society from prehistoric times, early agricultural systems, feudalism, and to finally global capitalism. Capitalism has been particularly despicable in that it amplifies the exploitation of the oppressed and also normalizes it. When oppression is accepted as normal, natural, and necessary, that oppression is legitimated and is rendered invisible.

homelessness-and-dogs

Nibert’s solution is to move away from a capitalist society. In fact, an approach that ignores the role of capitalism is very unlikely to counter the growing level of oppression of other animals in the era of the new global economic order. Nibert warns that working for a “kinder” capitalism is not practical. Without challenging the hierarchical system, there is little hope for progress. Instead, we might use the opportunities currently available in the capitalist system to transcend it. Nibert cites successes in abolishing a significant amount of vivisection in New Zealand. Because New Zealand is a country that is not economically dependent on the biomedical industry, it exists as an example of how exploitation can be curbed when there is not an institutional reliance on that exploitation.

One major oversight in this publication is the lack of a clear vegan message.  In his latest publication, Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict, however, liberation politics are better emphasized.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about intersectional theory and its relevance for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 1, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Race as a “Feeble Matter” in Veganism

race-veganism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


Harper, B.  2010.  “Race as a “Feeble Matter” in Veganism:  Interrogating Whiteness, Geopolitical Privilege, and Consumption Philosophy of ‘Cruelty-Free’ Products.”  Journal for Critical Animal Studies 8 (3):  5-27.

Within the context of feminist geography, racial politics, and consumption studies, I have observed that mainstream vegan outreach models and top selling vegan-oriented books rarely, if ever, acknowledge the differing socio-historically racialized epistemologies among non-white racial groups. There is an underlying assumption among the white middle class mainstream vegan media that racialization and the production of vegan spaces are disconnected. However, space, vegan or not, is raced and simultaneously sexualized and gendered directly affecting individuals and place identities. Racialized places and spaces are at the foundation of how we develop our socio-spatial epistemologies; hence, these epistemologies are racialized. This paper will explore examples of how epistemologies of whiteness manifest within vegan rhetoric in the USA, and explain why a “post-racial” approach to vegan activism must be replaced by an anti-racist and color-conscious praxis.

Chris Nino, 11, carries empty pepper bags across a Plainview, Texas, field Sept. 21, 1997. Workers like Chris may earn as little as $1.20 per full bag of chili peppers. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Breeze Harper’s research asks activists to reexamine the meaning of “cruelty-free” in vegan production and the white worldviews that direct vegan outreach.  When major organizations define cruelty in food production as a nonhuman-only experience, the suffering of third world persons, immigrants, poor persons, and people of color are rendered invisible.

Harper’s article explores the heavy resistance to racial issues in vegan spaces.  One of the major reasons that human suffering is excluded from “cruelty-free” and vegan outreach efforts is because the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is predominantly white.  White privilege (and class privilege) reinforce the elitism of the movement, making social change piecemeal and stunted.  Harper suggests a rejection of “post-racial” ideology (the belief that racism is no longer a major problem) and a conscious awareness of the specific challenges facing vulnerable humans as well as nonhumans. Human and nonhuman oppression are heavily entangled.  A single-issue approach to anti-oppression work is not likely to be very successful.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 5, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment

animal-rights-sexism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Carol Glasser.  2011.  “Tied Oppressions:  An Analysis of How Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment.”  The Brock Review 12 (1):  51-68.

All oppression is rooted in the same system of domination and so embracing any form of oppression reinforces all oppressions. Unless social movements recognize oppression as rooted in the same system of domination, they will not be able to reject the foundations upon which their oppression is rooted. Dichotomous epistemology and value-hierarchies are the main characteristics of patriarchy that enforce both sexism and speciesism. I illustrate this by examining two animal rights advertisements that use sexist images. I demonstrate how sexism bolsters speciesism by reinforcing dichotomous epistemology, establishing value-hierarchies and accepting that positioning women as animals is degrading to women.

Many organizations and activists support a “sex sells” notion when promoting misogynistic tactics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, but there is no evidence to support that objectifying women encourages people to stop objectifying other animals.

Glasser explores this irrational assumption in “Tied Oppressions,” reminding us that oppression works intersectionally.  Treating women like meat only reinforces social norms in treating other vulnerable group like meat, including Nonhuman Animals.

lizzy-jagger-naked-tuna-fishlove-jerry-hall-mick-jagger

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 17, 2013.

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Dr. Corey Wrenn Featured in Huffington Post on Women in Politics

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On November 3, 2016, I was interviewed by The Huffington Post for its story, “The Bizarre History Of Anti-Suffrage Cat Memes: In 100 years, we went from cat memes to grabbing ‘em by the p***y” in response to the clear intersections between animalizing women in the early suffragette movement and the animalization of women in the 2016 American presidential campaign.

In the piece, I clarified that animalizing minority groups is one of the oldest tricks in the book. By framing women, people of color, immigrants, and other mariginalized folks as animal-like and of another species, their unequal position can be justified, rationalized, and normalized.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Why Feminist-Vegan Now?

woman-and-veganism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


Carol Adams.  2010.  “Why Feminist-Vegan Now?”  Feminism & Psychology 20 (3):  302-317.

In this essay, I offer a reflection on the publication of The Sexual Politics of Meat, introducing several of the main theoretical insights from the book, and examining whether and how they hold true twenty years after the book’s first publication. I examine the associations among notions of virility, masculinity, and meat eating, and explain the concept of the absent referent and how it functions in the institution of eating animals. I also explore why images have proliferated that show the animalization of women or the feminization and sexualization of farmed animals, and propose that these are recuperative responses attempting to reinstate ‘manhood’ and meat eating. I propose that resistance to the decentering of the human being often is expressed through what I call ‘retrograde humanism’. To conclude, I meditate on ‘little old ladies in tennis shoes’ – what it means for women that the animal movement so often wants to disown their work, yet needs them to do that work.

I often assign this article to my students because it neatly condenses the main points of Carol Adams’ theory in a short and accessible piece.  The exploitation of other animals is highly gendered.  The feminist perspective understands all vulnerable groups that have been victimized by the white capitalist patriarchy as feminine.  What this means is that our society is structured according to “male” and “female” gender roles.  Within this binary, “male” dominates and controls and “female” is dominated and controlled.  That which is “female” is seen as a resource to men.

Not only women, but also Nonhuman Animals and the environment are feminizedin this way.  Adams argues that challenging patriarchy must go deeper than the human male/female dichotomy and also include other vulnerable groups that have been feminized.  Feminism only makes sense when it is interesctional, and this intersectional approach must include nonhumans as well as humans.Pinup drawing of a white woman straddling a polar bearskin carpet. She is in black lingerie

This image is a good example.  Notice how both the woman and the bear have been sexualized and presented as a resource.  They are both on objects on display for the male gaze and for male consumption.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about gender and the animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 10, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Animals and Women

women-and-other-animals

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan.  1995.  Animals and Women:  Feminist Theoretical Explorations.  Durham, NC:  Duke University Press.

This edited book encapsulates vegan feminist theory, arguing that all oppressions are interconnected and that we must challenge human-biased theorizing:  “[ . . . ] the male pattern of female subordination and degradation, which is nearly universal in human societies, is prototypical for many other forms of abuse [ . . . ]” (7).

animals-and-womenSeveral chapters stood out to me as especially interesting and relevant.  Dunayer’s chapter on speciesist and sexist language demonstrates the power of ideology in normalizing oppression.  Comniou’s chapter on free speech also speaks to the power of language (and that “freedom of speech” is a right typically only granted to privileged groups).  Birke’s chapter on science and rationality discusses the history of male ideologies and institutions in legitimizing oppression and marginalization.  Adams’ chapter on violence against animals and women is a difficult read, but highlights many disturbing linkages.  Chapters in Part Two were a little more humanities-focused, and not as relevant to my interest in effective animal advocacy.  However, I found Luke’s chapter on patriarchal constructions of animal rights especially illuminating, as was Kappeler’s extensions on male supremacy in science and knowledge production.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the importance of feminism, intersectionality, and efficacy research in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 26, 2013.

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The White Privilege in Vegan Moral Superiority

Dog wit face in paws looking sad

I usually love it when I’m wrong. I truly get excited when my paradigm shifts, when I learn new things, or when I see things in a new way.

Unfortunately, in my line of work (critical sociology), being wrong about something usually means that I’ve hurt someone. If my argument about oppression is wrong, that often means I’m abetting oppression. In these cases, the best I can do is own up to my mistakes and try to make an example of them.

I once posted an opinion piece on lactose intolerance on my blog, the purpose of which was to vent my frustration. I was responding to a buddy who had replied to one of my anti-speciesist social media posts declaring that she was lactose intolerant. I responded with, in so many words, “Okay, great, but I’d prefer if you did it for the right  reasons.”

She was white, by the way, as are all of my lactose intolerant friends. Most people who are lactose intolerant, however, are not white, which goes to show how homogeneous and undiverse my circle of friends is.

When I wrote that piece, I was thinking of my friend Katie, my friend Francesca, and my friend Danny: three friends that have said something similar to me: “Oh you’re vegan? Well, I’m lactose intolerant!” They’re all white.

With this in mind, I wrote in the blog piece that being lactose intolerant is not the same as being vegan for political reasons. I said that it’s not good enough. I was thinking and responding from my white worldview.

Then, I went on to explain how lactose intolerance is prevalent among people of color and non-Westerners. I wrote that framing lactose tolerance as normal and natural is a means of looking down on others and maintaining white superiority.

A reader very rightly pointed out how ridiculous and offensive it was that I was, on one hand, chastising people who are not vegan for the “right” reasons, and, on the other, emphasizing that lactose intolerance was not a white thing. She wrote that such a claim implies that going vegan for other animals is the superior way, and people of color who go vegan for their own health are morally inferior.

I completely agree.

Some time ago, I began to abandon promoting veganism as a strictly Nonhuman Animal rights issue. Although I believe veganism remains a political action in the service of nonhuman liberation, veganism is also understood as a political diet by some (in that it relates only to food consumed, and may not relate to non-food items or services that involve speciesism). But we should not be quick to write off veganism as a diet. This is because eating Nonhuman Animal products hurts humans almost as much as it hurts other animals. The oppression of other animals exacerbates the oppression of humans. Humans are exploited and enslaved in the production, and humans are suffering and dying from eating them. Not just humans in general, but at-risk populations in particular. This includes undocumented workers, immigrants, people of color, and the poor. When we make veganism solely about our moral obligations to Nonhuman Animals, what we imply is that the suffering of vulnerable humans doesn’t matter as much or doesn’t matter at all.

Going vegan “for the animals” generally reflects white privilege. It’s something I have the “luxury” of prioritizing. Some groups, however, are dealing with intense oppression, which necessitates them prioritizing themselves and their community. A lot of white activists find such a position offensive, as though the animals are being “sold out” and some people are being “excused” for participating in the oppression of other animals if they don’t go vegan or can’t go completely vegan. But, the underlying message from this response is that only whites have the “right” morals, and non-whites must be lacking. It becomes a means of upholding white superiority. In fact, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement was founded as a means of otherizing people of color and legitimizing white supremacy. We must remember this history to inform our activism today.

Whites in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement often pull on human inequality when it works to back up anti-speciesist claimsmaking, but then fall right back into the white framework to exclude or blame vulnerable populations for not struggling against violence in ways more accessible to those with privilege. Intersectionality is merely tokenized. I hate to say it, but that’s exactly what I did.

Veganism as a political concept was developed to deconstruct speciesism, but some folks are engaging veganism as a diet for political reasons as well. Only with sensitivity to differing life positions can we begin to build the coalitions needed for an all out attack on the (in the words of bell hooks) white supremacist, patriarchal, imperialist social system that oppresses so many for the benefit of few. Anti-speciesist veganism and food justice/anti-racist veganism have a lot in common. We should respect one another, not pull on our privilege to shame others for walking a different path to the same goal.

 

If you enjoyed this essay, these ideas and more are explored in my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights (Palgrave 2016).

 


A version of this essay was originally published on August 27, 2013 on The Academic Activist Vegan.
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Project Intersect in Bluestockings

Bluestockings 01-16

While visiting New York City this weekend, I stopped into Bluestockings Bookstore and found Project Intersect for sale! I was beyond thrilled that my little essay on atheism in ecofeminist spaces was tucked away in this historic feminist landmark. I actually saw quite a few vegan feminist and critical race vegan books on offer.

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Professor Wrenn Interviewed by Feminist Magazine on KPFK radio 90.7 FM

Feminist Magazine

In an interview hosted by Cherise Charleswell and Valecia Phillips, I will be discussing my forthcoming book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory, as well as how veganism and the Nonhuman Animal rights movement falls into the scope of a feminist framework. Specifically I unpack the relevance of speciesism to feminism, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s problems with sexism and racism, and the corrupting effect that capitalism has on social justice efforts.

Feminist Magazine on KPFK is the weekly Southern California radio show of news, views, politics and culture with an intersectional feminist perspective.

You can access the stream by clicking here or pressing play below.

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