Individualistic veganism is not environmental justice (repost)

 Veganism “The crux of the matter is, veganism is a consumer activity. It is ultimately an attempt to change capitalism and human civilization through the exercise of one’s privileges as a consumer” argues Peter Gelderloos. And although I agree with this argument, I wanted to explore the anti-blackness entangled within veganism. It’s easy to look at PETA and argue that their anti-black, they do not try to hide it. What I want to do in this article is unpack the “well meaning” ethical vegans and how even that brand of veganism buttresses Black/Brown exploitation.

December time in South Africa is migration time, large numbers of people pack up their city/urban lives and head to their rural homes to celebrate and meditate on the passing year. It is also a time people commit to performing various ancestral ceremonies and coming-off-age rituals. It is also a time of slaughtering, from chickens, sheep and cows. However there is a consumption value system which is rarely acknowledged; ecosustainable consumption. Ecosustainabale consumption is consumption based on sustainable environmental interaction between animals and humans.

In other words, outside of slaughtering for cultural ceremonies and other rituals of ancestral acknowledgement and communication, livestock is more useful alive than in our stomachs. Speaking and reading on vegetariansm/veganism there is a lot of emphasis placed on the exploitative nature of the meat industry/consumption. However the arguments do not acknowledge that their understanding of meat consumption is framed through a western-capitalist paradigm. A paradigm taken as existing in every society and context without an examination of indigenous practices which have existed, often alongside colonially enforced capitalist value systems. This is why vegans can argue their dietary choices as ethically and healthy sound  whilst ignoring the often exploitative effects of the “health food” industry.

 

apple picking
image credit: Don Bartletti 

And this is my fundamental grip with ethical veganism/vegetarianism, that for all its ethical arguments, it remains fundamentally a mechanism of capitalist modification. In other words, there is no interrogation and a drive to dismantle the exploitative consumption values that under-gird consumption within a capitalist system in general. Rather veganism/vegetarianism further legitimises capitalist exploitation by seeking to modify and mitigate its impact on animals.

Ethical vegetarianism assumes that there is a hierarchy between humans – who are imagined to be of equal ability and dignity – and animals who are imagined as an exploited under-class. Within this hierarchy the systems and relations of power which in fact make us unequal are invisibilised and rendered non-consequential compared to the plight of animals. This is seen in vegan/vegetarian community slogans which rap the slogan of “cruelity free consumption” over our collective knuckles.

“Another consequence of its complicity with capitalist consumption is that it colludes with “state-sanctioned or extra-legal production of [Black/Brown] vulnerability to premature death.”

This hierarchirasation – of equal humans and non-equal non-humans – makes it possible for vegans and vegetarians to ignore some of the harmful consequences of their dietary choices. Like for example the increase in quinoa prices which resulted in native peoples of Peru and Bolivia, who relied on the plant as a dietary staple, being unable to afford consuming the plant and resorting to less healthy but cheaper alternatives. Vietnam, one of the largest exporters of cashews uses forced labour in what can be described as drug internment camps.

Human Rights Watch reported on the forcible incarceration of drug-users in drug internment camps. This incarceration could last for up to four years and “patients” lost all manner of “human rights” including the rights to a fair hearing, legal representation. “These patients – without access to a lawyer, a hearing in front of a judge or a formal sentence – are subject to long hours of monotonous labor, physical abuse and torture. There is no drug “treatment” or “rehabilitation” in any meaningful sense of the words, and very little health care of any kind.”

Vegans/Vegetariansm is often touted as the “ethical” choice and the healthy choice. However as this VegansofColour blog post notes, veganism has an intersectionality problem. In veganist discourse, veganism as a moral imperative is often situated within white bodies, making the overt implicit narrative that Black/Brown bodies are incapable of being vegan thus being enemies of veganism. Try googling “veganism/vegetarian” and see which race is predominantly associated with the movement.

This implicit narrative plugs into a variety of anti-black technologies of discourse. In an article exploring the “minor partners” of white supremacy, Dean Spade argues that often, rights movements outside the black rights movement – the feminists, the LGBTI (and now I argue the vegans/vegetarians) – often rely on black death/annihilation in order to stake a claim against capitalist dehumanization/exploitation.

 

NowthatIcantplanawedding
A poster made by Femme Sharks and carried in the 2009 SF Dyke March.

 

Simply put, anti-blackness becomes the “condition of possibility”. In other words in order for movements to be recognised as having legitimate claims they often stake their claims of their humanity on the degradation of black bodies. This is often done through “re-inscription” of anti-black discourse and narratives which affirm white supremacy and black annihilation.

Consequently, the technics of advocacy espoused by the vegan/animal rights community negate the discriminatory and exploitative capitalist practices which shore up veganism and affirm black exploitation. For example one of the pivotal arguments against meat consumption is the argument of inter-specist discrimination, i.e meat consumption constitutes discrimination against other species on par with racism and sexism. “just because animals have a lower intellectual capabilities doesn’t justify their slaughter” is a typical argument. The argument is flawed and anti-black because it assumes an “equal human race” – that all humans interact on levelled playground and that there is an equal co-recognition of the inherent humanity of ALL human beings. Another consequence of its complicity with capitalist consumption is that it colludes with “state-sanctioned or extra-legal production of [Black/Brown] vulnerability to premature death.”

Wider Image: Fruits Of Wrath
Fruit pickers picking strawberrys – notice the lack of protective gear? {image credit: Edgard Garrido for Reuters]

This argument – and its assumptions– negate the fact that there are human beings who are still regarded as less than human, either regarded as property – prisoners – or regarded as “legitimately disposable” – i.e., LGBTI persons and black trans* womxn Thus the argument on inter-species discrimination misrecognises the problem – it is not about “discrimination” but how patterns of discrimination render those discriminated against as “Other” and therefore legitimately disposable and bound to legitimate, state-assisted death and annihilation.

Veganism is complicit in other ways in the maintenance of black annihilation is the lack of an intersectional understanding of ways in which the food consumption – consumption of any kind – has become inherently exploitative particularly of black/brown lives. This is because in a capitalist-white-supremacist-heteropatriarchal-cisnormative world Black/Brown bodies being necessarily disposable and thus legitimately exploitable. Veganism’s argument against meat consumption doesn’t acknowledge the exploitation of black bodies – in fact it thrives on their continued exploitation. This is seen in the lack of interrogation of the exploitation within the farming sector from the vegetable to the fruit farming industries exploitable black and brown labour is rendered extraordinarily exploitative to the point of indentured servitude.

In short, veganism, particularly ethical veganism is directly implicated in the sustenance of systems of maldistribution of in/security to black/brown people. Thus whilst the claims of “ethical consumption” ignore the interconnected/intersectional impact of capitalist consumption on Black/Brown bodies.

BlackVegansROck
Image credit: BlackVegansRock 

Perhaps as a last word, I must make it clear that in critiquing veganism I am not critiquing animal rights activists. There are many Black animal rights activists and vegan communities who center an intersectional understanding of how meat consumption and its corollary, animal exploitation and abuse are founded in capitalist exploitative loved, rooted in anti-blackness. Aph Ko makes the distinction between vegans who care about their health and animal rights activists who care about animal welfare but still consume meat and other animal products. Another distinct vegan/vegetarian can be identified, ethical vegans who are against animal exploitation but fail to understand that veganism/vegetariansm itself is rooted in exploitative labour and anti-blackness.

Because ngithembekile, here are my sources:

“Queer Politics and anti-blackness” – Morgan Bassichis and Dean Spade in  Haritaworn, Jin; Kuntsman, Adi; Posocco, Silvia Queer Necropolitics (Taylor and Francis 2014)

“3 Reasons Black Folks Don’t Join the Animal Rights Movement – And why We Should” by Aph Ko

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/09/black-folks-animal-rights-mvmt/

Intersectional Veganism by VegansofColor

https://veganvoicesofcolor.org/2017/01/29/intersectional-veganism/

Veganism is a consumer activity by AnarchistLibrary

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-veganism-is-a-consumer-activity

Hardship on Mexico’s Farms, a bounty on U.S. Tables by Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti 

http://graphics.latimes.com/product-of-mexico-camps/

Other important reading:

Fruits of labor: sunny California is no paradise for farm workers

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/15/california-farms-pick-your-own-fruit-vegetables-working-conditions-jobs

Exploitation and agribusiness – Guardian Newspaper

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/31/agribusiness-exploitation-undocumented-labor

Exploited labour: Migrant Workers in Italy’s Agricultural Sector – Amnesty International

https://www.amnestyusa.org/files/exploited_labour._italy_migrants_report_web.pdf

Farm Workers Walk a Fine Line Between Exploitation and Forced Labour

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beate-andrees/farm-workers-walk-fine-line-between-exploitation-and-forced-labor_b_6653190.html

The moral imperative on South African farms

http://africasacountry.com/2017/05/the-moral-imperative-on-south-african-farms/

Can Vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa

Here’s Why Black People Don’t Go Vegan By Nzinga Young

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nzinga-young/heres-why-black-people-do_b_10028678.html

Ruth Wilson Gilmore – “Racism, specifically, is the state-sanctioned or extra-legal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.”

Apartheid’s Ghosts – Being Black and a woman in South Africa

when black women winI am a [Black] woman and a lesbian ―all three stand outside the realm of choice” – Audre Lorde

I am always interested in the ways in which Apartheid South Africa and its patriarchal systems continue to express themselves through their control of Black women’s bodies. How have systems we were told died in April 1994 continued to attach themselves onto our bodies, slip under our skirts, kidnap and rape us and lurk in lonely streets sitting with us in boardrooms and stick onto our lips like matte lipstick.

Every day I am surprised at the excruciating ordinariness of oppression. I am gobsmacked at the ways in which the past constantly pushes itself onto the present.  I felt this presence when I tried to explain to a friend why I do not, as a matter of policy, pick up to private-number calls. I attempted to explain to him the number of times I had , out of fear, given my number out to a strange man  – research shows that womxn only consider men to be strangers[1].

Ferial Haffajee argues, correctly, that Apartheid – racial oppression – and patriarchy – sexist systems of dominance – are twins.[2] I wanted to ask her what happens when one twin dies?

I remember my mother telling me my uncle, her younger brother had a twin who had died.. In my 8 year naiveté asking when she had died. She responded by saying, “Akutiwa iwele lishonile, kutiwa’liyoteza’. In my culture we recognise the connectedness of both twins, that the one is very much still in the present and impacts on the life of the living twin. To me this is how I conceive of Apartheid’s continued impact on my im/mobility. My body was controlled by both twins – racial oppression and its twin patriarchy.

Apartheid as disappearance

All systems of oppression are in essence systems of disappearance. They derive their legitimacy by disappearing the humanity of undesired populations. They render the oppressed as defective, undesirable and subhuman. Apartheid was not a single system signified by racial oppression, it was a collection of oppressions. Thus the disappearing of Black people accompanied the disappearing of womxn, the disabled, the Queers, the illiterate.

One of Apartheid’s central tenants was the designation of anything outside of white masculinity – particularly Black womanhood – as a position of complete “undesirability”. This meant the designation of Blackness and womanhood as subhuman. Segregation was not merely the designation of different space of racial occupation, segregation was the social designation of humanness[3]. In this matrix South African (Black) womxn literally did not exist. We were considered minors until 1984 when the Marriage Act abolished marital power. This largely applied to white women. Black womxn were understood as minors in customary marriages until 2000[4] and only gained full adult status in all marriages through the Customary Marriages Act. Gay men could not occupy a space two at a time nor show any affection which could be read as stimulating sexual passion or give sexual gratification[5] . These were the ways in which the Apartheid state sought to cleanse itself of the undesired, through their literal disappearance. To be unseen, unrecognisable, criminalised.

Apartheid’s spatial exclusion system was an allocation of humanity. Like feeding scheme rations, each race and gender were dehumanised in relation to its closeness to whiteness and masculinity. Thus the further away you were from whiteness and masculinity, the less human you became. Spatial exclusion also designated who could be violated without fear of legal punishment and– Black womxn, sex workers, lesbians and gay men being the categories of the most violatable.

Apartheid through law and social control rendered these categories of people as having less value.  Those who had value could exchange their value for social mobility through access to economic opportunity. White men had the most value and Black womxn the least.

In short Apartheid established networks of value depend on your proximity to whiteness and masculinity. It is these networks of value which still govern who is able to access public spaces and economic spaces.

Post-Apartheid South Africa promised freedom. However it merely removed the visible mechanisms of disappearing. Spatial exclusion is – particularly of womxn – still used to regulate womxn, particularly Black womxn. The ability for Black women to access mobility – accessing the public and accessing economic mobility – is still contingent on the networks of value established through Apartheid spatial exclusion.

Becoming Apartheid’s ghost – the disappearing Black womxn

  In 2016 I took an uber to work every morning and got an uber back home to my flat in Maboneng/ Jeppestown to JHB CBD every evening. Between work and home was a walkable distance of about 30 minutes. Had I been able to walk to work or take safe and reliable public transport without the fear of being raped, mugged, and kidnapped or all three, I would’ve done so.

But my entire existence is governed by fear, a fear grounded in the understanding that my life as a Black womxn is limited and severely under threat in South African streets.My life as a Black lesbian woman is limited because I exist outside the realm of white masculinity. I am Black and I am not a man. Even the option of using masiclinity as a shield – through making myself desirable to masculinity or have a man as a social shield are not possibilities for me.

 Because of this knowledge my life is a constant negotiation and dance of minimisation of the certainty of my death, rape, kidnapping or all three.

Every morning womxn across the country learn to disappear ourselves. Every day womxn find new ways to not occupy certain spaces, to avoid traveling to and from work at certain times. When we are unable to negotiate ourselves from traveling certain spaces at certain times we seek protection by asking co-workers, neighbours, siblings who are men to form a social shield by walking with us or waiting or taking us to taxi/bus stops.

The effect of our heightened awareness of how violable our bodies are is that we pushed into the home – the place patriarchy deems our natural place. We are forced to seek men as companions in order to afford us some level of protection. The effect of our fear is a deep understanding that we do not belong in the “public”, that a womxn’s place is in the home. In short womxn, particularly the most vulnerable womxn are rendered “unlawful” occupiers of public spaces. Every day we make ghosts of ourselves, we are Apartheid’s ghosts living breathing but never seen nor heard even when we scream in pain.

[1] Gill Valentine “The Geography of Women’s Fear” (1989) The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers

[2] Ferial Haffajee “Family and feminism” in Jen Thorpe (ed) FEMINISM IS: SOUTH AFRICANS SPEAK THEIR TRUTH, page 53.

[3] Thus the definition of “Black” in section 12 of the Group Areas Act included “any woman married to or cohabiting with one who is or is accepted as a member of the aboriginal race or tribe of Africa,” or any white man married to or cohabiting with a Black woman.” Thus Blackness had the ability to “taint” whiteness, render it impure and thus of a lower level of humanness.

[4] Marital power in Black customary marriages was abolished through the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 1998.

[5] Section 20A of the Immorality Act 1957

The economics of whiteness – Post- Apartheid democracy & Apartheid Futures

The land is oursThe South African accent is a peculiar thing – well not South African South African, we do have 11 constitutionally recognized languages. I mean the accent I, and many other 1980s kids who were part of the generation of young Black children entering former “whites only” schools in Post-Apartheid South Africa, have.

In London, I am thought to be Australian, once I was thought to be a working class private school educated Londoner. In the U.S I’m thought to be British – but I generally do not trust American geographical knowledge. I think the person heard a “not American accent and placed it in the only other place of relevance they knew”.

Whilst traveling through East Africa I was often thought of as well off. In Kenya where I somehow got mistaken for a Kenyan – I can only answer so many questions about South African Afrophobia –  I was thought to be a highly educated local activist.  At home I am just part of the many coconuts who are sometimes viewed with contempt because of my presumed “better than thou” attitude.

Proximity to whiteness as economic proximity

In all these areas my accent allows me the ability, however brief, to automatically be viewed as highly educated and/or well-off – I am not, all my travels have been financed through my former employers. My ability to mimic an aspect of whiteness – my accent –  allows me access to particular forms of privilege. It is this assumed privilege, rooted in perceptions of whiteness I want to interrogate. My argument is simply this. In order to answer the question of the land, South Africa will have to interrogate the conversion of whiteness into economic access.

Colonialism was not only about race but about economic advantage

the legacy of Colonialism is not mere racial categorizations. It was also the legal transference and regulation, through Apartheid of whiteness as property. By property I mean the literal conversion of whiteness into an access card allowing economic mobility  to white South Africans through the simultaneous exclusion of Black South African. The economic access provided by whiteness this is what our present constitutional democracy needs to address and undo.

In his book, The Land is Ours, the Peoples’ Advocate, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi tracks the foundations of South African constitutionalism. “Excavating the past from the ruins of Empire” he finds its roots in the Black intellectual legal thought which sought to challenge and undo the marginalising effects of colonialism and Apartheid.

In Part I of his book he traces how the land was lost – or more bluntly was stolen – from the indigenous peoples. Throughout this part of the book I kept wondering “why don’t you just say it!!!”, It’s right there!!  Although Advocate Ngcukaitobi does a beautiful job tracing the anti-Blackness central pillar of colonialism. The book fails to unpack how the taking resulted in the conversion of whiteness, a racial identity into a property interest or into an economic access card which persists and sustains the continued economic disparity.

What would have been the possibilities had the book dealt with the convergence of whiteness into an economic resource? How would the book have dealt with the relative privilege its subjects enjoyed due to their proximity to whiteness.  The founding fathers of Black constitutionalism were only able to engage and challenge the colonial and Apartheid systems because they were embedded within it. Their engagement and revolt against the system was contingent on their ability to engage with the system in the ways it could understand them. Simply put what they did was a result of the various forms of proprietory whiteness they had acquired. It would’ve allowed us to interrogate the ways in which Black people have to mimic whiteness in order to gain economic access.

Whiteness, or in the case of his historical subjects, the ability of Black persons to mimic forms of whiteness results in access and economic mobility founded on the colonial mobilisation of educational systems which sought to create a population of noble-savages. The true goal of colonialism, as Ngcukaitobi notes, was not total obliteration of the native population, this would have eliminated the cheap labour they needed to mine gold, clean their houses, raise their children and wash their laundry. Rather the goal of colonialism was the conversion the ‘natives’ into a malleable work force which understood instructions and were resigned to working as indentured servants.

Living in a Post-Apartheid democracy with Apartheid futures

Apartheid not only conferred legal recognition to the social racial relations which colonialism had already established but sought to infuse whiteness with a legal legitimacy. It is this legitimacy which has created “invisible” networks of privilege which allow white South Africans to a network of advantages not open to Black South Africans. In other words, Apartheid ensured a continued proprietory interest is invested whiteness – the ability of whiteness to allow automatic economic access and mobility to its owners – white people – was recognized and cemented into law.

Thus Black  access to economic mobility is premised on mimicking whiteness in important ways. And this is what the historical subjects in Ncukaitobi’s book had, the ability to leverage their access to whiteness for justice. It doesn’t change the historical accounts in the book, but might perhaps have changed how we view the continued work of the constitution in present day South Africa.

The economic access granted by our mimicry of whiteness impacts our experiences today, it even impacts on our ability to access the legal system. Everyday social interactions become exhausting mitigations of racial violence. It evident in how the waiter treats you differently in the company of your white friends, it is evident in how Black children who attend former “whites only” schools have better chances at educational and economic mobility. It is evident in how a Black person’s accent allows them to become the “trusted Black” in corporate spaces. Whiteness means access. Of course there are limits to this access. It is evident in who is able to head to the courts to claim rights and who we are represented by – hello Afriforum!!

As a Black South African today, and even the historical subjects of Adv Ngcukaitobi attest, there are limits to what y(our) ability – as a Black people– can allow us access to. Its limitations range from individual exclusion – obtaining an apartment in Cape Town to systematic exclusions against the heavy burdens of Black disadvantage or Black tax.

I cannot help but wonder what would the implications had Advocate Ngcukaitobi’s book dealt with this conversion of whiteness into a proprietory interest manifesting in continued economic exclusion I wonder how the book would’ve asked us to examine our current democratic present and the role of the constitution within it.

winniemandelasfist

References:

CI Harris “Whiteness as property ” (1993) Harvard Law Review