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.


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.

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

Intersectional Veganism by VegansofColor

Veganism is a consumer activity by AnarchistLibrary

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

Other important reading:

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

Exploitation and agribusiness – Guardian Newspaper

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

Farm Workers Walk a Fine Line Between Exploitation and Forced Labour

The moral imperative on South African farms

Can Vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?

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

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

Pregnant 14 year olds and the Adultification of Black girls

School pregnancy shock
Pic: Esa Alexander

“Apho ndikufuma khona” was uttered to me at nine years of age. At that age I understood that my body had become a sexually violatable space.  These and other comments I grew up hearing from both older men and older boys signalling to me that my body had become not only sexually desirable but sexually available – even against my will.

I was nine when I first realised that I was sexually desirable to men. I was younger when my mother began disciplining me for how I set, crossed my legs, what I wore and how I used my body. By used I mean how I played and who I played with. I cannot remember a time when my body was not being policed by the women in my family. From my aunts to my mother, my body was always under surveillance.

These were the thoughts that came to me when twitter went into an uproar around the pregnancy of a 14 year old. Predictably it was not the man – rumoured to be a 24 year old – who was being shamed for impregnating a girl-child.

 “Wa’phapha”, “these teens are enjoying sex like adults”, “no she wasn’t raped because she wasn’t forced”.

Black girls are adultified – projected as older than they are – from as young as 5 years old[1]. We are projected as more sexually mature resulting in our exploitation and abuse by older men from a young age. Black women and girls lose their innocence sooner resulting in them having to “mature” at an early age, depriving us of important developmental milestones. Additionally young Black girls don’t get to sexually experiment with our peers – in healthy and protected spaces. Yes sexual experimentation is a key part of teenage-hood which all children should be allowed to experience WITH THEIR PEERS.

Of course the ways in which the sexual assault and raping of young Black girls is justified is rooted in anti-blackness. Black women were not women in the “white woman” sense. In fact Black women became the oppositional representation of white womanhood. In simple terms, what white women were, Black woman (and girls) are not.

Whereas “white womanhood” is signified by purity (sexual and otherwise), piety, deference, domesticity, passionlessness, chasisty, cleanness and fragility, “Black womanhood” was characterised as primitive, lustful, seductive, physically strong, domineering, unwomanly and dirty.[2]

The characterisation of Black womanhood as outside the possibility of womanhood is rooted in an understanding of Black people as subhuman and incapable of possessing those attributes which make one essentially human i.e. human dignity. Essentially Black woman are seen as sexual objects and Black girls are viewed no differently.

Twitter comments around the pregnancy of a 14 year old Black girl predictably from Black men and women vehemently denied her the innocence of childhood and went further by denying her even the protection of the law. I rarely argue the use of the law as a measure of moral behaviour. However it is telling how high the levels of misgynoir rose as Black men and women denied a 14 year old Black girl the protection of the law.

Of course we may assume that the adultification of Black girls is harmless and is limited to families and individual cases – after all teenage pregnancies are older than our democracy.

pregnant teen school
Pic: Namibian Broadcasting Corporation

In 2013 the Constitutional Court found school policies which discriminated against pregnant learners – who were always young girl-children – unconstitutional.[3] Pregnant learners are excluded from school and invariably end up dropping out of school as a result of school policies which make their return to school difficult. Discriminatory practices against pregnant high school girls include the suspension from school of pregnant learners; refusal by the school to provide pregnant learners with homework or tasks while away; requiring pregnant learners to pay a deposit to the school in case of medical emergency; telling students they may not attend school without a parent or someone responsible for them; schools refusing to provide “catch-up” plans for students who have been away due to birth.

Black girls who fall pregnant experience a high drop-out rate due to various discriminatory and shaming practices. The education of the girl-child is the first to be compromised when she gets pregnant. The father – who is sometimes a teacher in the school is rarely called to account. This is because the characterisation of Black girls as “onopatazana”/”onondachazana” deprives them of the innocence of childhood and the protections afforded to the young.

Protect Black girl-children

Black girl children need our protection. We need to not only defend their innocence but we need to defend their right as children to make mistakes and not have childhood mistakes impact on their economic opportunities as adults. Black girl children need our protection because they too deserve to enjoy the full experience of childhood.

[1] Womens Media Center “The Adultification of Black Girls”, available at

[2] Mahassen Mgadmi “Black Women’s Identity: Stereotypes, Respectability and Passionalessness (1890-1930), available at

[3] Head of Department, Department of Education, Free State Province v Welkom High School and Another; Head of Department of Education, free State province v Harmony High School and Another (CCT 103/12) [2013], available at

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