Tag Archives: blacklivesmatter

Black lives matter on Wikipedia

[Image: Dr. A. Breeze Harper speaks at the Intersectional Justice Conference.]

Black vegan feminist writers Aph and Syl Ko have explained that it’s important to celebrate black life, not just mourn black death. This is part of the motivation behind Black Vegans Rock. While Aph has been updating the web site, Facebook page, and Twitter on a daily basis since we launched in January, I’ve been updating our Instagram page for the last few weeks. It’s great amidst all the violence and anger in the world to see positive, photographic representation of black folks celebrating food, animals, and each other.

Another way I’ve been helping celebrate living black people is to improve coverage of us on Wikipedia. While anyone can create a profile on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter easily, Wikipedia has higher standards and barriers to entry and participation. I’ve written before about issues concerning sexism, racism, and cissexism on that platform. On Wikipedia and in this blog, I am focusing my writing and photography on people other than cisgender white men.

So in the last two months, I have created new articles for the following black folks:

I’ve also made significant improvements to the existing articles for:

I’ve also contributed images to Wikimedia Commons for Harper and Rhue, as well as opera singer Breanna Sinclairé and several other black LGBT and anti-racist activists.

On Ajamu Baraka: When I read last night that he had accepted Jill Stein’s offer to be her running mate, I immediately searched for his name. I found a brand-new Wikipedia page with about five sentences on it. This is a man who has been campaigning actively for human rights for decades, and served on the boards of numerous organizations, including Amnesty International. Why did he not have a Wikipedia page before now?

The collaborative—and sometimes combative—nature of editing Wikipedia can be a frustrating experience, but it’s very important to me because Wikipedia entries figure so prominently in Google and other search engine results. Just as I don’t want a young non-binary trans person to search for information about their gender and find a vandalized page stating that they are mentally ill, I don’t want journalists and voters to search for information on the new Green Party VP candidate and find inaccurate, misleading, or outright racist content.

If you have the time, you too can help improve Wikipedia. There are numerous local meetups and edit-a-thons that welcome and teach new editors. Help make this online encyclopedia more truly representative of the diverse world we live in.

Rally against racist police

[Image: A rally attendee stands in a crowd, fist raised in the air.]

When I read the news about Alton Sterling, yet another black person murdered by the police, I didn’t want to write or talk about it. I was tired of racist comments about “thugs” and “All Lives Matter,” so I just linked to my friend Christopher Sebastian’s Facebook status, explaining that white allies should leave black folks alone to process our pain within our own communities. I logged off of Facebook for awhile, and tried to escape the crushing reality of racism and police brutality.

Then I read that the police murdered another black man, Philando Castile, the very next day. Then I heard about a lone shooter killing five police officers after a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. And then I got a message from the San Francisco Food Not Bombs mailing list about a rally against racist police violence here in San Francisco. As nervous as I was about violence breaking out here too—from the police, not the protesters—I decided that I needed to attend.

I found more information about the rally on Facebook. Though this event had been shared over 7000 times, none of my Facebook friends had invited me to it; I seem to get lots of invites to animal rights protests and concerts though. Hmm… In any case, my partner Ziggy was out of town, and the couple of friends I mentioned the rally to were also out of town or unavailable. But one friend did ask me to text her after I got home so she would know I was OK, which I appreciated.

The event was co-sponsored by the ANSWER Coalition, Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, Justice 4 Alex Nieto Coalition, Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, San Francisco Black Leadership Forum, San Francisco Black Lives Matter, and West County Toxics Coalition. I didn’t get the names of all of the speakers, but they included Frank Lara (the MC), Edwin Carmona-Cruz (ANSWER Coalition), Lawrence Shine (Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition), AeJay Mitchell, Edwin Lindo (one of the Frisco Five hunger strikers), Ashley Love (Black Trans Women’s Lives Matter), and members of BAYAN USA and GABRIELA USA (progressive Filipinx organizations). If anyone has names of others in my photos, please post them in a comment or send me an e-mail.

As I walked to the gathering place at Justin Herman Plaza, I passed by a group of police officers having some food in the nearby Jackson Square Historic District. I tensed up, but kept moving. I didn’t see an obvious police presence once I arrived at the plaza, but saw in news reports later that they were strategically positioned on rooftops. And once we started the march, they flanked us on either side, and barricaded the entrance of City Hall. Their presence did not make me, a black person, feel any safer.

Black Lives Matters signs[Image: People kneel on the ground creating signs reading “White Silence = Violence” and “#BlackLivesMatter”.]

Crowd at Justin Herman Plaza[Image: A crowd of people fills Justin Herman Plaza for a rally.]

I arrived a half an hour before the scheduled 6 p.m. start, as people were just beginning to gather. I took some photos, then parked myself directly in front of the microphone on the stage. By the time the program was underway, the entire plaza was filled with people, including many reporters and news cameras.

Rally against racist police[Image: Black trans activist Ashley Love speaks into a microphone, while other black speakers stand on stage and applaud. Standing next to Ashley are actor AeJay Mitchell, and Lawrence Shine of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition.]

Marching to City Hall[Image: Marchers carry signs reading “Stop Killing Us” and “Black Trans Lives Matter.”]

As with the other rallies I’ve attended over the last year, I was pleased with the support of and representation from queer and trans black folks. I saw one of the speakers, Lawrence Shine of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, during the march, and thanked him personally.

Speaker at rally against racist police[Image: A bearded man wearing a red, green, and black hat and scarf speaks into a microphone.]

One of the unscheduled speakers was a man who, as I later learned from seeing his photo in a news report, was the person I’d heard addressing the crowd from a megaphone while Lawrence Shine was speaking on stage. He was invited to come to the stage himself, and initially declined, but later accepted. He called out all the mostly non-black folks who were in attendance just to say “I was here,” and said, “This is not the work.” He disagreed with speakers who called for peace, saying that we needed to go into the police stations and destroy their computers (for starters). He spoke at length about anti-black racism and the need to dismantle the police system, and I had the feeling he would have spoken all night if the MC hadn’t (gently) taken the mic away from him, as others were waiting to speak.

I listened carefully to what this man said, and agreed with a lot of it. He had a brother in jail for protesting and had been unjustly imprisoned himself, so I won’t blame or shame him or any other black person for wishing violence upon his oppressors. Though during his speech, I was more concerned about retribution from the police or their operatives for what he was saying.

Regardless, I am still a pacifist. I did not choose the name Pax Ahimsa*—which became my legal name two years ago tomorrow—lightly. Adopting a name that literally translates to “peace” and “do no harm” was my commitment to always remaining non-violent, no matter what. I have a lot more thoughts on that subject, which I’ll share at another time.

Filipin@ speakers at rally[Image: A Filipina speaks into a microphone while others behind her hold signs expressing Filipinx solidarity with blacks.]

As the speaker noted, there were indeed a lot of non-black faces at the rally; San Francisco is only 3% black at this time. I have mixed feelings about the role of non-black allies at Black Lives Matter events. I feel it’s apparent that Latinx folks are subject to much of the same police violence as blacks. People of Asian descent, on the other hand, while still affected by racism, are not targeted as much by the police, at least here in the SF Bay Area. I do appreciate allies such as the members of the Filipinx groups who took the stage to express solidarity with black folks fighting against police violence. I’m not so sure about white folks raising their fists in a black power salute, or saying “we” when things don’t affect them personally though.

ETA: The Washington Post has been collecting data on police shootings. Their reports include a breakdown by race, but only white, black, Hispanic, and “other.” When reviewing this data, it’s important to take into account the percentage of each racial group in the U.S. population.

Once we left the plaza and began the march down Market Street, I felt grim and sad. Some others around me were smiling and laughing with their friends, but I was alone and depressed, thinking about how many times I’d marched down this street lately, for Orlando and the Trans March. While the latter was ostensibly a happier occasion, as an unofficial part of Pride weekend, most of the rallies and marches I’ve attended have been to protest discrimination and violence against people like me, not to be in a crowd and have a good time. As I’ve written frequently, I’m not just an introvert, but practically a hermit lately. I don’t go to protests because I want to, but because I feel obligated to—within the limits of my physical and mental capacities—and I feel a lot of my black and trans siblings are in the same boat.

Market Street sit-in[Image: A crowd of people sit on Market Street. One standing holds signs reading “Say It Loud, I’m Black & Proud!” and “White Supremacy Is Terrorism!”]

Reading names during sit-in[Image: Rally co-organizer Frank Lara reads from a list of names into a megaphone, while others watch and film.]

After walking several blocks, the march came to a halt, and people started sitting down, right in the middle of the street. I moved to the sidewalk to take photos, and located event co-organizer Frank Lara, reading the names of people killed by the police into a megaphone. After dozens of names were read, we resumed the march to City Hall.

Marching to City Hall in the fog[Image: A large group of marchers approaches San Francisco City Hall on a foggy evening.]

Filiming rally at City Hall[Image: A rally attendee films the gathering at San Francisco City Hall.]

I only stayed for the beginning of the rally at City Hall. I was too far back to hear the speakers clearly, and was feeling crowded, tired, cold, and nervous about possible violence as it was getting dark. From news reports, it appears some people stayed at the rally until at least 10 p.m., with police officers continuing to barricade the entrance; there were no incidents or arrests. More protests are planned in the Bay Area and around the country this weekend.

My full set of photos from the rally and march is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

*I am aware that some may consider me taking the name Ahimsa (a term of Sanskrit etymology) to be cultural appropriation. I am willing to have a conversation about that concern with people who come from predominantly Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain cultures, but not with others, and not today.

Human/animal liberation and the limits of comparison

[Image: Protesters block an intersection, holding a large banner reading  “We Are The Last 3% Of Black SF.”]

I debated whether to write this essay because there’s been a lot of in-fighting in animal rights and vegan communities, and I want to encourage positive contributions and collaborations rather than just criticism. But I feel it’s important to call out—and call in—our fellow activists when oppressive language or tactics are used, in order to make the movement a safer space for marginalized humans.

With that in mind, I have serious problems with yesterday’s blog post by Ana Hurwitz for Collectively Free, entitled “Bernie Sanders: A Nazi On Animal Rights.” I feel strongly that the word Nazi should only be used to describe actual Nazis, who have committed unforgivable atrocities against millions of people. Yes, I do consider non-human animals to also be people, and humans do commit atrocities upon them by the billions. But the vast majority of the population does not yet see animals this way. Therefore, singling out a politician—a Jewish person, no less—as a Nazi for treating animals no differently from every other mainstream US-American politician is more offensive than provocative, and does not advance the cause of animal rights.

I recognize that the author of this piece is Jewish, but I do not feel this makes her immune to criticism. I have Jewish ancestry myself, which is part of why I find any comparison—casual or serious—to Nazis to be alarming and disturbing. I wouldn’t even call Donald Trump a Nazi, and he (“allegedly”) has open supporters of the KKK and other white supremacist groups at his rallies.

Speaking of rallies, in response to criticism of this blog post on their Facebook page, Collectively Free has posted numerous links to a post about BlackLivesMatter activists disrupting a Sanders rally, as justification for their actions. As I’ve posted before in reference to that disruption, I feel that non-black people—including other people of color—have no business telling black folks who we should support or how we should protest. But I feel it is inappropriate and disingenuous for that protest to be brought up in this context, particularly by non-black people. The black activists who disrupted Sanders had a reasonable expectation that he might heed their words and make changes to his platform accordingly. Collectively Free has no reasonable expectation that Sanders—or any other mainstream presidential candidate—will promote animal liberation in response to their demands.

What’s more, what appears to be the original motivation for this criticism—which has included a disruption of a Sanders rally as well—is also disingenuous. A month ago, Direct Action Everywhere (which is a separate group from Collectively Free, though there is some overlap in supporters) posted on their main Facebook page a meme of Bernie Sanders smiling with the words “AMERICANS LIKE BACON!” emblazoned over his face. This was in response to a CNN interview with Sanders’ wife Jane, regarding a conversation she overheard between Sanders and Russell Simmons, who now endorses Hillary Clinton. As I posted in a comment on Zach Groff’s blog, DxE’s framing of these words as if they were direct quotes and as if Sanders were gleeful about killing animals was why I had a problem with the criticism; it wasn’t because I support Sanders (to reiterate, I support no presidential candidates) or felt that he should be beyond criticism. Unfortunately, Collectively Free has now added their voices to what I feel is an ineffective and polarizing campaign.

As I said at the outset, I wish to encourage positive action and not merely criticize other animal rights organizations. I welcome constructive comments from others on this blog, whether or not you support Collectively Free or DxE. I am particularly interested in hearing from black vegans on the BlackLivesMatter comparison, and from Jewish vegans on the Nazi comparison. I do not claim to speak for all black vegans (and certainly not for Jewish vegans), but I feel that too often groups hold up members of other marginalized groups (including other PoC) as evidence of solidarity with black liberation, without recognizing that the challenges faced by blacks in the USA are not all interchangeable with those faced by other oppressed groups— including our fellow animals.

We’re not asking your permission

Among the many ReclaimMLK actions last weekend was an Anti Police-Terror Project protest at the San Francisco International Airport. There’s a great moment caught on video where a white man tells the assembled group that he will allow them to speak if they stand in a certain place. Protest leader Cat Brooks calmly responds, “We’re not asking your permission.”

Since the weekend’s protests, especially with the Bay Bridge shutdown, there have been a lot of whitesplainers on social media saying that these disruptions were not in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people seem to think that the accomplishments of the civil rights movement happened via polite protesters standing in designated areas with signs and leaflets.

Leafleting has its place, but so does civil disobedience. White supremacy is too firmly entrenched to be dismantled without inconveniencing people. We cannot let white people dictate the terms of our protests. Black Lives Matter is not about white people.

When Monday’s march from Oakland to Emeryville was about to get underway, the announcer stated that only black and brown folks, children, and those who had lost loved ones to police violence should go to the front. Everyone else should march behind the truck. I appreciated this, though I did see a bunch of white folks walking in front. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that some of them didn’t hear the announcement.

This weekend of direct action made me think about the animal rights actions I participated in when I was active with DxE, which sometimes involved going inside stores and restaurants. Some have challenged these disruptions on the basis that unlike in human rights demonstrations, the oppressed are not able to organize protests themselves. I think this is a fair criticism, not because non-human animals are less worthy of protection than humans, but because activists sometimes forget that we are only their allies and proxies, and shouldn’t be held up as heroes or martyrs.

I’m not now opposed to direct action for animals, but I think such demonstrations need to be planned and framed very carefully to center the animals and make the message of liberation clear. And as I’ve written repeatedly, all animal rights activists also need to pay attention to human oppression, both in their messaging and their choice of venues to disrupt.

Regardless of the cause, I’m currently unwilling to participate in any protest that might get me arrested, owing to my trans status among other reasons. But I support others who disrupt, as long as they allow the oppressed to take the lead.

Marching in Oakland to ReclaimMLK

[Image: Marchers hold a banner with an image of Martin Luther King Jr. and the words “Reclaim King’s Radical Legacy.”]

Yesterday I joined hundreds of Bay Area activists in a march from downtown Oakland to Emeryville, for the conclusion of 96 hours of direct action to reclaim the radical legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. As with Friday’s action in San Francisco, I witnessed many inspiring sights and speeches, and once again helped hold space while activists shut down a major intersection.

Queers for black resistance[Image: A crowd of people, two holding signs reading “Iranian queers for black resistance” and “White queers for black resistance”.]

Lao queers for black resistance[Image: A marcher holds a sign reading “Lao queers for black resistance”.]

Queers overthrowing white supremacy[Image: Marchers hold a banner reading “We’re here we’re queer we’re overthrowing white supremacy – Quagmire”. ]

BlackTransLives Matter[Image: Two marchers share a laugh. One wears a shirt reading #BlackTransLivesMatter on the back.]

I was impressed and empowered by the turnout of queer and trans people of all backgrounds. The message was clear: Black Lives Matter is for all black people, not just straight cisgender men.

Pancho practicing silence[Image: Pancho smiles at children, showing them a message reading “On Mondays I practice silence, but I’d like you to know that I love you.”]

I saw a few familiar faces at the event, including Pancho who I volunteered with at the (now closed, sadly) Free Farm. My friend and fellow animal liberation activist Saryta marched with me the whole way; I’ll be blogging soon about her great book, Until Every Animal is Free.

Marchers singing and clapping[Image: Two marchers sing and clap their hands.]

Dancing at the march[Image: A crowd cheers on a dancer at a stop during the march.]

While the theme of black resistance was serious, the mood along the march route was often festive, with singing and dancing on multiple occasions.

Mothers speaking out against police violence[Image: A woman looks distraught as she speaks into a microphone. Another consoles her, while a third holds a photo of the speaker’s son, reading “James Rivera, Jr – Killed by Stockton, CA Police Dept July 22, 2010 – #RiseUpOctober”]

The march ended in Emeryville, a city of concrete and shopping malls. The truck stopped near the Shellmound, where marchers blocked traffic and held space at this sacred burial site for the Ohlone people. Here, mothers who had lost their children and husbands to police violence spoke out. One of them pointed to members of the crowd, saying “You could be next.”

Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson speaks[Image: Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson speaks out about the police killing of Oscar Grant.]

One of the final speakers was Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, whose 2009 killing by the BART police was the subject of the movie Fruitvale Station. I’d just met Uncle Bobby two days earlier at the celebration of Wikipedia’s 15th birthday, where he stated that the initial Wikipedia coverage of his nephew’s shooting “murdered him all over again.” (I’ll write more about the Wikipedia event later this week.)

While we were gathered at the Shellmound, we learned that the black queer liberation collective Black.Seed had successfully shut down the Bay Bridge. When I saw photos posted on Facebook, I realized that I’d met one of their activists, Thea, at Black Queer Voices Rising last year; I was happy to hear of more queer black people speaking truth to power.

I’ve posted my full set of photos from the march to Flickr. Please credit Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them. Glad to witness and document some of this weekend’s efforts to dismantle white supremacy.

ReclaimMLK in the Fillmore

[Image: Activists march in the street carrying a banner reading “Dear Ed Lee, We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere. Sincerely, Bayview, Mission & Fillmore”]

This weekend, activists throughout the country are holding events to reclaim the radical legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., with 96 hours of direct action. I attended one such event on Friday in San Francisco’s Fillmore district, one of our rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods where black folks are being displaced from their homes. Though when I arrived I was only expecting speakouts and music, the event turned into a march that took over the streets.

Music at Coltrane Church[Image: Musicians perform at Saint John Coltrane Church.]

Archbishop King playing sax[Image: Archbishop King plays the saxophone at Saint John Coltrane Church.]

We gathered at Saint John Coltrane Church. I’m a jazz lover, and I think it’s awesome to have a church where the archbishop plays the saxophone. (This is no gimmick; the legendary musician John Coltrane is actually a saint.) While I’m an atheist, I’m not an anti-theist; I’ll happily cooperate with religious organizations and individuals as long as they’re not trying to convert me or tell me I’m going to hell.

Etecia Brown of Last 3% of Black SF[Image: Etecia Brown of Last 3 Percent of Black SF speaks into a microphone.]

ReclaimMLK speakers[Image: Activists at ReclaimMLK event, wearing shirts reading “The Movement for Black Lives” and “Justice for Alex Nieto”]

Speakers at the event included representatives from the Anti Police-Terror Project, Last 3 Percent of Black SF, and the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition. Cause Justa :: Just Cause was also there, providing Spanish translation. While anyone who doesn’t look white (or straight, or cisgender) is a potential target for police violence and housing discrimination, this night’s action focused on the impact on black and brown lives.

Homes for people, not for profit[Image: Activists in the street hold signs reading “Evict Ed Lee” and “Homes for people, not for profit. ACCE: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment“]

Last 3 percent[Image: An activist in the street wearing a shirt reading “Stay Black” holds a sign reading “Last 3 Percent.”]

ReclaimMLK street action[Image: Activists holding signs and raised fists block traffic at the intersection of Webster and Geary Blvd, San Francisco.]

Following the speakers and music, attendees took to the streets, eventually holding space during rush hour at the busy intersection of Webster and Geary Blvd. One angry white man asked “Do you people even have a permit?” San Franciscans expect their marches to be scheduled and orderly. But social change requires inconvenience.

Activist at ReclaimMLK march[Image: An activist at the ReclaimMLK action raises their fist in the air.]

I was nervous about police harassment once I realized we’d be taking over the intersection, but I did not personally witness any incidents. The police escorted us as we marched back to the church. I spoke with one of the organizers then, thanking him for mentioning transgender and gender non-conforming people in his talk at the start of the event.

My full set of photos from the event is available on Flickr. Please credit Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them. A videographer I met at the church made a video of the event; I can be seen in the background (wearing a purple jacket and black beret) of several shots:

I’m very glad I attended this action. Tomorrow, I’ll be marching in Oakland for the culmination of the 96 hours of direct action. I was pleased to learn that the march will have a transgender contingent, hosted by the TGI Justice Project and TAJA’s Coalition. I hope many of my fellow activists are able to attend.

MLK Day

[Image: Kin Folkz speaks into a microphone at a queer black liberation event. Their T-shirt reads “Love is Love.”]

Tomorrow is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. The official holiday in the USA is this coming Monday, and many events are planned for the long weekend. I plan to attend and take photos at one or two myself, which is why I’m writing about MLK Day now,  in case I don’t have a chance to blog again before next week. Black activists are using hashtags including #ReclaimMLK and #96Hours, so you can search on social media for actions in your area.

VINE Sanctuary posted the MLK Day Vegan Challenge to their blog this week, with the following summary:

VINE Sanctuary challenges vegans to spend MLK Day educating themselves about past and ongoing anti-racist struggles, and we challenge vegan and animal liberation organizations to encourage their own followers to do the same.

I encourage other vegans, white vegans in particular, to read the full blog entry. I left the following comment:

I also encourage vegans to stop sharing memes of MLK saying things that he never actually said, assuring people that King would be vegan if he were alive today, or using MLK memes to tone-police frustrated black activists who speak out against racism. There are plenty of living black vegan activists to celebrate. Check out Black Vegans Rock for some of them.

Let’s honor King’s legacy by letting black activists – of every gender, sexual orientation, class, and ability – take the lead in dismantling anti-black racism.

Downplaying human oppression: Excuses and responses

I’ve written frequently in this blog about the necessity for vegans and animal rights activists to pay attention to human oppression, including (but not limited to) racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, classism, and ableism. Unfortunately, whenever the topic of intersectionality* is raised, some activists fire back with excuses. I’ve collected some of those excuses here, with responses. (Please note that this article is focused on animal rights activism in the USA, and may not apply to other countries.)

“Non-human animals suffer more than any humans, so their needs must come first.”

Stop ranking oppression. It does not save any more animals to tell oppressed humans that their problems must take a backseat, especially when that message is coming from people who are not mindful of their own privileges. Acknowledging the struggles of oppressed humans does not take anything away from non-human animals.

“Non-human animals suffer more than any humans, so talking about human oppression is speciesist.”

(Variation on the above.) Every human – vegan or otherwise – is speciesist to some degree. Calling out speciesism can be helpful in cases such as dog and cat adoption events that serve food made from the flesh of other animals, as this points out the hypocrisy of valuing the lives of some animals above others. The same goes for other single-issue events where animals are already the focus.

Calling out speciesism when vegan activists want to promote, for example, Black Lives Matter events is not helpful, especially when coming from white people or non-black people of color. The same goes for feminist events, especially when the criticism is coming from men. These events are focused on humans, and the awareness that animals are people, not property, is not yet widespread in anti-racist and anti-sexist organizations. To raise that awareness requires work from within.

“Animal rights groups shouldn’t have to talk about human oppression since human rights groups don’t talk about the oppression of animals.”

See above. To most humans at this point in time, most animals aren’t much different from pencils or paper clips; objects to be owned and used at will. Thus, the idea that a piece of property is being oppressed is nonsensical and offensive to them. Changing this mindset must come from within. Showing solidarity with oppressed groups can help bring more activists to the animal rights movement.

“Addressing human oppression takes time and resources away from the animals.

No activist can be expected to devote an equal amount of time to every cause. But when news headlines and social media feature humans being targeted and killed for their skin color or gender presentation, vegans should join the chorus of condemnation against these acts. Silence is complicity.

“All this talk about human oppression is just political correctness.”

The charge of “political correctness” is to my ears a synonym for “I want to be free to use whatever language I see fit and not suffer any consequences for it.” The same applies to most people talking about free speech and echo chambers. Oppressive language, whether read on a computer screen or heard in person, causes real harm to marginalized people, and drives us away from the animal rights movement.

“Calling out oppression divides the movement. We need to all work together for the animals.”

Silencing concerns about oppressive language or tactics does not save more animals. It simply drives marginalized humans away from animal rights activism.

Some say that rather than “calling out” we should “call in,” and give offenders a chance to reflect on the harm they’ve caused rather than immediately shunning them. I agree only up to a point. If an activist has repeatedly harmed marginalized people through their statements and/or actions, they need to be publicly called out, and removed from any leadership position if applicable. This applies to micro-aggressions (such as gaslighting and tone policing) as well as overt acts like sexual harassment. To do otherwise puts the safety of vulnerable people in jeopardy.

“Talking about race is racist.”

Racism is the oppression of people of color by whites. Talking about racism is how white supremacy gets dismantled. Ignoring or downplaying racism ensures its continuance.

“I don’t see color.”

Not true or possible. I said the same myself once. I know better now.

“All lives matter.”

Appropriating a slogan created by queer black women to highlight violence against black people does nothing to save more animals. It only drives black people away from the animal rights movement. For more of what’s wrong with saying “All Lives Matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, see this video (text transcript included).

“There is no (racism/sexism/other human oppression) in the animal rights movement.”

According to whom? Anyone stating this seriously needs to examine their own privileges.

“There is no (racism/sexism/heterosexism/ableism) in the animal rights movement, according to (this one black/gay/female/disabled activist I know).”

Variation on the above. Folks of all backgrounds have different opinions. But if anyone speaks out about being oppressed, they should be taken seriously, and not dismissed just because another member of their gender or ethnic group had a different experience.

“There is no (racism/sexism/other human oppression) in my particular vegan/animal rights group.”

Again, according to whom? Every group in the USA, regardless of size, is operating under a patriarchal, hetero- and cissexist, white supremacist culture. To counteract this requires deliberate work, which includes having marginalized people in active leadership roles. Simply stating that a group is intersectional is an empty promise.

“No true vegan is (racist/sexist/otherwise oppressive).”

Who gets to decide what a “true” vegan is, or who can rightfully display that label? Veganism is currently seen as merely a dietary choice by the majority of US-Americans, who know nothing about the internal debates in the animal rights movement. Focusing on the “vegan” label as a badge of anti-oppression does not help save more animals or humans.

For more essays on human oppression in the animal rights movement (and what to do about it), I recommend the following sites: Aphro-ism, Sistah Vegan Project, Striving with Systems, and Vegan Feminist Network. More sites about related topics are on my links page.

* As I’ve written previously, intersectionality has become something of a buzzword. Putting anti-oppression into practice is more important than using that specific term.

Black Vegans Rock is live!

[Image: Banner with images of black folks and the words: “Black Vegans Rock website is now live! Check us out at www.blackvegansrock.com.” Image by EastRand Studios.]

Black Vegans Rock is now live! I’m excited about this new project for all the reasons I mentioned in my earlier posts. If you’re wondering what being black has to do with veganism or vice-versa, please read the site FAQ. Aph and Syl Ko of Aphro-ism have done a great job showing how black veganism can help dismantle both white supremacy and human supremacy, and how animal rights activism can help rather than hinder the Black Lives Matter movement.

The first black vegan featured on BVR is Seba Johnson, an Olympic athlete and animal rights activist who has been vegan since birth. That feature links to an earlier post by Johnson which I found a wonderful statement against oppression of all animals, human and non-human, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Highlighting the work of people like Johnson is exactly what Black Vegans Rock is about.

Black Vegans Rock will be accepting submissions continuously; see this page for details on how to be featured.

The city for the pay

[Image: The San Francisco skyline lit up at night, featuring the Bay Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid.]

Last night I attended a talk by Alicia Garza, co-creator of BlackLivesMatter, on gentrification in San Francisco and the impact on queer* and trans communities of color. I didn’t take photos or take notes, wanting to fully concentrate on her words (and those of her interviewer, professor Nancy Raquel Mirabal, and the audience questions). So I only jotted down some notes from memory afterward.

Garza noted that San Francisco is now the – not one of, but the – most expensive city in the United States. You could literally buy a castle in France for the price of a San Francisco apartment. As I said in my earlier post about gentrification, I have no trouble believing this, having seen the astronomical rise in rents and real estate prices in the 12 years I’ve lived here. She explained that queer and trans people come to live here to be our authentic selves, but we’re now being priced out, as we cannot compete economically with our hetero and cis counterparts.

Queer and trans people face job discrimination, even here in San Francisco. Only those who conform to cisheteronormative standards have a chance of competing. Being a person of color on top of being queer and/or trans just doubles or triples the challenge.

Garza, a native resident of the area, described the changes gentrification has brought to the city, including the loss of black residents, especially black families in the Hunters Point area. She said the black population of San Francisco is now down close to three percent. Blacks are encouraged with respectability politics to cooperate with these city planning strategies, which have been in motion for quite some time.

On this anniversary of 9/11, Garza said that it’s no coincidence that Fox News pundits have been referring to BlackLivesMatter activists as “terrorists.” “Hate group,” “criminal organization,” and “murder movement” are other phrases I’ve found Fox using to describe the BLM movement. It speaks volumes about the entrenchment of white supremacy that disenfranchised people speaking out for their rights and lives can be branded in this fashion.

One observation Garza made that stuck with me is that under capitalism, everything and everyone is a product. Like myself, she believes that we cannot have true reform under a capitalist system. “Shinier, nicer” capitalism is still a tool of exploitation. I’ve been exploring socialism and anarchism and trying to determine what system is the most likely to bring lasting peace to all beings. I’ll write a  longer entry on this subject in the near future.

I’m glad I attended this talk, even though it made me angry, even more than I already was. I’m very fortunate and privileged to live in this city, but I’m really uneasy about it. I don’t like living in a place where only rich people are welcomed or wanted. I’m dependent on my spouse’s income and on our rent-controlled apartment so I don’t have the option to move right now, but I can at least bring more awareness to the inequality, racism, and cissexism in this supposedly ultra-progressive place.

* In her talk, Garza used “queer” as an umbrella term roughly synonymous with  LGBTQIA+. I recognize that not everyone under that acronym has reclaimed the word “queer” from its roots as a slur. Normally in my blog I use the word “queer” only to describe my own sexual orientation or to describe other individuals who explicitly identify with that term.