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Black Vegans Rock and effective activism

[Image: Black Vegans Rock poster, designed by EastRand Studios.]

As I mentioned in a recent entry, I’ve been managing the Instagram page for Black Vegans Rock for the last month. Since Aph Ko launched the BVR web site in January, I’ve enjoyed reading the diverse stories and experiences of black vegans from all over the world. To date, we’ve featured over 130 individuals from all walks of life: Students, doctors, musicians, scholars, athletes, chefs, and more.

Working with Aph on Black Vegans Rock (I’m on the advisory board) has changed my thoughts about animal rights activism. I see a common theme in many of the stories we feature: The individual adopts a vegan diet initially for health reasons, and then later comes to appreciate the inherent worth of our fellow animals for their own sake. Not all follow this path, of course; some go vegan for ethical reasons from the start. But many black folks do adopt a vegan diet to address health problems.

While a vegan diet is definitely not a cure-all and no one should be  shamed for illness, I believe we do need to acknowledge and address health issues in a non-oppressive way as part of our activism. Dairy products, for example, are particularly damaging to the health of black folks, the vast majority of whom are lactose intolerant. This is one of the many reasons why I will not promote vegetarian, “flexitarian”, or “reducetarian” diets. We only feature vegans on Black Vegans Rock.

Proper education about nutrition is so important and so lacking in a society dominated by advertising and lobbying groups from the animal slaughter industries. I recently watched a TV show that featured black vegan weightlifter Kendrick Farris, the only male weightlifter representing the USA in the 2016 Olympics. He and the interviewer went to a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, and the interviewer, having apparently never been to a salad bar, said “So this is like ‘Build-A-Bear’ with vegetables!” After the segment, the host marveled that Farris could get enough protein without eating “beef and chicken”, also saying “You learn something new every day.”

Most of the episodes of this show about the Olympics have featured restaurants that serve copious amounts of animal flesh. Of course, there’s been no mention of the decimation of the Brazilian rainforest by animal agriculture, nor of the 1000+ activists killed in that country over the issue.* Veganism as decolonialism is another approach relevant to blacks and other people of color, and has also been a part of the story of several of those featured on Black Vegans Rock.

Discussing the health or environmental benefits of veganism does not preclude talking about ethics, or engaging in demonstrations or (in some cases) direct action. Many different types of non-oppressive activism have a rightful place in the animal rights movement. But no vegan should feel pressured or shamed into compromising their health or safety “for the animals”.

My own philosophy remains that animals are people, not property, and I approach animal rights activism primarily from that perspective. But Black Vegans Rock has helped me understand that other approaches still have a lot of value, particularly when it comes to marginalized communities.

* See the Cowspiracy facts page for more information.

2 thoughts on “Black Vegans Rock and effective activism”

  1. Thanks for writing this. When I first went vegan I did much reading both of books and on various online sources. I started noticing something that vaguely reminded me of something I had observed among folks who were deeply immersed in religiosity.

    Among practitioners of various forms of human religion there were “purists” (for want of a better term) and there were folks who generally followed some religion’s teachings but weren’t all in a lather about it. The “purists” often spent a lot of time wailing and moaning about those who followed a religion’s notions but weren’t “pure” enough in their thinking and/or believing.

    It seemed strange to me to devote a lot of energy/time to being bothered by folks who were generally behaving in ways that you wanted them to…but maybe didn’t think like or see things quite like you did or were a bit less diligent. Sure it would be nifty if everyone thought like I did (well…maybe that wouldn’t be so nifty now that I think about it) but isn’t it more important that they refrain or try to refrain from hurting animals (for instance) as opposed to the idea that they not only have to not hurt animals but they have to not hurt them for the “right” reasons?

    It seems to me to be a deed/thought sort of thing…yes it’s terrific when deeds and thoughts line up the way I might think is best but generally deeds carry more significance than thoughts in terms of real world impact on others.

    For instance…none of my neighbors physically assault me when they see me out in my yard…I don’t know why they don’t and I bet if each one was asked to give their reasons for not doing so they would come up with lots of different ones…but…as for me…I don’t really care why they don’t attack me…I just care that they don’t smack me when they see me.

    Maybe if I were in an intimate and/or close relationship with one of them…then I might be a little more interested in how they thought/felt but since I’m not…I just care about their outer behavior…not what’s going on in their heads or hearts. What I care about is not getting whacked in the head when they see me.

    There’s something a little weird really, when I think about it, to expect everyone to comprehend and/or think and/or feel like I do because in the end…I don’t so much care about that stuff as that I care about how they behave (toward me).

    And…really…don’t they have the freedom to think/feel however they might want as long as their behavior isn’t harmful/hurtful? This all seems pretty apparent to me…but…hey…I’ve been wrong before…and will be again.

  2. Thank you – a great read, and I am grateful for all the different perspectives brought to the vegan/animal rights table. Black Vegans Rock is so inspiring !

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