By Buffy Flores | November 20, 2017

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

James Baldwin

Far and wide veganism is seen as a “white people” thing. Despite the fact that people of color all over the world have been living vegan, or mostly vegan, for generations, the perception itself is so powerful that it turns many people of color off. Now, as big business works to capitalize on the thriving plant-based market, it’s important that we be honest about the state of our movement internally.

Straightforwardly, our movement’s message can’t and won’t reach everyone as it is now. On accessibility, a friend of mine once told me, “Ask yourself, could your message be brought to the ‘hood?” At first I was taken aback by the directness of their question. Then I was struck by its truth. So many messages in this world are catered to a small group of individuals who live and behave similarly—while the rest of us are expected to fit this mold or be left out.

We have to face the disconnect between animal protection and people hammered on the daily by poverty, oppression, and food injustice. Veganism and animal rights cannot be a one-size-fits-all movement. Baldwin spoke of justice constantly. He began, in a much longer quote, “We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are.”

The professional farmed animal protection movement wants to be a global powerhouse capable of taking on and eliminating practices and industries that have existed for decades. It wants mainstream support—to no longer be seen as a radical, niche passion. In order to get to this place, we must examine the state of our organizations and the movement at large. Is it equitable? Is it conscious and inclusive? Can people all over the identity spectrum see themselves represented?

These aren’t questions one person or organization can answer but these are the questions that Encompass is bringing to the forefront. Devoid of any emotion, the United States is a racially diverse place. If our movement does not reflect this diversity then it can’t have the reach and, by extension, the impact it hopes to have. Again, it takes me back to my friend’s question Although, instead of the ‘hood, substitute in the various Asian communities, Native Americans, Muslims, youth color, people who speak English as a second language, and so much more. Is our movement intentional in authentically reaching these people?

The animal rights movement cannot attempt a one-size-fits-all approach if it hopes to reach the next level. This is not based on any of the suggested “over-sensitivity” or “PC culture” that society often attaches to efforts in racial inclusion. Rather, the movement can’t attempt to reach everyone in the same way because, simply, people are not the same.

Going vegan when you have Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s down the street is different than going vegan in a food desert. Attending a rally is different when you’re white or when you’re Native American, as, statistically, Native Americans are significantly more likely to be the victim of police aggression/violence if things get out of hand. Watching the newest animal rights documentary is different when you’re financially supported versus when you’re living paycheck to paycheck and can afford little to no time off, even for minimal self-care.

Instead of getting overwhelmed or frustrated with the amount of intentional work we have to do, let’s see it as an opportunity. Not all movements make as much progress as we have in such a short amount of time.

We’re lucky enough to know how we can get to the next step. Diversifying our message will allow us to reach more people while creating a culture of equity and inclusion inside our movement will increase creativity, insightfulness, and productivity. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Or maybe we have everything to lose if we take the risk of inaction.

We can’t fix anything if we don’t acknowledge it needs fixing. Sometimes people need help on their journey, sometimes people need information from sources they can trust, sometimes people need patience and compassion, and sometimes people need exposure to leaders of color that they might not see or hear from otherwise.

By 2044, the majority of people in the US will be people of color. With less than eleven percent of farmed animal advocates identifying as people of color (according to an informal analysis conducted by Encompass), we know there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Let’s face the truth and not hope to skate by without doing the work. We invite you to join us and, together, we can create a movement where all people can see themselves represented.

 

Buffy Flores is an Aries/Taurus cusp, Latinx, vegan, femme person and founder and editor of Gay on a Budget and the Billions Unheard. Now writing for LIVEKINDLY and editing for The Rumpus. Follow them on Twitter @livekindlybuffy.