Last Updated on February 21, 2021 by Nina Ahmedow
The vegan community is finally discussing intersectionality and the privilege of white vegan men. However, many people still don’t understand the terms “intersectionality” and “privilege” – and others outright refuse to acknowledge these concepts. Vegan intersectionality still has a long way to go. As an intersectional vegan feminist, I definitely have an opinion on the matter.
(Please also check out my post on orientalism and the lack of diversity in travel blogging. And if you think that this kind of content has no place on a travel blog, head straight to my post on why I get political on this blog.)
What Is Intersectionality?
Civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw first introduced the term “intersectionality” to feminist theory in 1989. It was a way to describe the ways in which different forms of discrimination and oppression overlap. She pointed out that racism and sexism do not take place independently. And she explained that our different identities form one new identity. Crenshaw clarified that it’s not enough to include black women in the feminist or anti-racist discourse. She made the point that the specific forms of oppression and discrimination that Black women face need to be addressed. Black women don’t experience racism and sexism separately. Instead, they deal with specific types of oppression targeted at Black women, specifically.
Patricia Hill Collins expanded Crenshaw’s theory, but the main point remained the same: When identities overlap discrimination does as well. Oppression occurs on multiple levels which need to be thoroughly examined.
Intersectionality is particularly popular in the context of feminism because traditional feminism has excluded women of color. After the Women’s March, a lot of people voiced their concern about the lack of inclusion of trans-women.
The Problem With White Feminists
On the other end of the spectrum, white women have said that they felt left out by the march’s agenda. The largest female group in the US felt left out, why? Because things were not going to be only about them any longer. They conveniently forgot their own complicity in the oppression of non-white women. The fact that the white feminist movement did not support black suffragettes. The lack of vocality about the concerns of Black mothers who have to fear for the lives of their children. The fact that Latinas are more likely to face sexual exploitation. Muslim women who are the target of Islamophobic attacks on a regular basis.
White feminists started to feel uncomfortable when marginalized women brought up these issues. And they wanted people to stop the “infighting.”
As much as many men find it uncomfortable to acknowledge that men discriminate against women, white feminists don’t acknowledge their participation in the oppression of women of color.
What Does This Have to Do With Veganism?
All of this is relevant to veganism as we cannot fight for animal rights without acknowledging human rights. Intersectional veganism is an absolute must if we want to affect any real change.
As a progressive Muslim feminist vegan, my different identities help me to understand the importance of intersectionality. But, unfortunately, many people in the vegan community focus exclusively on animal rights. In fact, many vegans completely disregard the rights of other oppressed groups which alienates members of those groups. It’s not uncommon for vegans to compare the oppression of animals to the oppression of women, people of color, and religious minorities.
This comes from a position of privilege. A white male vegan atheist or Christian might think that animal rights are the only thing that matters. Because he has never had to experience discrimination or actual oppression.
How White Vegan Men Ignore Other Issues
While there are many vegan people of color, it’s a fact that people who struggle to have their own rights respected don’t always have the luxury to care about animals. White vegan elitists consider such statement anti-vegan. For them, it means you don’t support animal rights. But please consider that Black parents have to worry about people shooting their children. The amount of stress that Black people are under makes it more difficult for them to seek out information about the oppression of animals. And when animal rights advocates use the slogan “All lives matter” they show a complete lack of understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Similarly, vegans like to claim that real feminists should be vegan because of the way animal agriculture exploits female animals. However, rape analogies are not helpful when trying to build with feminist organizations. Especially since many people use such analogies for shock value. If these white vegan men cared so much about women’s rights there would be more women in key positions in vegan organizations. Instead, women’s bodies are a way to attract attention. Vegan and animal advocacy groups frequently use sexist ads.
A world in which vegans commit racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and other forms of discrimination and oppression isn’t a better world than one where non-vegans are the perpetrators. Even Trump was once challenged to go vegan, and I doubt that his policies would have changed if he had made that switch. White vegan men are capable of the same type of horrific things as their non-vegan counterparts.
What is an intersectional vegan? Someone who understands this quote by Alphonse de Lamartine: “You don’t have two hearts, one for humans, the other for animals… You either have a heart, or you don’t.”
Vegans and animal rights activists often use this quote to show that our empathy needs to extend to non-human animals. However, they often forget that the key here is that you either have a heart, or you don’t. If you only care about animal rights but don’t consider the rights of marginalized people you clearly don’t have a heart.
We don’t all have the time to dedicate ourselves to every cause in the world. And it’s perfectly fine if you focus on one thing. However, if you cannot support the other causes by direct action please don’t reinforce the oppression of marginalized groups.
Who Are Privileged White Vegan Men?
One way in which veganism is more accessible to white people is through access to certain foods in different neighborhoods. For white vegan men, it is always going to be easier to move into certain neighborhoods if they have the money. Of course, white vegan men without money will still not have the same access to things as rich white people.
However, poor white vegan men are still far better off than poor people of color. And the amount of health food or vegan stores you will find in Black neighborhoods will be significantly lower. Access to vegan options is, therefore, proportionately lower to people of color.
Who Represents Veganism?
The underrepresentation of vegans of color in vegan media outlets directly contributes to the belief that veganism is a white thing. The fact that there are hundreds of vegans of color who are very active but never receive a platform testifies to the fact that for the vegan movement to choose you as their poster child you better be white and male. Or, if you are a woman, you better fall into white standards of beauty. Because your physical beauty will then “help the cause.”
With white veganism white men or attractive white women are the only representatives of the vegan movement. As a result, other people don’t feel like they could become part of the vegan movement. Here, I should also mention the fat-shaming that has become an epidemic in the vegan community.
Intersectionality helps people understand privilege better. A white woman doesn’t have the same privilege that a white man has. A poor, gay, white man might be able to understand that he has white privilege but not class privilege. People have to understand that nobody is saying they’ve had it perfectly easy. And then they can begin to understand how much more difficult it is for people from marginalized communities.
What Should the Vegan Community Do?
Where’s the relevance to veganism in all of this? Vegans need to understand that non-human animals are not the only ones that are suffering.
Veganism is becoming more and more consumerist which is antithetical to the fight against classism. What many vegans don’t realize is that the amount to which veganism has become a commodity will change very little. Even if the entire world population went vegan. Under capitalism, that would still mean that marginalized people would work to sustain the lifestyle of the dominant group. People of color would continue to have less access to food because rich white people would want more variety. Women would still face sexual exploitation (PETA do a great job of showing how much vegans love to objectify women). So with all that, what’s in it for the underprivileged people of the world if they go vegan?
It’s important to listen to the voices of vegans of color and learn from them, rather than trying to control “the movement.”
Intersectionality is not something for white men to hijack so they can appear like better people. It means stepping back and listening to those people who are dealing with oppression and discrimination. It’s not the time to appropriate the term intersectionality to make veganism more approachable. If the concern for other oppressed groups is not real it isn’t worth much. If you are only willing to support Black Lives Matter to convert black people to veganism you are being dishonest.
Analogies to rape, genocide, and slavery are appropriating the struggle of oppressed groups for white vegan men’s savior complex. These analogies send a very clear message to people from marginalized communities. “We will use your suffering to promote our own values. Because we live in a society where marketing is everything, and shocking images build a following. We don’t care about you or your struggles unless we can use them for our own goals.”
Whenever anyone criticizes this behavior people shut them down, accuse them of racism (!!!) and tell them not to divide vegans. But the real division comes from those who are sacrificing fellow humans for their own cause. Ironically, the same people who call meat eaters speciesists, care very little about members of their own species.
AyishiaOctober 2, 2019 at 7:03 am
Wow!!! This post was absolutely EVERYTHING!!! ” if you cannot support the other causes by direct action please don’t display any behavior that reinforces the oppression of marginalized groups” so sooo powerful!
Nina | Lemons and LuggageOctober 2, 2019 at 11:16 am
Thank you for your comment, and thank you for sharing!
GeoffJanuary 26, 2021 at 11:54 am
Can you explain how only White Men have access to better food and neighbourhoods, even if they are poor?
What data did you use to be able to assert this claim?
What about white women?
You’ve been sucked so hard into the intersectionalist/critical race theory plughole that you’re playing their game of just making stuff up and trying to assuage all your terrible white racist guilt that, now taken on board cannot be shaken.
Nina AhmedowJanuary 26, 2021 at 12:41 pm
Actually, I specifically say: “Of course, white vegan men without money will still not have the same access to things as rich white people.” And I also talk about white women. Next time you try to argue with something read the whole thing.
As a person from a marginalized community, I don’t suffer from white guilt so your analysis of me is not valid. Have a good day!
NealSeptember 17, 2021 at 2:17 am
Ok. Maybe you can help me here.
I’ve grasped the idea of intersectionality using a black female example a la Crenhaw, but why does intersectionality never seem to apply within the white male group.
For example, amongst white men surely a poor, unintelligent white man stands at the intersection of poverty and unintelligence, two conditions that put him at a disadvantage relative to the normal supposed privilege of his “privileged white male” group.
Why is intersectionality never referred to in the context of those white men, who by the standards of the ultra-privileged white men above them, are (by those standards) marginalised.
In other words, a poor unintelligent white man who may be privileged in the eyes of a woman or a man of colour, can SIMULTANEOUSLY be marginalised within his white male group.
Why does insectivorous not recognise white male intra-group differences as they would with other broad groups?
Thanks for your answer.
P.S. I have been a vegan for 20 years and tbh I have always considered it more of an ethically driven sacrifice than any kind of privilege. But the intersectionality question is more important to me in terms of answers
Nina AhmedowSeptember 18, 2021 at 7:13 pm
That’s exactly what intersectionality refers to. A white disabled man is obviously far less privileged than a white able-bodied man. A white gay man is less privileged than a white heterosexual man, etc.
I don’t really see veganism as a sacrifice, but yes, definitely, as something based on ethics. Sadly, nowadays it’s becoming more of a trend than based in social justice for many people.
NealSeptember 24, 2021 at 2:26 pm
Thanks for replying. My reason for asking about the examples of different “white male cases” is that much of intersectional discourse I’ve seen on the Internet appears to focus on able bodied, straight white men all on one side of the social justice fence with all other groups at relative positions on the other side.
You have used the example of disabled white men but, putting the usual examples of disabled and gay to one side for a moment, what other groups within “white men” would intersectionality recognise.
I don’t know much about it (as you can probably tell!) but intuitively I am left wondering how specific a niche does intersectionality recognise.
Psychologists recognise that physically attractive people enjoy a phenomenon they call the “halo effect” because studies have shown that people are more responsive, cooperative and generally positive towards physically attractive people.
Given the above….
1- does intersectionality recognise that facially ugly white men are socially disadvantaged compared to facially attractive white men?
2 -does it allow for the recognition that facially ugly white men may socially disadvantaged compared to facially attractive white women?
3 – poor white men disadvantaged compared to wealthy white women?
Most intersectional content I have seen appears to combine all able bodied, straight white men together as though…
1 – there is no advantage/disadvantage continuum with their group.
2 – there there is no overlap between say the social advantage that *can* sometimes be experienced by a facially attractive white woman in the responses and opportunities (privilages if you like) compared to a facially ugly white man.
Why does intersectionality never seem to be discussed in those terms?
I have never seen it.
Thanks again for responding to my questions.
Nina AhmedowSeptember 24, 2021 at 6:04 pm
Yes, usually the attractiveness of a person is discussed under the term “pretty privilege” – it seems to be more relevant for women as women are generally expected to be attractive more often than men are, but you’re right that there’s obviously a difference between a white man who’s deemed attractive and one who isn’t. I think the difference between an attractive white woman and an unattractive white man is a bit trickier because again, generally, men are not expected to be attractive the same way that women are. So while the attractive woman would have advantages over an unattractive woman I’m not convinced that there are systemic disadvantages for an unattractive white man that cannot be made up for by his being white and male. Let’s say a job or apartment search where being white and male would still be deemed more valuable than being attractive but female.
In terms of poverty, it’s a lot more clear because classism definitely influences all the key factors in life and cannot easily be overcome due to the vicious cycle of not being able to get a top education, job, etc. Rich white women have historically more often than not supported the oppressive structures of their rich white husbands/fathers/brothers. Oftentimes their struggles excluded other marginalized people who were at more of a disadvantage. So if we think about the sexism a rich white woman faces it’s still a serious problem but she’s at a different place than a poor white man in terms of access to a lot of things like education, work, healthy food, etc.
I’m not sure where you are located, but in mainland Europe, I do see classism specifically being discussed quite a lot. But one reason you may not see it is that it’s so pervasive that even people from other marginalized groups tend to believe in the myth that “if you work hard enough you can climb up the ladder, too.” So even the most socially aware people might sometimes be misled into thinking that people are poor because they or their parents made the wrong choices whereas gender, race, ethnicity, or disability are more obviously not related to our own actions. I think this also leads to a lack of solidarity among poor people because there’s no longer a sense of fighting for the class as a whole but everything has become individualized and people are more ashamed than ever to be poor and don’t want to be associated with it. It’s a really complicated discussion, I believe, and says a lot about how well we are being tricked into believing that if someone is poor it’s their own fault.