While the Privilege Patrol absolutely loves to whip out their favorite -isms as a defense in vegan debates, they, without fail, fail to name the most obvious and obscene system of oppression in history - speciesism.
Before you all sigh me to death, hear me out. We can all agree, hopefully, that the term itself is a valid one; the systematic disregard for the interest of other species based solely on the fact that non-human animals are not human animals (hereafter referred to as animals and humans respectively - It is an important quality to remember, however, because one needs to keep in mind that we are still members of that animal kingdom and what body your consciousness happened to drift its way into is, to someone on the outside looking in, an arbitrary divider created by humans, for humans ) and that fact alone entitles them to less ethical consideration regardless of individual-to-individual superiority. But something interesting happens when someone calls a vegan who expects everyone to adopt veganism a classist, racist or ableist – they contradict themselves without even realizing it. That unnoticed paradox is only understandable when one understands why speciesism is just as bad as those three -worse, even- and so that’s where we’ll begin.
What needs to be agreed upon before we even start is that animals are sentient. Animals are self-aware, have interests and react to stimuli. It needs to be acknowledged that there is empirical proof and documented scientific studies showing that animals, without question, can feel pain, nervousness, anxiety, fear, anger, love and even heartbreak. If you stick a pig with a knife, it does what it can to remove itself from that situation, demonstrating basic problem solving. If all the qualities that bar humans from the same horrific treatment that animals are subjected to are met, why then, if animals are equal in cognitive requirement, are animals raped, tortured and murdered for their milk, fur and meat? The answer is unquestionably anthropocentrism. When you place the interests of one species over another for no other relevant reason than their bodies, it can be nothing other than discrimination resting on the same logically flawed foundation as racism (and thereby classism, to an extent), ableism and misogyny.
Take, for example, cases in which a human has severe mental and physical disabilities. A hypothetical person, for the sake of argument, is not brain dead, but not far from it. This person is not able to function or survive without constant supervision. In contrast, a perfectly healthy cow, much smarter and more capable than this human, is slaughtered, ground up and fed to this disabled person who, despite no advantage over the cow in any mental or physical arena is shown immeasurably more consideration. This easily imagined (and currently happening) scenario is an example of what is called speciesism, which, as I hope we’ve established, is in the same vein of thinking as racism or ableism.
Ethical consideration is not derived from one’s mental capacity or physical ability, nor is it derived from the dice roll that is which body that sentience happened to find itself. Qualification for ethical consideration, to someone who, for example, is not a member of either group, is merely the ability to enjoy any benefit of that ethical consideration and that is, without any uncertainty, inclusive of non-human animals. If this were not true and ethical consideration was really earned by such uncontrollable factors, it is very likely that ethnic minorities and the disabled would find themselves in the slaughterhouses. This observation brings me to the overall point of this essay, and that is that labeling veganism a class/ethnic privilege, an able-bodied person privilege or any other type of privilege, is not only an inexcusable disregard for the obvious privilege that comes with the sheer luck of being human, it is in and of itself contradictory when one takes into consideration the fundamental ethical flaws in the mental process of the racist or the misogynist and how those flaws are paralleled and amplified when applied to victims whose faces we cannot read and whose voices we cannot understand.
When you call a vegan an ableist, you are asserting that it is insensitive to those physically and/or mentally unable to sustain a vegan lifestyle to use veganism as a measuring point of ethics, the rationale being that it is unethical to place any bearing on a person’s ability it any capacity because it is not something they themselves can control and to punish them for it causes undue distress and hurt feelings. Since we’ve established that anthropocentrism is analogous and at least equally morally reprehensible as any other form of systematic prejudice, when you make physical or mental capacity a protected subject and then turn around and use the argument that animals are less able to understand what is happening to them and are therefore less deserving of ethical consideration, you yourself are practicing ableism in addition to speciesism. Every time you defend a non-vegan lifestyle in support of humans at the expense of non-humans because of some perceived divide in ability to understand, that is ableism.
When you accuse a vegan of racism for the stalwart promotion of what you may consider white-centric movement, the first thing you need do is realize that penalizing a person for the body they were born in is not something they control and therefore is not something for which they should not be punished. Disagreeing with that statement is to stand on the same mental platform as every racist, ableist and sexist to ever exist, and that doesn’t even touch gender identity discrimination, or discrimination based on sexual orientation. Discrimination based on species is not racism, but it’s the other side of the same coin.
The second thing you need to do is take a step back and decide what you’re really trying to convey. Arguing that certain ethnicities are more apt or better suited physiologically or mentally for a vegan lifestyle is flat-out preposterous. It is not true. If one non-white person is vegan (and I promise you that there are many), racism can be tabled because it cannot be a quality of that ethnicity. If it were, there would be no non-white vegans. What you mean, in all probability, is that veganism is a classist movement and you mistakenly associated ethnicity with inherent social or economic class boundaries. We will use America as an example. In America, the lower-middle and low classes are made up of a disproportionate percentage of people of color. Conversely, higher echelons of class are undoubtedly predominantly white. Racism is assumed and obfuscated because of this gross gap between social classes which is perpetuated by the effects of gentrification and other racist components of capitalism. An easy enough mistake to make, for sure, but this does not make veganism an inherently racist movement, and that leads us to classism.
When you call vegans classist for expecting those who cannot afford to subsist off of strictly vegan diets you again unintentionally contradict yourself. When one thinks of the lower classes of a capitalist system, you are likely to think of a pyramid; the base being the lower class, support the tremendous weight of the classes above them who see the classes below them as unimportant, ignorable. Expendable.
What that ingrained anthropocentric disconnect provides, however, is a convenient cover for the foundation of the foundation: non-human animals. On the backs of beasts, as they were called, entire empires were erected, rising and falling at the cost of countless deaths that were completely erased from history because, without familiar faces and bodies or the ability to say they were not, they were never considered anything more than a objects. They were seen as products and tools; unimportant, ignorable. Expendable. The accusation that veganism is classist not only plagiarizes the toil and sacrifice of animals and claims those horrors as ones endured by the next tier up, it perpetuates the idea that these able-bodied, able-minded sentient beings, born into bodies they did not choose have no hand in our success. Their reward for this lifelong slavery is the affirmation that they are objects, death and the certainty that every generation after them will live and die exactly as they did; born into suffering, dying in agony. Complacency in this injustice is and always will be the perpetuation of the notion that those born below you deserve to be below you because without them holding you up, you’ll fall. These willing participants propel the very system they claim to be fighting against when they tell vegans to stop considering non-human animals as one would humans, again based on differences as arbitrary and unintended as race, their role in society, their aptitudes or their species. That is the very essence of classism and it brings with it ableist and anthropocentric equivalents that make you guilty of what you want to prevent. Unless, of course, you only intend on preventing discrimination against yourself, in which case expose yourself as a fraud who isn’t interested in justice unless they benefit from it.
So, in conclusion, please consider non-human animals when you try to defend people. Prejudice of all kinds is deplorable, but you cannot hope to eradicate one using another group’s assured domination as a vehicle to get to that point. While I will never personally know the true extent racism, sexism or ableism, veganism is not inherently prejudice against any group simply because it does not elevate one over the other. No one is unimportant, no one is ignorable and no one, regardless of where you’ve been pinned down, regardless of your body and regardless of your understanding of this world, is expendable.
If anyone has any questions, you are more than welcome to send me a message and I will do everything in my power to help you find the information you’re looking for or help clarify any part of this post. You may also feel free to send a message to agree or disagree, support or contest any argument made or just drop in to say hello.
Thank you for reading and thank you for your consideration.