Nonhumans First, Justice Never

Content warning for rape, sexism, slavery, racism, and other violence.

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This image is of Christopher Sebastian’s Facebook status update. It reads: Dear animal rights allies who don’t understand racism, You know how you feel when you tell nonvegans that animal lives deserve to be respected and they respond by telling you that plants have feelings? Well that’s kind of how black people feel when we tell you ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ and you tell us that ‪#‎alllivesmatter‬. In both cases, the goal (either consciously or unconsciously) for the people in power is to redirect an important conversation about disenfranchised groups to focus on something irrelevant. It’s a low key way to hold onto privilege and maintain that systemic disenfranchisement while giving the illusion of caring about justice. Please don’t be that person, k? heart emoticon‬‬

Yesterday, my friend Christopher Sebastian posted a public status update to “animal rights allies who don’t understand racism.” There was a lot of support, but of course, in the white-centric vegan movement, there were several racist comments. One comment (screenshot below) reflected the “Nonhumans First” mindset, and I have written a set of responses to it below.

This image is of someone’s comment. It reads: As long as humans are not bred for food, skinned alive, raped and slaughtered legally, I will not care about humans, black or white. My priority are non human animals.

The mindset of this comment is so wrong.

1) Saying that “As long as humans are not bred for food, skinned alive, raped and slaughtered legally” they will not start caring about humans is really similar to how humans say, “As long as there are human problems, I will not start caring about nonhumans.”

2) As I tell nonvegans, we can care about more than one issue at a time. The author of this comment must know that, as a vegan, because we have to inform nonvegans all the time that humans are capable of caring for nonhumans as well as humans and that caring for nonhumans doesn’t detract from caring for humans. On the contrary, caring for both makes our commitment to justice more consistent.

3) Humans are “raped and slaughtered.” We, very unfortunately, do not live in a post rape, post slaughter world.

4) Whether something is done “legally” does not determine whether it is a moral act. The author of this comment must know that, as a vegan, because we have to inform nonvegans all the time that exploiting and killing nonhumans is wrong, even though it is legal.

5) “black or white” are not the only colors of humans. Let’s not erase the billions of humans who are not “black or white” but yellow, brown, red, or mixed.

6) This comment necessarily ranks oppressions, claiming that nonhuman oppression must be addressed first. Ranking oppressions is counterproductive and has no place in a pro-intersectional movement.

7) The vegan movement is already plagued by racism and white centrism. This mindset only contributes to and perpetuates these serious issues. We can and must become a pro-intersectional movement that is safer for oppressed and marginalized people, for justice and movement success.

8) At the end of the day, the author of this comment used nonhumans as a shield to cover up their bigoted beliefs that prevent them from caring about oppressed humans. By saying that “[their] priority are non human animals,” especially when the original post was about vegans not being racist, what they are really saying is, “Vegans of color don’t matter. Their oppressions don’t matter. While I work for ‘justice’ for nonhuman animals and try to get nonvegans to stop being unjust toward animals, I am willing to be unjust toward my fellow vegans.” Not only is this mindset wrong, it is impeding justice for all.

As a vegan of color, I urge you to continue to listen to vegans of color when it comes to racism and how we experience it in the world and in the vegan movement, continue to educate yourself and reflect on your role in making the vegan movement a safer space for people of color, and continue to contribute to creating and maintaining a pro-intersectional vegan community. As long as the “Nonhumans First” attitude prevails and the vegan movement fails to take a pro-intersectional approach, justice will never be achieved.

Sarah K. Woodcock

Founder and Executive Director (volunteer)

The Abolitionist Vegan Society