If you’re a black person with even a modicum of social consciousness, you’re no doubt painfully aware of how challenging it is walking around in a black body right now. Our trauma is constantly being analyzed, criticized, and politicized, our struggle with injustice being consumed in bite-sized videos and news clips all over social media. But even with our fight for justice relentlessly publicized for all to see, our demands to be treated with basic human decency are still largely met with resistance or indifference.
So why should we - a people kept in perpetual “survival mode” by institutions that threaten our very existence - be expected to extend our concern outside the boundaries of our own struggles? How can we justify expending our time and energy towards anyone else’s oppression when we’re still neck deep in injustice? These are valid questions with complex answers, to say the least. I’m sure there are brilliant people who’ve already spoken extensively on the reasons black people should be open to conversations about animal exploitation, so I’ll just take a moment to speak to my own personal experiences.
I started doing food justice work when I became aware of how extreme the health disparities and lack of food access were in low-income Baltimore communities. As I delved deeper into the structural racism built into our food, housing and health-care systems, I became more and more committed to fighting for the lives of the people in these marginalized communities. I’ve been eating a 100% plant diet for a while now and have been well aware of the benefits of eating exclusively from the plant kingdom. After nearly two decades of staying away from all animal “foods” - meat, dairy, eggs and anything containing these ingredients - I’ve come to the firm conclusion that animal-based products are at the root of most of the health problems that are plaguing my community.
I spent countless hours researching the benefits of the plant diet and attending lectures and workshops given by experts on plant nutrition and it seemed that the more I researched, the more information I stumbled across about the horrors of the meat, dairy and egg industries. The appalling conditions we’re subjecting animals to - captivity, forced breeding, mutilation, exploitation of female reproduction and far worse - felt uncomfortably familiar to me. I saw how the same processes that have been used throughout history to subjugate humans - and are now frowned upon by those in “civilized” society - are seen as perfectly acceptable when used in animal agriculture. Over time I found myself in the position of being a Social Justice activist who also
cared about animals.
My attempts to talk to other activists about my concerns about our treatment of animals were met with responses that ranged from dismissal to ridicule to outright hostility. And I get it. When you’re focused on fighting societal injustice and human oppression, it’s hard to take someone seriously when they start talking about the well-being of turkeys. But I think these conversations are important and need to be taking place. The fact that phrases like, “We get treated worse than animals,” and “They shoot us down like dogs in the street,” are so common in Social Justice circles is, in itself, an acknowledgement that our treatment of animals is abhorrent. That there’s a scale of terrible treatment and animals are so far along that scale that we use them as a gauge of how horribly humans are treated should be cause for serious reflection, if nothing else.
Examining our treatment of animals is an opportunity for us to critically analyze humanity’s capacity for cruelty and violence, which could lead to insights into all the many manifestations of oppression. Because, let’s be honest, the way we choose to treat those who are more vulnerable and have far less power than we do says a lot about us as a group. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that people stop whatever justice work they’re doing and join the animal rights movement. I’ll never stop fighting for my people as long anti-black oppression and structural racism exist. But that doesn’t mean I can’t also examine some of the ways I’m acting out oppressive behaviors in my own life. That’s what I see as the value of having conversations about animals - it’s an opportunity to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see if our collective behavior truly matches our ongoing fight to end oppression.