Because we are vex. Because we get to be vex. Because the world makes us vex. But still we care. But still we support. But still we fight for the rights of human animals and non-human animals alike.
X is a significant letter in Black history. Not just paying homage to our ancestors like Malcolm X and others who took or appreciated the name X to signify our unknown African names. But seeing that we too, African and diaspora people hold unknowns in the impact of colonialism and a world that white people destroyed. Our indigenous ancestry that held a balance with the natural world we were just members of, not destroyers of.
I'm using X here to cross out the racist continuation of the word if we chose to write out 've-ganism'. To choose to remove myself from a space that is harmful to Black and Brown people.
I'm not making this term expecting it to 'catch on', nor is it meant to. It's meant to show my own intentional decision to step away from a racist movement that I do not feel we can 'reform' or 'occupy space in' through calling ourselves any variation of Afro-vegan, Black vegan or any vegan. But if you choose to do so, that is a personal choice and I respect that. Go with peace.
As a Caribbean person, I am not unfamiliar with the term ital, a spiritual practice of Rastafarians, that predates veganism. However, I am not a Rasta and I respectfully choose to not use a culture I am not from, unless in collaboration with Rastas.
VeX gives me a freedom to step away from veganism, and be rightfully angry and deliberate in who, what and where I give my time and energy to without having to play the token or fit white racist standards.
VeX views the history of animalism of Black and Brown people by colonialism and knows that white veganism wants to place non-human animals, still below whites of course, but above Black and Brown human animals. And that there is no equality through veganism.
- Fighting for the rights and lives of all Black, Brown and colonised peoples and all colonised non-human animals.
- To not consume or forcibly use human and non-human animals.
- To be anti-oppressive and practice full spectrum community care.
- To reconnect with indigenous practices of co-existing with all animals and the Earth.
- To intentionally remove ourselves from spaces that are made to exclude us.
- To have space for imagination, co-creating, learning, growing, reflecting and to not be stuck to a single definition, we can constantly evolve.
What could veX mean to you?
we aren't over veganism, veganism was always over us
Black people are not vegan, veganism is not for us. We are a peripheral extra, an addition when diversity is needed and a pesky reminder of race that veganism would otherwise love to avoid.
What does a term thats created by and for white people, mean to us? How can we 'reclaim' a word not for us?
And how quickly one of the 'most radical' groups of white people became just another capitalist fad, just another way to sell us a fake image of activism through actually just selling to us. And our, Black and Brown, inclusion is only accepted in coin form or in bowing down to our 'masters'.
I can't see myself as 'vegan'. I don't practise 'veganism'. Because I did, and for so long. I spent my youth from age 12 to 18 in the back of a vegan catering campaign van, attending nearly every animal rights and vegan event in the country every year. I achieved the role of 'second highest vegan of the world' aka vice-chair of The Vegan Society despite all the odds and all that happened was the racism got worse and they felt able to hide it less. I was the 'gold star vegan' technically, achieving this position as the youngest and only Black vice-chair, but because I am Black and my politics are Black and I dared to try to change the system from within, I was punished appropriately. Through a £60,000 complaints procedure, public abuse and threats and to be chased out of my position with a pitchfork. And so were the six other intersectional vegans on The Vegan Society council. Please do read the our resignations here, and the full story here and the investigation report here, it's enlightening but not at all surprising.
When you can click on a self-declared fascist vegan Facebook group and they are doing polls of their favourite foods, and samosas and curry are the top pick, but these people are Islamophobic, anti-Black, anti-Brown and they call themselves racists... What is going on? The non-consensual consumption of our cultures is such an important part of veganism that they don't even see the irony.
One of the biggest responses from the article I wrote below, was not any understanding or people reaching out to learn more or offer apologies for their appropriation of our cultures. But to say that saying veganism is appropriation is bullshit. And in a way I agree, I think it doesn't even begin to explain the impact that veganism has had on our cultures, in appropriating, repackaging, then kicking us out of a movement that is meant to just be, at its most basic, about respect and love for all living things, something white culture knows nothing of. Theres so much more that can and needs to be said, but this was just one article and to place the responsibility on 1250 words to fix the world, is another example of the way we view Black MaGes as mules and fixers, whilst simultaneously being shit on by the world for it.
critical veganism article january 2021
Critical veganism, what have we learnt?
The history of modern veganism started in 1944 when Donald Watson founded The Vegan Society. Since then veganism has spread across the Western world, to an extent that in 2021 the word ‘vegan’ is a household word and can be found on packaging in supermarkets and TV shows - a big change from the health food shops and handwritten pamphlets of the past. But whose history is this? Where in this modern veganism do the Black, Indigenous and Non-Western cultures worldwide and our histories come in? Our history is often reduced to a single reductive page on a website, one line in an Instagram infographic or a ‘I can’t be racist, I mentioned Rastas in my speech at an all white vegan event’ excuse. When a white man coined the term veganism, are we included? Veganism is built on the backs of Black, Indigenous and Non-Western ancestral traditions.
What is seen as ‘hippy vegan food’, we know as bastardised versions of traditional foods from across the globe. Foods such as dal - lentils dishes that can be traced back to the Indus Valley around 3000BC, tofu - first recorded in the Chinese Han Dynasty around 2000 years ago, wheat gluten - that we know has been in China since the 6th century, hummus - eaten in Egypt and Middle East since at least the 13th century and chickpeas being eaten long before that and cassava, which is a key ingredient in vegan and gluten free products - was a staple in Indigenous South America and the Caribbean and later became a staple of African and African Caribbean people.
I’ve been vegan for almost 15 years, during this time I’ve really seen what's probably the biggest growth in modern veganisms history, in both awareness and uptake of the vegan diet. Veganism went from something I was bullied for being, to the thing my bullies now bully people for not being. My early teenage years were spent in the basement of my local vegan social centre, making burger and sausage mixes and cakes. I spent those evenings in animal rights meetings in the upstairs of the social centre and the weekends were spent travelling this country with a vegan catering campaign. I’ve also worked for a number of vegan businesses and throughout all of this, the racism, sexism and abuse I experienced was seen as part of the sacrifice for the animals.
I launched my own vegan catering business Yemoja Foods when I was 19. I co-founded Vegans Of Colour UK in 2016, became a trustee of The Vegan Society in 2019 and became the vice chair of The Vegan Society last year at age 24. Despite the genuine hatred I have experienced at the hands of white vegans as a result of my outspokenness, I created an approach to activism that encompasses ‘full spectrum community care’ and an intersectional approach to veganism. Now I’m in a role that is embedded in Western vegan history and, against the pushback I’m already experiencing, I’m trying to use my new position and activist outlook to force white veganism to take the much needed changes to be more inclusive and listen to Black voices going forward and to acknowledge non-Western veganism and history. It’s interesting to note that I’m in a volunteer role for a charity that wouldn’t hire me and other Black people, especially not Black multiply marginalised people, if we were applying for direct jobs, not just membership elected roles.
Now that veganism has become more mainstream and more ‘inclusive’, who is it actually more inclusive of? Do we feel any more represented by the veganism we see on the shelves, the actions and online? Do the adverts, Instagram posts and job descriptions that show more smiling Black faces and lines like ‘looking for more diversity’ mean anything when behind that is all white faces? In a movement where many see intersectionality and calls for the inclusion of BPOC people as ‘too political’ or not relevant to veganism, inclusion really means of white people from all backgrounds - including the far right. Seeing veganism as a-political is reductionist, harmful and will always be exclusionary. The pushback on intersectional veganism and Black people calling for our inclusion or for our historic veganism to be acknowledged is labelled as ‘trouble making’ or seen as taking away from what vegan means, instead of being seen as the inclusive and relevant dynamic we need to be promoting.
Animal rights and veganism is a wet dream for white people, because they can play the saviour in any way they choose with animals who can’t speak back or give feedback - unlike us pesky Black people - and so they get to control the entire narrative and save animals from an industry that white people created and colonialism installed worldwide, without ever having to challenge the white culture that created it. When we come in and offer our ideas or traditional experiences, they shut it down.
Few of us are supported by mainstream veganism and unless we follow the rule of ‘Black people are seen and not heard’ then we will be abused, harassed and pushed out. Only a handful of Black vegans gain fame compared to the thousands of cardboard cut out white vegans. White veganism loves elitism, classism and power, ranking people by visibility, money and access. For Black people to gain any success in this hierachy of fame, you must be thin, middle class, cisgender, straight, always accessible and always putting out content. This leaves most of us without a platform, especially those most marginalised, such as dark skinned, fat, LGBTQIA+, sex working, poor or disabled people, who unless they allow themselves to be tokenised, will be hidden or broken by abuse. Challenging this need for hierarchies within a movement that should be about equality is seen as disruptive.
Being Black in white spaces means we have to create our own spaces for safety and survival, we do this in veganism with groups like Vegans Of Colour UK and creating our own terms for representation like afro-veganism. But do we feel like it's enough? Does veganism really represent us, support us or include our ancestral heritage of eating and living without the exploitation of animals? How will we be included in a future that doesn’t even try to decolonise its present or accept the complicity of colonialism and white supremacy in the eradication of traditional veganism and our past and present oppression?
Being a Black vegan to me means seeing veganism as a movement with so much potential and also so much concern. With international vegan and animal rights charities promoting racism, sexism, rape culture and more and a mainstream vegan future that sees BPOC people still in the role of serving white people, through capitalism, classism and racism, and with a non-human-animals-only approach that purposefully ignores interhuman oppression, theres a lot that needs to change.
Nothing is beyond critique and we should always be open to trying to do better, to act as though veganism or animal rights movements should be beyond criticism and learning is dangerous. We know that veganism did not start in 1944, it was simply re-named and Westernised. Looking back to our ancestral histories and ways of living pre-’veganism’ to inform our future is an opportunity we shouldn’t ignore or let anyone erase. Creating more spaces and conversations, where we can discuss what our experiences and our lives are and what our veganism looks like publicly and within our communities are essential.