Spiegel, executive director of the Institute for the Development of Earth Awareness, has revised her 1989 book to present an in-depth exploration of the similarities between the violence humans have wrought against other humans and our culture’s treatment of animals. Using considerable scholarship, she makes a strong case for links between white oppression of black slaves and human oppression of animals. Her thesis is not that the oppressions suffered by black people and animals have taken identical forms but that they share the same relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. These comparisons include the brandings and auctions of both slaves and animals, the hideous means of transport (slave ships, truckloads of cattle), and the tearing of offspring from their mothers. Her illustrative juxtapositions are graphic, e.g., a photograph of a chimpanzee in a syphilis experiment beside a photo of a black man in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. As Alice Walker writes in the preface, “This powerful book…will take a lifetime to forget.” Chilling yet enlightening, this provocative book is vitally important in our efforts to understand the roots of individual and societal violence.
This book is an older one, thus the look of the cover.
I just need to get these thoughts out of my head. I need this conversation to keep going.
Lately, my veganism has been so caught up in the animals we eat that my agenda has neglected what happens to those we don’t. I was reminded, however, about how even THAT is an uphill battle when this post started circulating on facebook. It is Oklahoman pro-kill apologetics, if you don’t want to read the whole thing. It mentions Nathan Winograd, who founded the No Kill Advocacy center. However, it talks about Winograd as if his type of no-kill is the only kind (side note: it’s not). Many who are anti-no-kill seem to think all no-kill advocates believe that overpopulation is a myth (as Winograd does). It’s tiring even when you try to address what “overpopulation” means; it means different things to different people. Even now we can’t get humans to agree that the world is overpopulated with humans or not. Just try to get them define that for other species.
But talking about overpopulation isn’t my concern with Winograd. It is has been how breeders, like in the American Kennel Club, have used the “overpopulation myth” (true or not, I don’t think it’s worth arguing about. You shouldn’t breed animals for countless other reasons too) to justify their practices of eugenics and rape. If there’s no overpopulation, then leave breeders alone! Let me sell these puppies! There’s plenty of homes!
What’s also funny is the same pro-kill advocates who play devil’s advocate and nit-pick that “What you’re talking about isn’t no-kill it’s low-kill” and blame people for not spaying and neutering their animals also align themselves with PETA. I guess it’s not that funny, but it just seems to be a non-vegan group siding with a vegan group. It seems surreal. My assumptions, here, are that pro-kill advocates cannot be vegan. Surely not. Right?
This is what makes me want to hyperventilate into a paper bag. It’s so convoluted. It’s so hard to even talk about.
Beyond “overpopulation,” we can’t even agree on what “suffering” means for animals, what “euthanasia” means, or what “no-kill” means. But what I think we can agree on is the thinking behind no-kill vs. pro-kill. No kill wants no healthy animal to be killed and, at the least, wants less killing. Pro-kill allows for killing of all kinds to continue without really changing the systems in place.
I also struggle with how, when no-kill advocates are criticized, it is through a focus on how the shelter workers are “just doing the best that they can” and it’s the irresponsible pet owners’ faults that they have to murder animals. Never mind that animals have a right to life beyond who “owns” them. YesBiscuit! summed it up best for me:
I don’t care if the owner was on crack and punching baby pandas in the face when he lost his intact, unvaccinated, unmicrochipped pet from his unfenced yard and didn’t sober up enough to look for him for 2 weeks. And when he finally staggered into the shelter, he was holding a neon sign that said KILL MY PET! and announced he was willing to sign any waiver the shelter had for him so long as they killed his animal. Because even if – IF<—-get this! IF the owner is a total jerk who doesn’t deserve to have a pet, that’s for a court to decide and has absolutely no bearing on whether the animal has a right to live or whether shelter directors must do their jobs to protect animals from harm.
I don’t like victim blaming. Pet owners, along with their animals who were needlessly killed at shelters, are victims. I put up with it on this blog to some extent in order to educate and hopefully change wrong thinking. But if you’re new here and just popped up to blame the victim and defend people who kill shelter animals, don’t take your coat off.
Just doing their job is the same excuse Nazis gave, which makes it hard for me to digest. Yet calling them Nazis is met with human-centered reproaches: “How dare you belittle the suffering of holocaust victims by comparing them to animals.”
…That is exactly what they WERE compared to (rats) and what allowed the holocaust to happen in the first place (ie treating them like animals). They can’t see that it’s intersectional.
It reminds me of the debate over the term ‘Holocaust’, with Zionists claiming that Armenians don’t have a right to use the term, that they appropriated it, that the Holocaust is essentially Jewish-only — and also denying the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust (LGTB, Communists, socialists, some Catholics) the fact that they too were victims of the Nazis.
A lot of these “no-kill” issues seem like old conversation that dates back more than five years. But it keeps popping back up. This hasn’t been resolved.
Yet there I was, not thinking about it. Thinking that I had bigger issues. Part of what eats at me is that when we kill to eat an animal at least we are eating the animal. What does the dead cat or dog do for anyone other than create a vacuum effect similar to the one explained by Alley Cat Allies? It’s similar, right? An endless cycle of killing.
I don’t have the answers. But I do know that if we can’t even agree on language on the shelter system (even the term “shelter” itself is misleading), then maybe it’s the building itself that needs to go. A few years ago I wrote an opinion piece for the Dodo that called for us to think about that very thing. In the age of Facebook lost and found pages, do we even need shelters to help reunite pets and people like we once did? I’m a socialist. I believe in the power of community. Capitalism makes animals disposable. If we continue to keep what is done in shelters behind walls, is it not like out of sight, out of mind? I don’t know if this conversation encompasses rescues, as those can be done out of people’s homes. The world didn’t always have shelters…
I wrote that piece at a time when I no longer saw the value of a shelter and my thoughts weren’t fully formed. I still don’t see the value and my thoughts are still forming.
I am still left grappling with the question that, if we can’t even save the animals we don’t eat, how can we save the ones we do?
I read this book because it was mentioned in Sunaura Taylor’s Beasts of Burden. Apparently this is classic animal liberation stuff that I had never heard of — it came out before The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990) and I could see, perhaps, the influence this book had on that one — the mentioning of Mary Wollstonecraft and Victorian veg writers and and and. Perhaps Singer was even mentioned in Politics but I just wasn’t in the right place of mind to notice it and care to dig in. This book was first published in 1975, apparently. All the same, I think Politics took these observations to a different level that I liked better. This book came off as very dry at times. What I did find interesting is that the term “speciesist” or “speciesism” has been around for a while. I thought it was a more contemporary term for some reason. Not sure if Singer perhaps invented the term?
As Taylor warned in Beasts, Singer does sound very ableist at times in his arguments. Example: “After all, most of us would agree that it would be wrong to bring a child into the world if we knew, before the child was conceived, that it would have a genetic defect that would make its life brief and miserable.” Many lives are brief and miserable without genetic defects, so to pinpoint a specific group of people, when all people could be lumped in as equally at risk of meeting such criteria, is a poor, ableist argument. And this is coming from an antinatalist.
Granted, this had to be pointed out to me by Sunaura Taylor, as I would not have noticed it on my own. I’m still unlearning and relearning.
What I noticed on my own, however, is that Singer starts out playing Devil’s advocate a few times — saying things like “We will pretend that meat eaters are right in this area X so I can make an argument with what’s left.” What I mean by that is he tries to be very clinical and very neutral but you can tell he’s just pretending. And I can see why he would approach it that way, based on the time period he was writing this in. But then it slowly unravels into emotion — spouting off platitudes like animals suffer and this is just plain wrong or humans are horrible at moments that I think would seem odd to a carnist reader. Not that he says those exact things, but that is how it feels.
Perhaps he thinks by that point, he has swayed the reader into agreement? What it actually feels like, though, is him no longer catering to the carnists and instead addressing us, the veg readers. Which is fine, but I’m still trying to figure out the target audience for this. I’m sure it’s changed over editions.
He does get very philosophical here and there, which I liked. I feel like I can argue the case for veganism better now. However, when he would sprinkle in facts about factory farms or vivisection, it did feel like some of it might be dated (though I know not much has changed) and I felt like the two approaches he was taking (philosophical and factsfactsfacts) didn’t mesh well together. Rather, he didn’t mesh them well together, as I’ve seen it done very well in the past. I much prefer the other two books I’ve mentioned here, simply because their focus is different — and, quite frankly, they’re more focused in general. This one does tackle a big topic, I guess. I did like it and got a lot of good quotes from it. But I feel like this is a book that is easier to be quoted from than read. So, vegan readers, don’t feel like you need to rush out and read this one. Maybe I started off with the wrong Singer book?
Some quotes I want to pin here:
“[Animal vivisectionists] cannot deny the animals’ suffering, because they need to stress the similarities between humans and other animals in order to claim their experiments may have some relevance for human purposes.”
“It is at this point that the consequences of speciesism intrude directly into our lives, and we are forced to attest personally to the sincerity of our concern for nonhuman animals. Here we have an opportunity to do something, instead of merely talking and wishing the politicians would do something. It is easy to take a stand about a remote issue, but speciesist, like racists, reveal their true nature when the issue comes nearer home. To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter o f baby seals in Canada while continuing to eat eggs from hens…or veal from calves…is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbors not to sell their houses to blacks.”
“American television broadcasts programs on animals in the wild (or supposedly in the wild — sometimes the animals have been captured and released in a more limited space to make filiming easier) almost every night of the week; but film of intensive farms is limited to the briefest of glimpses as part of infrequent ‘specials’ on agriculture or food production. The average viewer must know more about the lives of cheetahs and sharks than he or she knows about the lives of chickens or veal calves. The result is that most of the ‘information’ about farm animals to be gained from watching television is in the form of paid advertising, which ranges from ridiculous cartoons of pigs who want to be made into sausages and tuna trying to get themselves canned, to straightforward lies about the conditions in which broiler chickens are reared. The newspapers do little better. Their coverage of nonhuman animals is dominated by ‘human interest’ events like the birth of a baby gorilla at the zoo, or by threats to endangered species…”
“Nature may often ‘know best,’ but we must use or own judgement in deciding when to follow nature. For all I know, war is ‘natural’ to human beings — it certainly seems to have been a preoccupation for many societies, in very different circumstances, over a long period of history — but I have no intention of going to war to make sure that I act in accordance with nature. We have the capacity to reason about what it is best to do. We should use this capacity (and if you are really keen on appeals to ‘nature,’ you can say that it is natural for us to do so).”
“The point of altering one’s buying habits is not to keep oneself untouched by evil, but to reduce the economic support for the exploitation of animals, and to persuade others to do the same. So it is not a sin to continue to wear leather shoes you bought before you began to think about Animal Liberation. When your leather shoes wear out, but nonleather ones; but you will not reduce the profitability of killing animals by throwing out your present ones. With diet, too, it is more important to remember the major aims than to worry about such details as whether the cake you are offered at a party was made with a factory farm egg.”
“Whatever the theoretical possibilities of rearing animals may be, the fact is that the meat available from butchers and supermarkets comes from animals who were not treated with any real consideration at all while being reared. so we must ask ourselves, not: Is is ever right to eat meat? but: Is it right to eat this meat? Here I think that those who are opposed to the needless killing of animals and those who oppose only the infliction of suffering must join together and give the same, negative answer.”
“Would we be prepared to let thousands of humans die if they could be saved by a single experiment on a single animal?…This question is, of course, purely hypothetical. There has never been and never could be a single experiment that saved thousands of lives. The way to reply to this hypothetical question is to pose another: Would the experimenters be prepared to carry out their experiment on a human orphan under six months old if that were the only way to save thousands of lives?”
‘In other words, the “intersections” the map tells us are there aren’t real because the territory we’re on has no intersections. We exist on one massive field labeled subhuman, where these systems are fused together and embedded within the soil of the terrain.
Our activist GPS is programmed with coordinates from the “human” terrain, which is why we can’t get to our destination. The activist GPS we’re using doesn’t realize that these oppressions are fused together already. The goal for those of us who are minoritized is to spend time creating new maps. We need to orient ourselves toward the human–animal divide, rather than only our own specific physical oppression.
Some activists fail to realize how the maps they’re using to guide them toward liberation are Eurocentric. My proof that this is so lies in the ways some activists try to analyze their own oppression without a meaningful analysis of animality. For example, Everyday Feminism, one of the largest digital magazines in the US devoted to intersectional feminist analysis, released a video by a feminist named Celia Edell. Edell argued that feminists aren’t morally required to be vegan and they don’t need to incorporate animal oppression into their feminist analyses.
The video falls flat because veganism isn’t just a diet, nor solely a means to politicize literal animal oppression. A lot of us aren’t just talking about animal oppression, but animality, which is a Eurocentric construct that has contributed to the oppression of any group that deviates from ideal white homo sapiens. For many vegan feminists (myself included), the video was upsetting because when you actually understand the connections between oppressions in a non-Eurocentric context, you begin to realize how incorporating an analysis of animality into your activism strengthens your own frameworks.
In an article I wrote for the F Bomb titled “The Feminist Case for Veganism,” I argued that, “When we adopt value systems from a white supremacist, patriarchal system, we jeopardize our liberation movements. We must always question scripts produced by the systems that oppress us and recognize that ending both messages falls under the same feminist agenda. Ultimately, feminists would do well to realize that the very bodies and topics that don’t seem like they relate to their own oppression might be the very key to their liberation.”’
This book was an eye-opener. This is, so far, the only Disability Liberation work I’ve ever read. I brought a lot of biases and assumptions to the table and am leaving with a greater understanding of my ableism–including within how I conducted my animal rights advocacy. Ableism and carnism and patriarchy and racism and sexism and speciesism are linked. I knew that. But they are linked in such a way that even fighting against one can undermine the fight against another. It will take careful practice and awareness on my part moving forward.
I’ve already posted once about this book with some quotes I archived here so that I can refer back to them. Below are some more of my favorite quotes from this book.
One thing that Taylor did well–the main thing I got out of this book personally–is what ableism is and how to spot it in my actions and in the world around me. When she recounts her interaction with Peter Singer and he asks her (and others) “If you could take a pill that would cure you, wouldn’t you?” and how some disabled persons would say no… That shocked me. That made me stop and think. This book made me realize that the question itself is wrong to be asked. That’s like asking a black person “If you could turn white, would you?” Or homosexual person “If you could be turned straight, wouldn’t you want that?” Or a woman “Don’t you wish you had been born a man?” It assumes that there is a “perfect” state of existence. It assumes that there is something wrong with the individual, rather than the world and that there is something wrong with the person. A person should not have to change in order to fit in. The world should be accepting of the being as they already are. If a world cannot accept someone as they are, perhaps there is something wrong with the world (news flash: there is). That is what this book taught me–what I did not already understand about disability going into it.
The only thing I thought Sunaura Taylor didn’t argue well enough to my satisfaction is her critique of those who think that many domesticated animals simply should not exist (they are pro-extinction). I am one of those. Here is a quote for more context:
“The reasoning behind an abolitionist argument for extinction is on one level very simple: if we stop bringing domesticated animals into existence, then humans won’t be able to exploit them and make them suffer. This is pretty much the opposite of Temple Grandin’s argument. Where Grandin sees animals’ ongoing existence as enough of a justification to continue to use and kill them, many animal activists see the suffering and exploitation of domesticated animals as enough of a justification for their extinction. These animal advocates believe that we have a deep responsibility to treat the animals who currently exist with compassion and dignity while they are alive, as well as a responsibility to stop breeding millions of these animals every year—after all, so many animals exist only because humans breed them. Nonetheless, at a certain point a decision will have to be made about whether remaining animals are sterilized or kept from breeding on their own.”
She states the above, and then goes on to say that this is glazing over issues. But I cannot seem to put her official stance on it in my own words. At best I think she says that we cannot see it as so black and white, because this assumes that there is something wrong with the animals and therefore those with disability; that there is something wrong with dependence and co-dependence. She does make a good case for showing that dependence does not mean weakness, etc. But I don’t think that everyone who calls for farm animals’ immediate steps toward peaceful extinction actually argues from that “they’re dependent, so they must go” place as she seems to think. As an anti-natalist and supporter of VHEMT, I think that most living creatures are better off to never have lived–abled or disabled. I wish she had, maybe, used (what I will now call) her “co-evolution” argument (that we are responsible for these domesticated animals but that calling for extinction is ableist) for something like…feral cats. Many feral cats are round up and killed because they are said to be a threat to wild bird populations, never mind that our buildings, pollution, and habitat destruction are the real threat. Instead we blame feral cats and so they are murdered. I wish she had used clearer examples like that–where we have caused a problem and are trying to fix it but fixing it in an evil way–to make her point. I can see it working better there than with the domesticated farm animals because I’m still unclear in how she thinks calling for farm animals’ peaceful extinction, at least for those animals who cannot even breed or give birth without us, is ableist. I can see how it would be for those farm animals that don’t require us for breeding. Or perhaps that is her point all along–that the definition of dependence shouldn’t encompass even those that don’t need us for breeding. As you can see, I wish she had expounded this point.
More quotes from Beasts of Burden are below.
“Dependency has been used to justify slavery, patriarchy, imperialism, colonization, and disability oppression. The language of dependency is a brilliant rhetorical tool, allowing those who use it to sound compassionate and caring while continuing to exploit those they are supposedly concerned about.
In many ways the thinking behind the humane meat movement is a philosophy built on the idea of independence. Domesticated animals and human being shave evolved together to be interdependent—animals help human beings, and we in turn help the animals—or so the argument goes… Instead a disability perspective on interdependence recognizes that we are all vulnerable and receive care (more often than not doing both at once) over meat conversation is a much-needed analysis of what it means to be accountable to beings who are vulnerable.”
“I agree with those who support sustainable animal farming about the horrors of factory farms snad the importance of environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. But commodifying and slaughtering animals for food is not natural or righteous—even if it’s done on a small family farm or in a factory system designed to minimize cruelty. There are better ways to be humane.”
“People also justify it through ableist conceptions of the natural and of dependency, which suggest that there is a depoliticized thing called ‘nature’ that determines what kinds of bodies and minds are exploitable and killable, and that excuses uses those who are weaker and dependent for our own benefit. When animal commodification and slaughter is justified through ableist positions, veganism becomes a radical anti-ableist position that corporeality—socially, politically, environmentally, and in what we consume. In other words, veganism is not just about food-it is an embodied practice of challenging ableism through what we eat, wear, and use and a political position that takes justice for animals as integral to justice for disabled people… Veganism is an embodied act of resistance to objectification and exploitation across difference—a corporeal way of enacting one’s political and ethical beliefs daily.”
“Domesticated animals are similarly understood as utterly dependent, and unfit for the wild. Environmentalists, animal welfarists, and animal advocates have all portrayed domesticated animals as tragically, even grotesquely, dependent. Disabled people and domesticated animals are among those who have to content with society’s stereotypes about what it is to be unnatural and abnormal, as well as assumptions about the indignity of dependency. In many ways we have been presented as beasts and as burdens.”
A beautifully written, deeply provocative inquiry into the intersection of animal and disability liberation—and the debut of an important new social critic
How much of what we understand of ourselves as “human” depends on our physical and mental abilities—how we move (or cannot move) in and interact with the world? And how much of our definition of “human” depends on its difference from “animal”?
Drawing on her own experiences as a disabled person, a disability activist, and an animal advocate, author Sunaura Taylor persuades us to think deeply, and sometimes uncomfortably, about what divides the human from the animal, the disabled from the nondisabled—and what it might mean to break down those divisions, to claim the animal and the vulnerable in ourselves, in a process she calls “cripping animal ethics.”
Beasts of Burden suggests that issues of disability and animal justice—which have heretofore primarily been presented in opposition—are in fact deeply entangled. Fusing philosophy, memoir, science, and the radical truths these disciplines can bring—whether about factory farming, disability oppression, or our assumptions of human superiority over animals—Taylor draws attention to new worlds of experience and empathy that can open up important avenues of solidarity across species and ability. Beasts of Burden is a wonderfully engaging and elegantly written work, both philosophical and personal, by a brilliant new voice.
Read more of Sunaura Taylor’s work online for free, like here.
In this lively, accessible, and provocative collection, Aph and Syl Ko provide new theoretical frameworks on race, advocacy for nonhuman animals, and feminism. Using popular culture as a point of reference for their critiques, the Ko sisters engage in groundbreaking analysis of the compartmentalized nature of contemporary social movements, present new ways of understanding interconnected oppressions, and offer conceptual ways of moving forward expressive of Afrofuturism and black veganism.
Aph and Syl Ko s work has deeply changed my views on activism for the animals. Every time, their work is eye-opening, revisiting the connections between animal liberation and human liberation in a way that is as much critical as constructive and inspiring. Frederic Cote-Boudreau, Quebec-based activist, scholar, and blogger
Aphro-ism is an important read for anyone who is interested in thinking critically and wants to help to not only challenge but change the current dynamic of race and animals in our society. Thanks to these brilliant women of color, I ve gained a new understanding of systems of oppression and feel less alone in the fight for social justice. lauren Ornelas, Founder/Executive Director, Food Empowerment Project
The Ko sisters are miles ahead of even the most progressive thinkers, with Aphro-ism establishing a theoretical framework and #BlackVegansRock demonstrating its practicability. There s no better metaphor for the failures of white supremacist capitalism than mortar, since it is the white slime that holds stone together. When the mortar cracks the whole building falls apart. Aph and Syl Ko are the stone. Crack them a thousand times and they remain unbroken. Rich Goldstein, Producer, The Daily Beast
Aph and Syl s anti-racist and anti-speciesist framework shifts the paradigm of nonhuman and human liberation. Aphro-ism is a revolutionary tool for holistic anti-oppression work that can benefit both grassroots activists and academic scholars. Raffaella Ciavatta, Cofounder, Collectively Free, and activist
Aph and Syl Ko are incredible activists and revolutionary thinkers who have influenced the way we approach animal rights and anti-racist activism. Aphro-ism has taught us to view oppression and liberation through a much clearer lens. David and Paige Carter, Co-CEOs and Cofounders, The 300-Pound Vegan
Syl Ko provides a crucial perspective to the movements seeking to secure rights for humans and nonhumans alike. As she so eloquently demonstrates, we should not treat human beings like animals any more than we should treat animals like animals. Syl s scholarship challenges us to reassess the standing social order and work toward a more just world. Steven M. Wise, Founder and President, The Nonhuman Rights Project
Aphro-ism is a groundbreaking suite of original essays on the entanglements of race, empire, gender, and species. In their analyses of human and animal oppression, Aph and Syl Ko deliver the trifecta: scholarship that is rigorous, accessible, and deeply important. Jason Wyckoff, PhD
Aph and Syl s brilliant work is laying the groundwork for an exciting new millennial generation of deeply critical and compassionate thinkers, feminists, and activists. Aphro-ism is helping countless young, hungry critical thinkers navigate through a world of isms, make sense of endless contradictions, and come out the other side as more well-equipped, effective, woke activists. Richard Bowie, editor at VegNews magazine
I’ve requested we purchase this for the library where I work. I really want to get my hands on a copy!
I have decided to publish my past and future poems to this tag, accompanied by a picture I think will give it (sub)context. I’m hoping for feedback and to spark conversation about each poem’s topic, as they’re clearly important to me. Sending good vibes and art out into the world. Please share your thoughts and inspirations with me in return.
Some defend us
Saying even their deaf
Can communicate without words
But they still believe
Despite the evidence
That we’re the lesser
Most of all
Because we do not
Use unspoken signs
That they call letters
They think it means
We have no language
Forgetting that our bodies
Contain all the symbols
Similarly, ritual animal sacrifice, which may at first seem unrelated to interspecies sexual assault, is not unrelated. Ritual transference of transgressions to a sacrificial animal victim is, in my view, a kind of rape. Just as nonhuman animals are deemed fit receptacles for the depositing of human diseases in biomedical research’s quest for health, so they are deemed suitable receptacles for human sin in the quest for spiritual cleansing. In both cases, the animal victim is made to appear as an aspect of the victimizer’s identity, even a willing participant in being used as a depository for human diseases, sins and vices. Humans, by virtue of a shared verbal language, can challenge the profanation and misappropriation of their bodies, identity and will. A nonhuman animal, such as a hen, is powerless, short of human intercession, to protect herself from being besmirched, as when she is represented by her abusers as an “egg-laying machine” or as a symbolic uterus for the deposition of human spiritual filth.