Animal subordination lays the groundwork for racism. The ideology of animal subordination requires that a thick line be drawn between human animals and other animals. Animals on one side of the line are considered to have rights while animals on the other side of the line are treated as objects that can be owned. Starting from this position, it is easy to shift the line a little bit, so that some humans are grouped with the animals and also treated as lesser beings. As long as some living beings are considered property, no group of people is safe from the possibility of also being deemed to be without rights.
Indeed, it was specifically among the keepers of “livestock” (living beings treated like objects) that the practice of human slavery began. The very idea of “race” among people grew out of the idea of “breed” as conceived by keepers of non-human “livestock.” Their obsessive concern with reproduction and its control helps to account for the perversely sexualized nature of racist stereotypes and practices.
Just as racism was shaped by animal exploitation, animal exploitation is sometimes patterned by racism or deployed in racist ways. Dangerous and environmentally destructive factory farms and processing plants are often located in communities of color. Local citizens must live with the pollution while working at dangerous and degrading jobs. The products of these industries are often marketed to communities of color, regardless of the impact on physical health or cultural welfare.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and other organizations have begun to focus on the issue of dietary racism. According to Dr. Milton Mills, “the U.S. Dietary Guidelines as they exist are really a fundamental form of institutionalized racism in a rather destructive and insidious format.” Those guidelines recommend heavy consumption of milk products even though up to 95 percent of adult Asians, 74 percent of Native Americans, 70 percent of African Americans, and 53 percent of Mexican Americans are lactose intolerant. Recommendations concerning meat consumption ignore the high rates of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes among African Americans.
The school meal programs upon which so many children of color depend are constructed on the basis of these biased guidelines. Wealthy corporations profit from those programs. But what about the children? Do stomach aches, bloating, and other results of inappropriate dairy consumption impede their academic performance and enjoyment of school activities?
Low-income communities of color continue to be the sites of high concentrations of fast food restaurants and low concentrations of grocery stores offering fresh fruits and vegetables, bulk grains, and other inexpensive ingredients for a healthy vegan diet. This hurts both people and animals, endangering the health of the people in those communities even as it maintains demand for cheese-burgers and chicken nuggets. Thus, just as the exploitation of animals initially set the stage for race-based exploitation of people, racial and economic injustice now facilitate the continued exploitation of animals.
- Am I Blue? (pdf) — Alice Walker’s classic essay on… no, we won’t spoil the emotional impact by saying any more
- Sistah Vegans (pdf) — The Satya interview with Amie Breeze Harper
- White Poison — Shanti Rangwani in Colorlines on milk as a racial issue
- Food Pyramid Scheme — Salim Muwakkil in In These Times on biased dietary guidelines
- Do Animals Possess Rights We Are Bound To Respect…And Should A N***a Care? — Reflections on race and animal rights from thefreeslave
- Red, Black, and Greens — Marya Annette McQuirter and Tracye L. McQuirter on the politics of soul food
- Native Americans and Vegetarianism — Rita Laws on myths, facts, and history
- Pigs in Indian Country — Resistance to factory farming and environmental racism on the Rosebud Reservation
- Globalization of Industrialized Animal Agriculture: Implications for South Asia — Includes discussions of dietary racism and agricultural colonialism
- The Westernization of Diets (pdf) — Former World Bank scientist Robert Goodland on the health and environmental impact of the globalization of the Western meat-based diet
Projects & Organizations
- Food Empowerment Project
- Healthy School Lunches campaign
- Sistah Vegan Project
- Vegans of Color blog
- A. Breeze Harper (Ed.), Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans in North America. Lantern Books, 2009 (in press).
- Charles Patterson, Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust. Lantern Books, 2002.
- Marjorie Spiegel, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery. Mirror Books, 1996.