Published on Feb 25, 2017
If you’ve been a little confused about the latest controversy over intersectional veganism, don’t despair. I’ve had a lot of questions about this topic, and I thought I’d provide a very simple explanation of intersectional critical theory, and how it can relate to vegan outreach. As I mention in the video, I don’t consider myself an “intersectional vegan”, simply because the term was coined in by Kimberle Crenshaw to refer to the very specific intersection of race, sex and gender for black women in the United States.
Let me know what you guys think, and if this makes things any clearer!
For more information and references on this subject, please visit the ModVegan blog post on this topic http//modvegan.com/intersectional-ve…
Thanks for watching!
Hey there Modern Vegans and Vegan Curious. It’s Margaret. And welcome back to ModVegan.
Today I want to talk with you about intersectionalism, intersectional veganism, and what all those things mean. So let’s get to it.
So intersectional veganism has become a really big thing over the last few days, last couple of weeks, starting with one big YouTuber, Unnatural Vegan, she made a video about why she doesn’t consider herself to be an intersectional vegan, and it’s kind of just taken on a life of its own since then. I’ve noticed that some podcasts are discussing this, a bunch of other vegan YouTubers have discussed this issue, and it really seems to have kind of touched a nerve with a whole lot of people.
And it’s been something kind of interesting to sit back and watch, and I’ve been surprised at the number of you that have sent me messages, letters – I’ve received quite a few emails regarding this, and from both sides. I’ve had people asking me to please tell people what intersectionalism is all about, to kind of explain it a little bit so that it’s easier to understand, I’ve also had people saying, you know, please tell people why they shouldn’t be intersectional!
So I’ve kind of had both of those responses. I’ve had people from both sides contacting me, and I can see why a little bit. I tend not to be too ideological on this channel, I try to make everything very accessible to you, and I think part of this is the fact that my background is in academics, and so I’ve gotten tired of years of hearing things discussed in ways that really alienate a lot of people because of the challenging nature of the language. And there’s been some people here on YouTube that I think made great responses to Unnatural Vegan’s videos, at least just kind of explaining their own point of view quite well, in particular, I really enjoyed Reg Flowers’ response to Unnatural Vegan. If you get a chance to see some of his videos, he explains things, especially because he does come from an intersectional perspective, he explains things in a very down to earth way, and I really appreciate that, because often that language can be a bit intimidating and alienating, and that was something that was always a bit frustrating to me, back when I was at University and teaching and things like that, I felt that often professors will find a way – and they don’t mean it at all – it’s just that when you’re using that language, it can be a bit alienating, and it it almost comes off as sounding a bit like its own religion.
I think that one of the things we forget – and I need to get into defining what intersectional really means – but I think that one of the things people often forget is just because they have a specialty in an area, doesn’t mean that other people do. And I do believe it’s really important to make your content understandable for most people. At least if you’re intending to reach the most people, and that’s something that I want to do. So please let me know if you guys have any questions or require any clarification of anything, please leave me a comment down below, and I would be more than happy to answer any of the questions that were left unanswered in this episode.
So what does the term “intersectional” actually mean?
Well, the term was first coined by professor Kimberle Crenshaw back in 1989 and Crenshaw is a specialist in something called Critical Race theory. And she looks a lot at the intersection of ideas like what it means to be an African American, since she is an African American woman, and early in her studies she noticed that these two things intersect. The idea of feminism and race, like gender politics and also racial politics – all those things tend to intersect. And she wrote a paper about that, and she used the term intersectional to relate to this in particular. So, she used intersectional to mean specifically the relationship between race and gender and how those things connect. And since then, her ideas have been kind of expanded upon. They’ve been broadened to include a whole bunch of other things. So now it’s not just race and gender, it can be race and gender and class, and a whole slough of different ideas. And the basic concept behind that intersection is that you can’t deal with some of these categories on their own without relating to other ones.
You can’t really discuss what it is to be a black woman in America, without discussing the history of slavery, the issue of class, the issue of gender, the issue of race. Those all kind of come together. And I think it’s part – if you’re looking at it as a tool for analyzing things, like if you’re in academics, or even if you’re just trying to understand the world, it’s about creating a way to understand the world is a bit more practical, which was one of the criticisms that Unnatural Vegan laid at the feet of the intersectional movement. It’s meant to make things a bit more practical, because nobody falls into neat analytical categories. And it’s one of the false – mistakes, I think of social science, or at least it was for a long time, for people to try and see social science as if it were exactly the same as hard science. And put everyone and everything into neat little analytical categories. And of course, that doesn’t really work very well as soon as anything gets very complicated.
Now I don’t use the term “intersectional” to describe myself, I don’t consider necessarily my approach, because I use a whole bunch of different approaches when I talk about things, I don’t necessarily consider that I have a particularly intersectional approach, and I can’t say that I’m intersectional because I still think that the term very much at least in its origins, relates to being a black woman in the United States, and since I don’t have that experience, I think that it would be inappropriate for me to take on that label, and I do advise that people who want to call themselves intersectional, might consider saying something like “pro-intersectional” or something of that nature instead. Although, I would advise even more that what you can do with intersectional critical theory is that you can take some of the ideas, use them where they’re useful, and don’t worry too much about using any labels on your work. I think one of the things is that people fall into a trap where they use jargon that relates to a particular critical theory.
If you were to go back and look at my own work, my own academic work, you’d notice, if you are familiar with this sort of thing, that I often use marxian critical analysis and I am not a Marxist, it’s not my ideology, I’m much more of a standard socialist capitalist. But I do use marxian analysis because I find it very useful. A lot of the categories and things that are used in marxian analysis are very useful for the kind of research that I did, both in my honours thesis and in my Masters’ thesis. I used some marxian ideas just to analyze what I was looking at, because my studies were on Colombia, which is an area that has a whole lot of issues related to class going on, and it’s almost impossible to analyze some of the issues there, especially because I was looking at the drug war, and again, I used an intersectional approach too, because there’s no way you can’t examine issues like gender, and the fact that many of the people that you’re talking about in Colombia have been at the mercy of other people for so long. So you have social issues, you have racial issues, there are gender issues, all of those things come into play, and so, it’s just practical to address those things.
And so I would definitely say that it’s not a fair representation of intersectional critical theory to say that it’s not practical. Because it can be very practical. Especially if you’re trying to tailor your message so that it can be understood by a broader audience. We can talk about different categories of oppression, by which I mean racism, sexism, class, gender – all those kinds of things – we can talk about those things intersecting, but again, it’s a bit difficult because the primary victims in this scenario aren’t the human beings, although some of the people we’re talking to of course have been victims in their own right. But when we’re looking at the plight of animals, it’s a bit difficult to speak for them. And it’s something that I don’t think is necessarily correct, what we want to be doing is trying to give voice to their concerns. And it’s very difficult, obviously to know exactly what animals want. We can make some broad generalizations, and we can pretty much tell that animals obviously don’t want to be used or abused, those are things that are fairly easy to understand, but when it gets to be anything more than that, it’s rather difficult to know for certain what animals want.
In terms of vegan outreach, I think that it’s very important that we include intersectional approaches when we’re meeting with other communities. If you intend for your message to go anywhere further than your average YouTube viewer – who’s not even an average YouTube viewer – anyone watching YouTube, you don’t really know that much about your audience. We can obviously use analytics to try and understand what our audience is, but there are people from all sorts of different backgrounds watching you, and so I think it’s wise to try to create a safe space for people. And I know this isn’t the approach of everyone here on YouTube, but I think it’s wise, and just smart to try and create a place where people feel welcomed, where they don’t feel attacked, and that kind of goes for everyone. You want to be creating a space where people are able to communicate, and able to find out more about veganism, if indeed that is the primary goal of your channel. I think that it’s a mistake to say that we need to ally ourselves with – for example – racists and other people in order to spread the vegan message, I do think that’s a mistake, because I feel that you are alienating more people than you are bringing in. And even if that weren’t the case, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do, in my opinion.
I think that being pragmatic is very important, but it’s obviously not the only important thing. And I think there’s a false distinction we try to make, between what is right, and what is pragmatic. I don’t think that those are necessarily at odds. And I felt that one of the challenges with Unnatural Vegan’s video was that she seemed to be portraying it as if the practical and the moral are at odds in some way. And I don’t think that’s the case. So as I mentioned earlier, when people discuss intersectional veganism, they are usually referring to the vegans, and not to the animals. And so, that’s an important thing to keep in your mind when you’re talking about these things.
As I said, we don’t really know what the wants and needs of the animals are, we can only go with the needs and the wants of the people whom we’re trying to bring into the vegan fold. When you’re engaging in vegan activism and outreach, you’ll find that almost everyone does come from a different background. And so it’s wise to be sensitive to those backgrounds. Because if we aren’t, then we’re going to alienate people unnecessarily. And I do believe that that’s a challenge. When it comes to the oppression of non-human animals, we notice that many people who take an intersectional approach will often make some comparisons with things like slavery and things like that, particularly if they come from an African American background. Again, this would be something that I would not want to do, because that isn’t my background and I think it’s kind of offensive if I were to do so. It doesn’t really have anything to do with me, and so I wouldn’t be speaking to someone in a way that would be either convincing or helpful, and so I tend to avoid that, just as I avoid comparisons with the Holocaust. Because, I’m not Jewish, and so I don’t really have the authority to speak in that area either. I can give my support to people who do have that ability, but it’s something that I don’t feel is either useful – I’m not an authority in that area – and I also feel that it’s just not helpful.
So overall, what I would really like to state about my view on this issue, is be welcoming to other people. Try to be supportive of people who’ve had negative experiences. If you’re trying to help people to become vegan, it’s important to recognize the differences between classes, between genders, for people who have gone through different experiences. They are going to be challenged by veganism in different ways. Of course that’s true! And I don’t think it does us any good as people engaged in vegan outreach to ignore those kinds of differences. I think if you believe in equality and social justice, then that will come through in your message. And I don’t think that; that is a weakness, I think it is a strength. I don’t believe that everyone needs to identify as an intersectional vegan in order to be a good vegan activist. I’m a little disappointed sometimes when I hear people who are pro-intersectional in their approach say things like that, because I think that we can all take some of the good from the intersectional movement, from intersectional critical theory and use that to help us in our activism.
But it doesn’t mean that we need to use the same language that they do. I think that’s a bit of an error as well. There’s so much attention paid to the kind of language that your using. And I don’t mean by this that we shouldn’t be sensitive about gender pronouns and things like that in our language. That’s not what I’m discussing at all. I’m talking about using terms like “problematize” and things like that. When you start to use very technical language, where people may not understand the exact definition of what you are saying, or the reason that you’re saying it, then that’s worth keeping in mind, unless you only want to have an audience of self-proclaimed Social Justice Warriors (which again, I have nothing against that, I’ve been accused of that on numerous occasions myself) then I question what the benefit of that may be.
One of the most important tasks that intersectional approaches to pretty much anything – whether it be veganism, whether it be transgender issues, gender issues of any kind, class issues – one of the things that they’re always attempting to address is some of the inequalities and the real oppression that has taken place in the past. And that is of course very important. It’s obviously important to acknowledge the kind of influence that things like sexism and racism have had in our society.
But it can become problematic when you immediately reach for the weapons of intersectional theory. And by that I mean, the accusation that the people are racist, and that they are using – especially – their white male privilege. And sometimes that is very much true. But I think it’s important, and one of the reasons that I don’t like to use, again, overly technical language – is that when you accuse people of things like that, and ask people to “check their privilege” and things like that, it is immediately alienating. I understand the instances where you may feel that is necessary, and I can support that, but I think it is important to always ask yourself if you are – and especially I’m speaking here to allies, not people who are themselves direct victims of oppression, but whom are simply trying to stand up for those who are.
I think it’s important to ask yourself if you are being clear to the person that you’re speaking to. Because most of these people are either unfamiliar with the background of what intersectionalism is, most of them are not particularly familiar with that – you can kind of tell that a bit in Unnatural Vegan’s video. I don’t think that she’s particularly comfortable with the issue, with the background of intersectional theory. She seems to understand it a bit, but when people go after her by saying that it’s her white female privilege, that she’s racist, all those things – I think it tends to obscure the fact that she may simply not completely understand the issue at hand.
I think it’s important to remember, as one gentleman who wrote in to me was saying, intersectional theory is one tool in our toolbox as vegans. It shouldn’t be the only tool that we ever use, and we do need to be careful about how we use it. I understand that people want to right all the wrongs that have been committed over the years, that we all wish we could make this a more just and equitable world. But I do think that there’s some merit to the idea that we need to consider the effect of what we’re saying. Are we alienating people that might down the line actually become allies? I think that’s worth considering as well.
And I hope most of you aren’t too disappointed in this video, I hope that it did give you some perspective on what intersectional theory is about, how I think it’s useful. It’s something that I do believe can be very useful as a tool, I see some people who primarily approach veganism through intersectional theory, Reg Flowers would be one of those, and I really appreciate his channel, I think he does it in a beautiful way. He definitely has a very “approachable” approach, and that’s important. And we don’t want to be alienating people right off the bat by using language that they simply aren’t going to understand. We need to make this something – it has to contribute something, I think, if you are doing a vegan channel or attempting to spread veganism, it has to be something that enhances the message, that makes it more accessible to your audience, that you’re helping people who may come from those disadvantaged backgrounds, who are victims of oppression in various parts of their lives. That if it’s not helping them, and it’s only hurting other people, then you need to ask yourself about that as well. If you are using intersectional theory just as a chance to tell people to check their privilege, then it’s worth considering how much you’re actually contributing. And you know, genuinely sit back and ask yourself that question.
Of course, also we don’t want to be leaving people behind, and that’s really important. So I do understand the value of intersectional theory, I did disagree with Unnatural Vegan’s video, and some of the videos that followed, I will be making videos about that as well, but I also think we need to, as a community, step back and realize – especially in light of a lot of the genuinely racist things that have been going on in the vegan community as of late, there have been videos by people directly denying the Holocaust and things like that. I do think it’s important that we address those serious issues as well, and by making a mountain out of every molehill, I think that we can sometimes genuinely diminish the importance of real issues, that we truly need to be addressing.
I think it’s important, especially when you are being an advocate, that you remember to focus on the real issues, and not to allow yourself to be sidetracked. Because there’s always going to be plenty of people out there making inflammatory response videos and exciting videos about this and that with their strong opinions on this, that or the other thing, and I think it’s a shame to allow yourself to be dragged off too much by that, when there are often much bigger issues at hand, and I do think the recent rise in anti-Semitism within vegan YouTube, some of the issues with racism as well, those are issues that we should be looking at and really addressing.
And I don’t think that we necessarily need to give credit by name, and to go after them by name, but I do think it’s important to address those issues and it’s something I’m going to be discussing in my next video, which is going to be about social justice.
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