Friday, July 3, 2015

Clarification on Evolve Campaigns Misquote

Just a quick note of clarification:

Evolve Campaigns has created and shared the following internet meme without my permission. In doing so, it has unfortunately misquoted me. The quote it has attributed to me actually derives from a 2013 guest contribution by Colin Donoghue. I have recently moved away from using "enslavement" language and I also find sweeping statements about nonvegans as "uncaring" to be extremely problematic given the ubiquitousness of structural barriers that severely restrict choice and access for many. I firmly believe that shaming/blaming language which obscures social inequality does our movement a disservice. Our vegan outreach should be sensitive to the intersectionality of oppressions to remain effective and ethical.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Art Therapy and Temple Grandin: At the Crossroads

By Lee Ann

When I first read the announcement that the American Art Therapy Association had invited Temple Grandin to be this year’s keynote speaker at our annual conference, I was shocked. After about a week of trying to process this information, my bubbling rage drove me to social media, calling AATA out for inviting a woman who has built a career on designing slaughterhouses, and partnering with animal agribusiness to destroy the environment, deplete natural resources, undermine public health, and exploit animals.

Initially, AATA seemed concerned with my opposition, not so much because they recognized they had made an error in judgement by inviting Grandin, but because I was making noise about it. Representatives from AATA promptly reached out to me. They listened to my concerns, but stated the keynote invitation would not be rescinded. I was strongly encouraged to attend the conference, and was offered an opportunity to have an individual meeting with Grandin. Having read some of her writings, I have a handle on her belief that animals are here for people to “humanely” exploit, which means any conversation would end with a cordial agree-to-disagree. Everyone and their mother-in-law rationalize animal exploitation, so I don’t need to hear her version of that first hand.

I was also told I could express my concerns at the social justice working group breakout session, and I was invited to join said working group. I asked for an opportunity to present an opposing position to the larger conference audience, not just the small social justice session, and I was denied. It seemed that the AATA representatives were also quite keen to learn what actions I might take moving forward. My general impression was that they recognized my criticisms as valid, but due to their refusal to rescind the invitation to Grandin, they wanted to keep me contained, which frankly, just made me angrier.

In the midst of this, it’s important for me to express that I love being an art therapist. While I have not always fully supported all the actions of my professional organization, they have been a source of community, and generally, I think they are trying to protect the interests of all who offer or receive art therapy, as well as steer the profession into the future, despite a difficult socioeconomic-political climate. I wouldn’t be a member if I didn’t want to support them, or if I thought it wasn’t to my advantage. My belief in AATA and the art therapy profession has been greatly challenged by their partnership with Grandin though.

In the weeks following the initial announcement, and the phone conversations with AATA representatives that occurred shortly thereafter, I have continued to use social media in hopes of generating interest among colleagues, finding allies willing to speak out against AATA’s invitation to Grandin, and eliciting an apology from AATA to its members. Sadly, except for a couple of colleagues who I would say are supportive from the sidelines, my colleagues have remained silent, which I understand might be because people are unsure how to respond, but the net effect is that I feel bewildered and alone. To point at what seems such a clear injustice to me, and perceive everyone as remaining in the neutral position, has been unnerving. Since I’m the lone voice of dissent, it appears that AATA is content to ignore me. As such, I was compelled to write this essay, partly as an expressive outlet about an issue that has been emotionally unsettling, and partly with the intention of reaching both art therapy colleagues and fellow animal rights activists who might find a call to action in my words.

My efforts to gain clarity and articulate all that is wrong about AATA partnering with Grandin led me to start digging into intersectionality. One of the most disturbing aspects of Grandin’s narrative about animals is the role of disability, a term I use with the disclaimer that I have read conflicting opinions about whether it demeans or empowers those whose abilities are not represented by the majority. It likely goes without saying that she wasn’t invited to be keynote because she kills animals for a living; she was invited because she has autism, participates in autism advocacy, and can be called “successful” by majority standards due to her academic and professional accomplishments within the context of having autism, a description I use loosely since her work is contingent on killing animals. Since I’m new to intersectionality, my assessment might be a little rough around the edges, but Grandin asserts that her disability enables her to identify with cows, who are differently abled compared to humans. Ironically though, she plays the I’m-less-differently-abled-than-you-are power card to justify committing violence against them, rather than recognize them as beings with inherent rights, perpetuating the notion that it’s natural and justifiable to oppress beings whose abilities aren’t recognized as “normal” and consistent with the majority. The absurdity doesn’t stop there though.

Another point that has been alarming about AATA’s partnership with Grandin is the incoherent standards applied to individuals who commit violence against animals. If an individual presents to an art therapist with designs for slaughtering animals, this would be regarded as a red flag for psychopathology. The individual would be considered high risk for violence, not just towards animals, but also humans, and ongoing evaluation and treatment would be recommended. Grandin is an individual who does exactly that – develops designs for the systemic slaughter of animals – which undoubtedly requires a lot of creative thinking about how to “best” kill someone, yet, because she does it under the guise of “animal science,” in partnership with animal agribusiness, not only is her behavior deemed socially acceptable, but she’s welcomed with open arms to present to a group of mental health professionals, who would recommend treatment under different circumstances.

Aside from that matter of splitting hairs over pathological versus “acceptable” violence towards animals, the inconsistencies between what the art therapy profession should aspire to be, and how it presents itself in partnering with Grandin pile up. Animal product consumption is associated with several forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, and the research linking it to health problems continues to amass. Art therapy is a well-regarded treatment for addressing the complex psychological issues of cancer patients. Inviting Grandin, partner with animal agribusiness, the products of which are associated with cancer, to speak to a group, some of whom treat cancer patients is a blatant conflict of interest. Additionally, research shows that slaughterhouse workers are at higher risk for substance abuse, and violent behavior, systemic mental health issues that the art therapy profession has a clear responsibility to alleviate, not perpetuate.

Another conflict of interest is evident when examining AATA’s document for standards of ethical practice. AATA delineates beneficence as one of art therapy’s ethical principles, yet they invited a keynote speaker whose entire career is devoted to violence towards animals, which inherently results in violence towards Earth, and violence towards humans. They reap what they sow, after all, but according to art therapy’s ethical guidelines, art therapists have a responsibility to not be complicit in causing harm.

This year’s conference theme, Bridging Cultural Terrain, is somewhat laughable when critically examined. Although terrain is used metaphorically, it behooves me to point out that our actual terrain is being utterly decimated by Grandin and her animal agribusiness partners. The lovely graphic representing the theme that illustrates conference-related materials even includes water under the bridge; it is widely known that California is in the midst of an unprecedented drought while 47% of their water supply goes towards animal agriculture. Furthermore, AATA’s complicity with carnism, the ideology that justifies the systemic oppression of animals, the lack of awareness of intersectionality, and their ease at dismissing my concerns as “not aligned with the majority of members” (paraphrased response from an AATA representative), completely contradicts AATA’s supposed efforts to advance a paradigm of inclusion, or as they like to say, Bridging Cultural Terrain.

I have ruminated over these ideas for weeks. I have lain awake at night trying to identify how to respond and affect change. I have cried, wondering how my professional organization and colleagues have seemingly shrugged off my concerns, leaving me feeling disregarded and marginalized for my belief system. Much like the cows who are victims of Grandin’s slaughterhouses, I am beside myself that my colleagues are calmly proceeding to their moral slaughter, blindly exacerbating multiple systems of oppression, unquestioningly led by AATA through the chutes of carnism, without being provided an updated, progressive, more inclusive view.

The AATA representatives were anxious to know my next move. I have a lot of ideas, but no specific plans. As the conference draws closer, I have amped up my social media protest, although AATA remains unresponsive. I’m wondering how to engage the animal rights community on this, not to challenge Grandin because she’s too invested in exploiting animals, but to challenge the art therapy community. Pardon my generalization, but art therapists aren’t exactly the Fox News watching crowd, so I think many could be open to broadening their circles of compassion. The profession requires creative, empathetic, sensitive, insightful, open-minded, critically thoughtful individuals, many of whom I hope will recognize the problems I have described. As far as I can tell, they haven’t been presented a coherent analysis, such as the one I’ve attempted to compose here, of why AATA should have a generous slice of vegan humble pie, and offer an apology to members. I hope that after considering the position I am presenting, people will begin to come forward to work with me to peacefully protest Grandin in the short term, but much more importantly, apply what can be learned from this debacle moving beyond the conference.

I’m guessing that the AATA representatives might be regretting that they encouraged me to attend the conference. I can’t say that’s not a fair response. Registration and related travel expenses are considerable, so that’s something I have to figure out, but aside from that practical matter, as much as I loathe the idea of giving them money so they can pay Grandin’s hefty fee, I feel like it could be my best opportunity to properly protest. The emails from AATA touting “record breaking registration” churn my stomach as I imagine my colleagues falling over themselves to be graced by the presence of the animal agribusiness’s golden girl with her ludicrous narrative that autism has given her magic powers to know how cows really want to die. On behalf of the environment, and human and nonhuman animals, I feel like I should be there.

Regardless of what I do next though, I’m reminded that art therapists, despite the unique qualities that led them to dedicate themselves to a career of service, are just like everyone else, myself included until I made the transition to veganism. Like everyone who isn’t raised vegan, they adhere to an unrecognized, unexamined carnist ideology, hungrily subscribing to devastatingly incoherent narratives, such as those offered by Grandin, as a means of silencing any emergent misgivings about slaughtering animals for pleasure. It’s an alluring fairy tale, but a fairy tale nonetheless, and we must subject it to critical examination.

If the art therapy community is truly dedicated to Bridging Cultural Terrain, we have a responsibility to do better, to live lives characterized by justice for all, to recognize that our choices affect others, and to act accordingly. I urge the art therapy community to be less star struck by Grandin, and more dumbstruck that she was invited without full consideration for how the harms she perpetrates contradict all we should aspire to be.

This essay weaves together ideas that are clear to me, as well as ideas I’m still working through. Although my conscious intention was to use the crossroads as a metaphor for where the art therapy profession can go in response to the keynote speaker issue as described in the essay, I’m also deep in thought about my own place at the crossroads, trying to make sense of where I am going as an art therapist.

This essay was originally published by Avocados and Glitter on April 11, 2015.

Lee Ann is an artist, art therapist, vegan, doctoral student, type 1 diabetic, wife, and dog mom. She writes about veganism, creative pursuits, professional pursuits, recipes, social justice, intersectionality, feminism, life, and whatever feels blog-worthy.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter Web Conference April 24-25

From the event website:

Registration and Ticket Purchase: CLICK HERE

The Sistah Vegan Project’s Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter conference will bring together scholars, writers, activists and community organizers to examine the intersections of the #blacklivesmatter movement and veganism.

Designed for black vegans, vegans of color and their white allies, this interactive, online event, offers an opportunity for collaborative discussion, building networks of engagement and knowledge sharing. The conference will also work to bring forward suggestions and inspiration to build momentum for collective change.

In this time, when large numbers of people are taking to the streets under the #blacklivesmatter banner, this year’s conference’s workshops and talks ask:

– How do veganism and #blacklivesmatter intersect?

– What does a vegan praxis of “black lives matter” look like?

– What does veganism that ignores “black lives matter” look like, and what are the unintended consequences?

– Why do race and whiteness matter, and how do they operate within veganism and beyond?

– What does allyship look like within the #blacklivesmatter movement amongst non-black vegans and black non-vegans/

#Blacklivesmatter is happening in and because of an America in which “post-racial” rhetoric dominates the mainstream and has been accepted as truth by many white Americans.

This narrowness of perspective/thought/rhetoric extends to vegan (largely white spaces) in which embracing anti-oppression is limited to non-human animal rights and specieism and does not acknowledge other forms of oppression (systemic racism, xenophobia, etc.).

In this context, black lives really do not matter and instead work to combat racism and other forms of human oppression is seen as an unnecessary distraction from the “real work” for non-human animal liberation.

Many of us, as black vegans and as non-white and white allies, find that our politics cannot be single issue. As much as veganism provides an anti-oppression framework it must do so holistically.

We cannot ignore the connections between child slavery on cocoa plantations and the enslavement of non-human animals on factory farms. “Cruelty-free” cannot simply mean that no non-human animals were harmed during production but that the workers who produce our goods are also well treated and well compensated.

We challenge the racial and class privileges that allow mainstream vegan rhetoric to speak of lower income people of color who don’t adopt plant-based diets as lazy without seeing and understanding their realities of lack of access to good, affordable food. We question the ease with which many white vegans shrug off the Thug Kitchen controversy ; their inability to see this minstrel show as reinforcing pernicious stereotypes about black people that make it easier to accept violence against them.

We note that from the beginning #blacklivesmatter activists have insisted that queer people, feminists, people from the spectrum of classes, those who are differently abled, etc. not only be part of the movement but that their perspectives help define its strategies and goals instead of accepting “traditional” hierarchies that would put straight, cis-gender, able-bodied, middle class men in the lead.

We call and fight for a vegan, collective praxis that uses a true anti-oppression lens and embodies anti-racism, Black liberation and the dismantling of white supremacist systems and institutions in a supposed post-racial era along with the systems that abuse and oppress non-human animals.

Registration and Ticket Purchase: CLICK HERE

Sponsor the conference: Find out more about sponsorship here.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Colonizing England and the Naming of Animals

While many non-British probably recognize Great Britain today as a great colonial power responsible for untold suffering through Western imperialism over the centuries, some might be surprised to know that the island itself was the site of extensive colonization prior to medieval times. Historians have described it as a sort of "back water" with little political influence, making it an easy target for neighboring powers. There were the Vikings, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Normans, all staking their claim at one point or another. With colonization came pillaging and war, but also significant cultural shifts.

Many of the stone fortresses that non-Brits tend to associate with the England were a result of the Norman takeover in 1066 following the Battle of Hastings. They were built to secure their new rule in this foreign kingdom. The Normans also brought with them French culture and immediately began to usurp land and money, ousting the majority of the old Anglo-Saxon elite. But the takeover required more than castles, land, and money, it also required some manipulation of the symbolic landscape.

Bayeux Tapestry: Scene from the Battle of Hastings
Sociologists argue that language holds a certain power: it can uphold particular social norms and reinforce social hierarchies. This is why vegan sociologists often put "meat" in quotation marks, or refer to animals as "nonhuman animals." Using language in this way can disrupt oppressive values and force the reader or listener to think critically about their relationship with the oppressed. Sometimes, marginalized groups will actively seek to associate with language that empowers them. For instance, in an article published with T.O.F.U. Magazine, I discuss how parents will sometimes name their daughters male names in order to improve their social status (parents will also stop naming their male children these names as they become "contaminated" with femininity).

Following the Norman conquest, an interesting phenomenon took place in the British language. The new elites tended to be French, while the large majority of the population were poor farmers who were Anglo-Saxon. The French language became a marker of privilege. William and other Norman names became quite popular in England, even among the peasants (The Battle of Hastings was won by England's new Norman king, William the Conqueror).  By the end of the Middle Ages, the English language had absorbed quite a bit of French (as it has with a number of other languages like Latin, Gaelic, and German), but there was a time when status was tied to an association with French culture.

This is the interesting part for animal studies scholars: following the conquest, two separate languages were used to describe Nonhuman Animals, and this was based on their class association. Animals that were muddy, stinky, brutish, and still alive, were referred to in Anglo-Saxon English. Once butchered, cooked, and served at the table in a "refined" state that no longer resembles the living creature it once was, the corpse was referred to in French terminology. Pig was English; Pork was French. Sheep was English; Mutton was French. Cow was English; Beef was French.

The word "shambles" is also Old English in origin and refers to a slaughterhouse or butcher's shop (the popular phrase "My life is a shambles" literally means that it is as messy and chaotic as a slaughterhouse). Incidentally, the French term abattoir did not come into common English use until the 19th century. Association with the "unrefined" matter of Nonhuman Animal "husbandry" and slaughter was a mark of low class status. Adding to this association, only wealthy Norman elites could afford to eat Nonhuman Animal products. Impoverished Anglo-Saxon peasants ate mostly plant-based diets.

This linguistic history, I think, demonstrates a very interesting linkage between colonization, class, and speciesism. Of course, Nonhuman Animals simply become political objects used to reinforce social hierarchies, meaning that their suffering goes unacknowledged by historians. Nonetheless, it makes for an interesting case for the entanglement of human and nonhuman oppression.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Corey Wrenn featured on Under the Toadstool

I joined Sonia Chauhan and Sarah K. Woodcock on their Under the Toadstool podcast for a serious discussion about the state of sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. In this episode, we talk about the history of sexism in the movement, current events in sexism, and concrete steps we can take to disrupt it. I highly recommend this episode as an introduction to intersectionality topics in vegan spaces. We worked hard to keep it short (42 min.) so it will not be overwhelming. A mild trigger warning: we do speak frankly about these issues, and it could be upsetting for those personally impacted.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Problem with Badge-Allies

The abolitionist faction of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is somewhat unique in the movement because it specifically values intersectionality. That is, abolitionist activists recognize that sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc. is as morally problematic as speciesism. Indeed, many abolitionists recognize that these systemic discriminations are actually entangled and mutually reinforcing.

But intersectionality is not only applicable to general society, it has relevance within social movement spaces as well. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is male-dominated with a female majority and sexism has been heavily documented. It is a movement that is also white-dominated with few activists of color and is notoriously racist in both campaigning and claimsmaking. Acknowledging these connections in social justice efforts is so very important for counteracting oppression.

In a society where few openly admit to being bigoted, few people will openly admit to being sexist, racist, etc. Most like to think themselves "good" and "moral." In an era where diversity is theoretically embraced as a social good, most people are all for diversity. 

But theory and practice are two separate issues. Because discrimination is often made invisible through institutionalized practices and because it builds up through a million small behaviors and practices that appear every step of the way, it becomes more difficult to identify. With discrimination made invisible, and most valuing diversity, we have a bizarre disconnect between theory and practice. We all see ourselves as allies against oppression, but we don't see how we might be personally responsible for that oppression or how we might personally benefit from it. 

It gets even trickier in a social movement space where activists actively embrace intersectionality theory and diversity goals. More than the average citizen, a social justice activist is personally invested in an anti-oppression identity. For some, this means that allies in activist spaces will be consciously engaged in combating oppression and engaging self-reflection. For many others, however, the intersectionality identity simply becomes a badge to be worn. Anyone can wear the badge, whether or not they actually do anything to earn it. Even worse, the badge can become a form of authority. For those wearing the badge, it becomes more difficult to challenge them on their problematic actions. The badge also works as a psychological barrier for the wearer who becomes less willing to acknowledge challenges as valid.

Following many frustrating encounters with privileged persons in the abolitionist movement who wear the ally badge while they aggressively block intersectionality praxis, it is clear that intersectionality easily becomes a strategic weapon for privileged people to protect their privilege and protect themselves from criticism. Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society terms these persons "Badge-allies."  

Badge-allies are a problem because they exist as one more barrier to meaningful discourse and actual anti-oppression practice. For instance, we recently recorded a podcast on sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, and white male leaders immediately swooped in to sealion and derail the conversation. In another example, Gary Francione and his supporters regularly accuse me of publishing on feminist issues in the movement due to a personal agenda or a desire to gossip. I have also seen Grumpy Old Vegans flash their badge to protect ageism and transgender discrimination in abolitionist spaces. The intense abolitionist backlash Woodcock experienced following her public support of the Black Lives Matter movement is another important indication that intersectionality theory does not align with practice.

These actions reflect an element of conscious discrimination, but they need not always be intentional. Microaggressions are also heavily used by Badge-allies. Again, few persons today see themselves as bigoted, but they can still engage discrimination in unintended or unconscious ways. Microaggressions can include interruption, cat-calling, tone-policing, misgendering someone, making or laughing at a sexist or racist joke, dismissing, downplaying or ignoring the experiences of a marginalized group, and denying the reality of sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. Badge-allies are less likely to see microaggressions of this kind as aggressive because they have self-identified as intersectionally conscious.  "I'm not racist, but .  .  . "

Self-labeling, too, can become problematic. Woodcock explains: "The 'ally' title is really not something to be bestowed upon oneself. It is only something to be bestowed upon someone, for a given form of oppression, by someone in that corresponding oppressed class." In other words, we don't get to define ourselves. Instead, our actions define us, and those actions will be evaluated by the oppressed, not the oppressors. Woodcock continues, "If a person of color does not consider you to be an anti-racist ally or if someone is challenging you about your advocacy being racist, chances are you are a Badge­-ally. The same applies to other forms of oppression."

Being an ally means more than simply wearing it like a badge. True ally-ship requires action. Intersectionality should never be used as a means of protecting privilege and shutting down critical discussions. Badge-allies are a problem because they impede our efforts, harm fellow advocates, and contribute to ongoing oppression.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Should We Troll Tom Regan?

For women like myself with an active and public presence on the internet, we are fully aware that we "set ourselves up" for abuse by simply being present and by having an educated opinion.  Women are expected to be silent and invisible. For those who dare to disobey these gender norms, retribution is swift.

Whenever I publish something critical of violent tactics, I can expect a fresh onslaught from advocates who are violently opposed to my stance against violence and are dead set on "teaching me a lesson" or shutting me up.  Female colleagues who share my work sadly experience similar punishment. It is unfortunately lost on many that aggressive retaliation of this kind is also a form of violence, especially when it is directed at women and relies on scripts of sexism.

The thing is, a number of male-identified leaders in the movement are quite outspoken about illegal or violent direct action. Tom Regan, for instance, regularly publishes and lectures on the problems with violence in the name of Nonhuman Animal liberation. Indeed, an entire chapter of Empty Cages (2004) chastises violent advocacy. How can it be that Regan and other men like him can contribute ideas so freely?

First, retaliation against women who are critical of violence tends to reflect gender policing. That is, a male-led movement will turn on women who challenge patriarchal norms in order to push them back into their proper feminine roles of subservience and silence.

Retaliation also reflects a general devaluation of femininity. While men can be opposed to violence as well, we recognize that aggression and violence is associated with masculinity, while peace-making and non-violent, inclusive, education-based advocacy is associated with femininity. Therefore, when male activists gang up on women speaking out against violence, they're actually reacting to their discomfort with (and even disdain for) feminist politics and women's power.

Tom Regan is our great movement patriarch, so going for his jugular over his anti-violence position seems unthinkable. We pay deference to men, but we distrust women. Male leaders and activists get to disagree and still have their positions relatively respected. Men's ideas get full consideration; women's get tone-policed. Men are acknowledged as equal participants; women's motives are questioned. For women who speak out, there will be a price to be paid.

Though some male-identified activists surely do face a good bit of criticism, we do not inhabit a post-gendered society. What this means is that men and women will not be criticized similarly, and the consequences of that criticism will not be comparable. Male privilege will always buffer the blow.

Until direct action advocates are prepared to blast Tom Regan with trolling and sealioning with the same ferocity that female activists experience, we must recognize this for what it is: sexism.