Saturday, November 15, 2014

I'm reading...

a book titled: Witnessing Whiteness (The need to talk about race and how to do it) by Shelly Tochluk. On page xiii of the introduction to the book, she writes about something most every one who is vegan might recognize:
It is highly disconcerting and offensive to be told that you are unconscious of what influences your attitudes and beliefs about the world. The insinuation that unrecognized socialization was largely responsible for my thinking and my actions struck at the heart of my sense of individuality and freedom.

Next time you broach veganism to a non-vegan and get blasted with an inordinate amount of unexpected and bewildering anger and upset, think back to that passage above and see if it doesn't help you to comprehend what just happened.

I'm thoroughly enjoying the book, along with several others that I'm reading about white privilege. Another one I found is called Bootstraps (From an American Academic of Color) written by Victor Villanueva, Jr. Well, 'enjoying' is maybe a misleading term...more like excited and dismayed at the same time. As I read, I find myself asking "where have I been, why haven't I read about or been aware of these ideas before?"

There are many observations and perceptions in these works that are significant, not only in terms of the deplorable manner in which we white people in the USA have avoided coming to grips with racism but how very very similar our pretenses about 'race' are to the pretenses we've fashioned to blind ourselves to speciesism.

Human animals in the USA live in a white supremacist culture that denies it is such, just as we live in a human supremacist culture that either denies it is one or freely admits it is one and blithely asserts that that is "just the way it is and it is supposed to be that way". It most commonly asserts that human domination and/or exploitation of our sister/brother Earthlings is "natural" and "normal". The current "normal" way of dealing with speciesism is so very reminiscent of the way race was thought about (and dealt with) 200 years ago here in the US.

It's eerie and, for me anyway, more than a little stunning and scary. Look at what we've done with racism. We've essentially said that since we passed some laws about civil rights and voting then it's all taken care of. Poof. We don't have to worry about it anymore. And, I'm not letting myself off the hook here, I pretty much blundered around with some of that same attitude for some time...at least until I started serving as a liaison (for mental health services) with the American Indian Tribal unit where I worked. Then I started coming out of the culturally induced dream of "all is well". It isn't...in many ways it's worse than it was before the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s.

Awakening from that dream prepared the way for my being able to grasp the totally disorienting movement toward veganism. I've been in a state of greater or lesser bewilderment ever since. Things are not what they seem in terms of how life is lived for non-human Earthlings nor are things what they seem for how life is lived for non-white humans (at least in the USA), just as things are not what they seem for how life is lived if you are not male. They're not what they seem for white males either but since that group (white males) don't suffer atrocities and/or horrors (beyond mental/emotional deformation) because of membership in that group...their suffering is qualitatively different from those they subjugate.

It's hard to write about this, to think about this, to feel about this...and I'm struggling to find firm ground to stand on. I do know that living as an oppressor is no good way to live nor is living as one being oppressed. We can do better than that...we must do better than that. From what I can see now, unless one is living as a vegan...then you're an oppressor. No matter if you strive to be non-racist or non-sexist or non-whatever-terrible-thing-you-try-to-avoid. You can be a sexist and a vegan or a racist and a vegan or a racist-sexist vegan...but...you can't live as a non-oppressor without living vegan. Or so it seems to me.

Being vegan doesn't mean you're not an oppressor...it just means you're trying not to oppress those who aren't members of the human species. You still benefit from the historical and current societal and institutional oppression of other animals just as (whether you're personally racist or not) you benefit from the historical and ongoing societal and institutional oppression of those who are non-white. If you're a male, even if you personally strive to be non-sexist, you benefit from historical and current societal sexism. Jeez, it makes me want to grab my head and run out in the street and start screaming. I don't know what the hell I would scream though...something incoherent and incomprehensible probably.

I'm in a state of flux now and looking back at my recent posts shows that. The flux has accelerated however over the past several months. New thinkings and ways of understanding are coming hot and heavy as of late and not much firm ground is available. One the one hand I really like it...on the other hand...it's thoroughly upsetting and disconcerting.

There is one source of solace and safety though...living vegan...that's something that seems about as hardcore OK as it gets. Whew, it's a bumpy ride, all this waking up and stuff...it's hard on us old people. Better never to have never been lulled into uncomprehending numb-nuttedness than to have to awaken from it.






6 comments:

Laloofah said...

You sell yourself short, my friend - I don't think incoherence is in your repertoire. :-) Thanks for sharing some of your thoughts on these painful and challenging topics, as well as the insightful connection with which you began this post. It's true, none of us wants to be told we've been "brainwashed," even though it can be liberating to discover that more choices and freedom are available to you than you could imagine, once the invisible becomes visible. And the process of becoming aware can indeed be disorienting and disconcerting, and even painful - though I found that the positivity, empowerment, benefits and sheer joy of becoming and being vegan quickly compensated for any discomfort or inconvenience. But until or unless someone experiences that for themselves, it's just hearsay. And therein lays the challenge. Your intro reminded me of this paraphrased quote from Rae Sikora (found on her Animal Person blog a few years ago): "Asking someone to act on what you believe after you've introduced them to the idea is like asking someone to turn a corner they haven't even reached yet. They don't see that there's a corner, and you want them to turn.
Approaching your interactions as potential conversion opportunities isn't productive. Instead of trying to get the other person to move to your side (from their side), try to get the other person to go to an entirely different place with you. That way, you both have to move - you're not asking them to do all the work."
I'm often uncertain just how to put that into practice, but her "asking someone to turn a corner they haven't reached and can't even see yet" analogy often serves as a helpful, empathetic reminder.

I don't believe that feeling guilty about the privileges we inherited by sheer accident of birth is fair or constructive. But becoming/being aware of those inherited privileges is, and having the courage, clarity, compassion, and inspiration to strive for a more just and fair world because it's the right thing to do and gives life meaning - those are qualities and attributes you possess and share with your readers all the time... eloquently, never incoherently, I don't care what you say. :-)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Laloofah. I appreciate your thoughts very much. Your rendering of Ms. Sikora's observations made me think of a scene in an old movie I saw years ago that stuck with me. I'm probably mangling it but it was a movie about a kid who grew up with a father who was a Rabbi (Robby Benson was the son and Rod Steiger was the father). As the boy grew he went in a different direction from the father's teaching and they ended up at odds with one another. The scene that stuck with me was one where the father was imploring the son to return home and the son saying he just couldn't. Rod Steiger (the dad) then said something like...well...come back as far as you can and I'll meet you there. That stuck quite well with me...because I think there is a great deal of psychological/emotional truth in it (and even if there isn't, it's still a snazzy line that makes me smile as I write about it). :-)

Your notion about not being guilty re things we don't control but becoming aware of and working toward ameliorating those things when we can is spot on. There's a fellow named Robert Jensen (http://robertwjensen.org/) who writes much about just such an approach. I didn't include him in the post but probably will write about his thinking at some point in the future.

Your kind words are very welcome. :-)

Bea Elliott said...

I'm with Laloofah that you're overly-critical of yourself... I can hardly think of a person's writings I follow that is more committed to digging for the truth. That's got to account for something even though in the digging you've unearthed more questions.

When it comes to who is privileged and who got all the breaks I often see it as a wheel-of-fortune that has the categories pre-labeled starting with human, nonhuman, and then the inevitable breakdown of which/who is the "winner". I resist this wheel as much as possible... But it seems at the core so much of what we get out of life is where we fit in to what position we're allowed by birth. Most of life becomes just "dumb luck". :'(

But wherever your meanderings of thought go - Please don't stop orating about it... It's fascinating to witness where another mind ventures - And helps us other uber-re-thinkers on the way as well.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea. I've re-read this particular post several times because of your statement (and Laloofah's comment) and have to admit to being perplexed. I don't grasp that I'm being overly critical of myself. I tried to clearly express aspects of my state of mind...and did so. I am in flux, I am bewildered...and justifiably so from my perspective. I don't experience that as being critical of myself at all.

Isn't it our obligation to re-evaluate our perceptions and thinkings when we encounter credible information that suggests our stance might be mistaken or erroneous or incomplete? I believe that to be true, I believe that to be a requirement we must place on ourselves if we're to live in a way that approaches any semblance of correspondence to reality.

I apologize if I'm expressing that in such a way that I sound critical of myself because I don't feel that way...I'm not beating up on myself (that I'm aware of), I'm not demeaning or railing at myself. I was just trying to say that there's much that is important that I haven't adequately (if such is possible) considered in informing my understandings and such a process is disorienting and makes for feeling as if I'm at loose ends (reasonably so).

Anyway, I appreciate your observations and if I'm missing something...well...pooh on me.

I agree with your statement that what group we end up in is truly a crap-shoot. I agree that it is our absolute and demanding obligation as responsible and justice seeking beings to resist the outcomes of that "wheel-of-fortune" fate as much as we can, when we can...when we perceive it...in order to pursue a way of being that we would wish for had we the power to choose. In order to move toward a world where we weren't already halfway doomed (or 'winners') simply because of the accident of birth into some group. Isn't that the kind of place mother Earth should be for all of her children? Isn't that the antithesis of speciesism, racism, sexism and all those other isms that rely on harm and oppression? Isn't that the least of how we human animals should behave?

To me, there's too much damned "dumb luck" for my taste and by that I mean "dumb luck" that exists because of past or current injustices that have benefited one group at the expense of others. I think we have the obligation to dismantle such structures of "dumb-luck", to re-think them...and, hopefully, to move toward ways of living where unnecessary harm is minimized or eliminated.

Or so it seems to me anyway. :-)




Have Gone Vegan said...

Hey veganelder, I first read this shortly after it was posted and have now just finished rereading it, and for what it's worth did not find you to be overly critical of yourself in this post myself. But that's the beauty/challenge of communication -- we bring our own perceptions and biases, if you will, to anything and everything we read, so it's probably surprising then that we're all as coherent as we are, snort.

I enjoyed this post (and the "rant" you left on one of mine), and agree that like it or not, we're all oppressors (it's just a matter of degree and form), or at least, we all benefit from one and/or multiple forms of historical/current oppressions. What I find fascinating though is how blind we are to the oppressions that are so similar to the ones we DO see. I have some ideas percolating about this, and will try to develop them further sometime.

Oh, you mentioned white males, and I have to admit to being somewhat amused by how some of them currently feel quite victimized for having their status as oppressor revealed -- the victimizer becomes the victim if you will. In her latest post, pattrice jones talks about this a bit as well.

Sorry for being in catch-up mode again. One of my goals is to move into keep-up mode soon! :)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. Yes, it is fascinating and, for me, disconcerting to dimly apprehend that comprehending an oppression doesn't necessarily translate to seeing other similar oppressions. It's spooky...I look forward to your thoughts on this.

Ah...white guys...I remember well when the feminist movement of the 1960s started to impinge on public awareness. How quickly we white guys felt picked on. There's actually a bit of truth in the notion of being simultaneously an oppressor and a victim in that instance anyway. If anyone is born into an oppressive system and trained (unknowingly) to be an oppressor...it is a truth that they are a victim of that unasked for and undesired training. It gets sticky however if that victimization feeling doesn't get directed at the perpetrators (those who did the training) and instead gets directed at whomever pointed out what was going on (i.e., the messenger)...which is way too common.

And...being both a victim and an oppressor is a very confusing and disorienting situation. The temptation is strong to write off the messengers as some kind of dingbats and to turn away from the discomfort of truth and embrace the warm blindness of obliviousness. Way too many of us succumb to that temptation and motor on as perpetrator/victims and wonder what all the upset is about...cuz we know we're the 'good guys' and don't mean anyone any harm.

No one said being a grown-up was a picnic...and it isn't.

Going from catch-up to keep-up is a toughie. :-)