Friday, August 21, 2015

I still don't get it.

In a previous post I wrote about objecting to unnecessarily inserting race into advocacy against animal cruelty...and about resistance to that objection. Another bit of writing provided information about coded language. Familiarity with those two posts provides context for what's written here. If you haven't read them you will need to do so before proceeding. Please read them in order, first read "I don't get it" and then this post titled  "Here are two videos".

A month or two after that first disagreement, some new member to the group stuck up, on the vegan group's facebook page, a link to a thug kitchen video with the note that she found it to be "funny". It was up for several hours (before I saw it) with no "likes" or comments by anyone. When I realized what the link led to, I messaged the member and told her that some PsOC (persons of color) find this stuff offensive and would she please consider removing the posting...I also provided a link to an essay by a vegan chef (who is a person of color) detailing his reasons for finding the thug kitchen presentations unacceptable. No accusing or remonstrating...just a request that she consider removing it.

She did remove the link but...she also withdrew from membership on the vegan group's facebook page. I had, at the same time I messaged the posting member, also advised the founding members what I had done...and then...the "fun" started.

I thought about writing a long and elaborate and detailed recounting of all the back and forth that went on but...that's a pain in the ass to do and would likely also be tedious to try to read. This thing will be long enough as it is. I will use one founding members reaction to serve as a summation of what transpired.

I'll call her founder A...she responded within a few hours and wrote that unless something was "blatantly racist" it should be allowed to be posted as long as it advocated for the animals. She also wrote: "I joined xxx to help animals. I love all But there are NOT millions of black people killed everyday. There are MILLIONS of animals killed EVERYDAY. That is what our focus must be. We are not the xxx xxxx Human Rights Team."    (I put in the xxx to omit the name of the vegan group, the rest is as written by her)

Note...for those of you who might want to educate yourselves...go read this enlightening bit of writing about "purple people" (she said spotted/striped instead of purple...but it's the same notion) meme. You might also note the oblivious contradiction between saying it was acceptable to post racist content as long as it wasn't "blatant" and simultaneously voicing "love" for "all beings". She also presumes that avoiding offensive and/or racist words, actions or images when advocating for veganism is the same as being a "human rights team". 

She also noted that an "influential" person had been upset and quit the group because of my objection. A bit later Founder A wrote that she had contacted and apologized to the posting person and that she (the posting person) was incensed that someone had approached her about something "petty".

I gotta tell ya...when I saw what Founder A wrote and when I saw that the posting person thought it was "petty" to avoid offense to marginalized groups of people I felt like the toxicity of the obliviousness and insensitivity that the founding members and posting person were defending was more than I wanted to associate with.

Silences can, and do, imply complicity...and I watched and waited and waited...and none of the other members objected to what founder A had written. That pretty much did it for me.

The others on the founding committee failed to challenge the ugly obliviousness and racist stance shown by her statement. They agreed (as implied by their silence) that concern with racist and/or offensiveness to marginalized humans was "petty"...well...unless it was "blatant", I guess. I felt my continued association with that committee would taint me with the ugliness I perceived in their position. I do plenty of lousy crap all by myself...enough so that I really don't need or want to be grouped with a bunch of white people who think avoiding offensiveness is "petty" or that racist and hurtful stuff is acceptable unless it is "blatant". 

****As an ability to opt out of association with the committee/group is an aspect of one of the "benefits" of white privilege. One of the things that white people can do...if they choose to get away from unpleasant race related situations. PsOC have to live in a society dominated and controlled by white people...they can't withdraw or choose to stay away from it in any practical sense because it's everywhere and omnipresent for them. I have/had the option to quit fooling with the group as can people of color...but...they can't quit living in the society that is U.S. America. (short of moving to another country but the problem with that is the fact that racist ideology has infected most humans societies to some extent or other)

This fact of being able to exercise a version of white privilege bothers me and I'm contemplating what to do about this...I have some ideas but they're still forming. This is an all round sucky situation and one that will (I hope) eventually result in some new advocacy avenues. Maybe another group? I don't know right now.

Given the distress and dismay all this has produced in me leaves me profoundly appreciative of the incredible strength and resilience that exists in the spirits of those who have to deal with being targeted by this awfulness constantly. I question my capability to deal with what PsOC here in U.S. America have to deal with on a daily basis. I can't wrap my mind or my feelings around all that. I am in awe of such capacity for coping. We white people rarely comprehend that this country has millions of amazing and astonishing humans living here. I am deeply impressed and humbled by their ability to go about leading their lives without screaming or weeping 24/7. I really have no words for expressing my feelings about this. *** (the *** denotes the beginning and ending of the aside)

It seemed obvious to me that I had stirred up, in these ostensibly "good" white "progressive" people, dynamics that were rallying to defend their "goodness" instead of consideration of the unacknowledged and denied (but readily apparent) racist meanings of thug kitchen and/or the feelings of those who might be offended. I'm not suggesting that these founding members are "bad" people but...their denial and unacknowledged ignorance meant offensive and/or hurtful content on the vegan group facebook page not only would be would be defended. That's simply not acceptable to me, I can, and must, do better than that and if they choose not to...well...I really did not want to be complicit in their doings.

This quote from a book about the meaning of whiteness seems to summarize aspects of the reaction I had stirred up.
"While it is certainly ubiquitous, white superiority is also unnamed and denied by most whites. We whites who see ourselves as "against racism" often base our identities in a denial of the racially based privileges we hold. We more often opt to protect what we perceive as our moral reputations, rather than recognize or change our participation. This is why pointing out white advantage will often trigger patterns of confusion, defensiveness, and righteous indignation....." (DiAngelo, 2012, p. 200-201)
After all the responses from the committee members were made, the upshot was that the four of them (all white people) had decided that thug kitchen, albeit 'controversial', wasn't offensive and I was being too "emotional" about race and race issues.

This is equivalent to four men deciding that something that a man did wasn't sexist...even though a woman targeted by his behavior had complained that it was offensive and sexist to her. Victims can say what hurts or is damaging or is offensive, not perpetrators. Perpetrators can agree that something is hurtful or affirm that they wanted to cause harm...but they can't say something did not hurt...because they were not the victim.They may plead ignorance...and that might even be true...but then their task is to remediate their ignorance...not to try to silence the victim or deny the pain of the victim.

Multiple essays can be found online, written by people of color, decrying the ugly and racist implications and content of thug kitchen (go watch the videos and read the previous post) but these four white people believed they had the standing to judge whether this was offensive and/or racist. White people can (maybe) affirm something as being racist...but we pretty much have no business trying to say something isn't racist when there are voices from the targeted group saying something is wrong or bad or painful or offensive. It is not the intent that is the impact.

We might fantasize about whether something was offensive or not but...we (white people) are not persons of color. We have not lived in a racist society, we don't have years and decades and centuries of being smacked with offenses and put-downs and demeanings and racist ugliness and violence and enslavement. Unless you belong to a minoritized and targeted group (one with little or no social power) then you can, at most, only fantasize about what that experience is like. You really can have no lived experience of that.

It was extremely disappointing to me that none...absolutely none...of the comments among the group members indicated any consideration or concern that PsOC that belonged to the group might have been offended or had their feelings hurt by the thug kitchen posting. It seemed to never enter their mind that one of their responsibilities was to endeavor to ensure that no group members are subjected to such postings. My presumption is that if a group member who was a  POC had dared to complain about the post...based on their reaction to my objection...they apparently would have told the POC that the post was not offensive or that they were being "emotional" or "too sensitive".    

The decision by these four white vegan group founders, that thug kitchen is not offensive, is an example of both white privilege and of white obliviousness and exemplifies, in microcosm, what passes for "normal" in this culture of white supremacy. And...these four are the "good guys"...they don't wear pointy hats or white robes. (but founder A...and the others by their silence...maintain that anything "up to blatant racism" is acceptable...dear god)

As I write this I find I'm wanting to scream. The disconnect from reality is dismaying and toxic. We white people are in deep deep doo-doo and subsequently so are those groups over which we dominate. Those of us who are white vegans are often as warped and ignorant about ourselves and our culture and our oblivious participation in and supporting of oppression as anyone else. Even though you might think that we would know better since we are theoretically trying to help victims of oppression. Shame on all of us who opt for the false comfort of oblivion.

After a lot of thought, I advised the founders that probably I wanted to exit the committee but...before I did I asked that a mutually agreeable statement about why I was leaving be put together and shared with the general membership. I was (and still am) concerned about group members who happen to be PsOC not being aware of the attitude of the founders toward possibly offensive postings. I was pretty sure they wouldn't go for that (even though they would have a hand in the writing of this statement) because their "white goodness" might look a little hollow if all this were brought out into the open.

My wavering about remaining associated with the committee was all they needed...I was advised that they were sorry I felt the way I did but any statement might cause "turmoil" and was a no go and...just to make sure I didn't bother anyone they not only removed me from the committee...they tossed me out of the group altogether and banned me from the facebook page.

Some words from a song I like characterizes this strange situation too well...'kind of funny and kind of sad'. I suspect not many humans have had the experience of being ejected from an organization they helped start...especially for objecting to oppression in a group supposedly devoted to resisting oppression. There are strange and bizarre winds blowing all through this.

I started writing this series of posts as an attempt to share my experiences with some white people who started a local vegan group to support other vegans and to advocate for the sister/brother Earthlings who aren't human animals. As I got into writing about it I realized I had some vague and unformed notion of laying it all out in a somewhat neat and tidy package and saying "see, this is what happened and this is what it all meant". But it really isn't that way (fact, nothing much that involves living beings can be put into neat and tidy packages) and I found the very act of writing about this whole situation resulted in me seeing and thinking about things that hadn't occurred to me previously.

Which means I can, and will, write more about this in the future. It's too rich and condensed and full of not immediately apparent meanings to leave it as is. There is still much for me to learn.

But...this is enough for now. I want to extend my deep gratitude to the friends I have who also happen to be identified as people of color. Their willingness to dialogue with me about this slow motion debacle as it unfolded was helpful beyond words. I feel incredibly honored that they were willing to trust me enough to speak openly and honestly with me. I treasure that trust and their kindness and their acceptance immensely. I am humbled to have the gift of their friendship. I also want to thank other friends, who are identified as white, who were able to go beyond their cultural conditioning and be supportive and helpful and understanding. That too was and is so very valuable.

I spent many hours bending the ears of these terrific people because I knew there was much I didn't comprehend and/or was oblivious to and their patient listening and feedback and reactions were absolutely crucial in helping me stumble through all this. If I've failed to express how disorienting and mind-boggling this has been, and continues to be, it's because I'm a lousy writer. I promise you that it was and is all those things and more.

I'm also grateful that so many rich sources of easily accessed writings and videos are available via the internet. I've linked to many of them and the one thing they do is, for those who can access them, remove any/all excuses for remaining oblivious and/or ignorant. Their richness and the opportunity they offer for consciousness expanding are amazing.

I am infected by unwanted and undesired racial biases. My culture gifted me with them. I detest them and am repulsed by them...but that doesn't make them disappear nor does it make them lack influence. It's my job to clarify them and to struggle against them.

Speaking out against what I saw as harmful and hurtful postings in this vegan group resulting my being banished. That's not an unusual outcome to challenging such harms. Everything that's gone on has been an opportunity for me to learn more about myself, about other white people, about unrecognized and/or unacknowledged insult and injury to people of color and about the power of 500 years of white denial. I console myself with the fact that I'm the one who was the recipient of rejection and disbelief instead of some person of color who happened to see that ugly posting. I belong to the group (white people) who perpetrate and maintain this awfulness and it is appropriate that I catch some heat about interrupting it instead of an innocent person being victimized.

I've no doubt that I've made errors and offenses in the writing of this. I would welcome assistance in my journey of learning if anyone noticing any of these would choose to point them out and push me to fight through my sometimes infuriating and irritating (to me and probably others too) obliviousness. But, if you don't want to put up with an ignorant white guy, I don't blame you.


Have Gone Vegan said...

Thanks for the update, I think. Yikes! So sorry you had to go through that strange and stressful situation. Guess it was a real eye-opener though, unwanted as it may have been. Thank you for sharing it with us. We vegans have a lot to learn...

Christine said...

I am sorry to hear about this outcome, it must be depressing for you to say the least, not to mention stressful and frustrating. You where right to speak out, it takes courage to do so. There is no place in veganism for racism or a any other prejudice and human rights are to my mind part of the vegan ethic as are the rights of non human animals. I was not previously familiar with Thug Kitchen, but looking at it I can see what you mean, it is offensive, whether or not racism was intentional it nonetheless taints the cause of veganism. Again well done for speaking out.