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Am I A White Supremacist? | Vegan Privilege

Today’s video post was going to be a Q&A and I guess in a sense it still is.  Recently there’s been a video addressed to me concerning white privilege and my failure to address the issues of other marginalized groups within my activism.  Today I’d like to try and answer that concern.

If all you have seen of me is my Bite Size Vegan videos, then you wouldn’t know my history, the things I did and concentrated on before Bite Size Vegan, my own heritage, my own struggles, the things about me that are stigmatized.

And I’m not here to say I have things worse than anyone else because I have no way of knowing anyone else’s experience.  How can I?  The depths of the struggles each of us go through are never fully evident by looking at one another.  I cannot say what oppression, desperation, and utter tragedy someone has been through by looking at them.

I’ve lived with and worked with individuals whose experiences left me heartbroken.  I grew up with foster brothers and sisters who came from the most horrific of conditions and sometimes, gut-wrenchingly, had to return to them.  I’ve been judged and slandered because of aspects of myself that aren’t readily acceptable in certain parts of the country.  We all go deeper than our exteriors and we can never truly know one another’s truth. 

I don’t talk about my personal background on this channel, because that’s not what this channel is about. I’ve done art on some of it in the past.  In fact, I’ve had a whole life before this channel, traveling to India for my Women’s Studies degree to work with NGOs in villages addressing female infanticide and feticide, working with individuals with disabilities for over a decade, researching transphobia within early feminism and even early gay and lesbian movements and fighting against its persistence in the present day, but Bite Size Vegan isn’t about that.  Those are all things I remain fiercely passionate about, but my channel is about providing effective education about veganism.  That doesn’t mean that’s all I am as a person.

Even within my channel, from the start, I’ve said that anyone, anywhere can be vegan and that everyone is welcome within veganism.  Some of my earliest videos like The Myth of Vegan Conformity and Why Are Vegans A-Holes address this very issue.  I do think there is an element of elitism within veganism.

There is often, not from all vegans, but at least some of the loudest ones, an air of exclusivity that is very off-putting and can be a barrier to those wanting to learn more about it. That’s why in those videos and throughout my activism, I at least attempt, perhaps not successfully, to encourage openness and inclusivity for all.  I don’t advocate a specific way of eating because I think the best way to eat vegan is the way that works for you and is sustainable.

As I’ve said before, whether you’re black, white, Asian, Indigenous, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, everyone has the potential to live a life of compassion, which includes being vegan.  Of course for some, the struggle of getting to vegan has farm more challenges than others.

And yes, my channel focuses on veganism.  Are there other evils in the world outside of the struggle of animal liberation?  Absolutely.  But not speaking about certain issues does not mean I don’t find them important.  There are so many things I am passionate about outside of veganism, but I’ve kept my channel focused because I cannot be everything to everyone and I sadly cannot address every issue of importance.  Heck, I can’t even get through my vegan topics fast enough!

I do have plans for a series on eating vegan on a budget and addressing financial struggle within veganism as I’ve experienced these myself.  Again, I’m not here to get into my familial economic past or my own financial struggles, but this is a valid and very real concern.

I have so many topics on my master list that I have yet to address, but again I am only one person and I can’t cover everything all at once. I will say that I’ve long wanted to do an interview series on veganism within marginalized populations.  However, I’ve held off because I feel that contacting individuals and asking if they’d like to be on the channel for this type of series is, in effect, reducing them purely to a figurehead of a race or ethnicity.  In essence, I worry such a series could border on the appearance of parading “token” members of groups across the channel, which is incredibly disrespectful.

Though my heritage is not white and I do not identify as such, I do appear white and understand that with that comes certain privileges and certain assumptions, of which I try to be mindful.  But please don’t think that my not focusing on racial and human issues means I lack awareness or concern.  I, of course, cannot say I understand the experience of anyone other than myself.

But I can empathize.  I have seen how people with visible disabilities are dismissed, thought of as less-than, sub-human even. Nothing quite gets me more aggressive in public than when I’m with someone whose disability is visible and people ask me questions about them as if they aren’t there or they can’t possibly understand themselves.

My own disabilities and the aspects of me that are in the minority aren’t usually readily apparent, and again, there is privilege in that.  While I’ve experienced trauma and those close to me have experienced I believe even greater traumas, what the animals go through is no less horrific and naming it for what it is, meaning rape, enslavement, and abuse, does not draw power away from those humans who have experienced these same atrocities, but rather gives justified weight to those non-humans experiencing them.

In regards to my friendship with Gary and my branding performance, never have I said I agree with Gary all of the time. In fact, I’ve said the opposite.  I don’t agree with him all the time, and especially with how he sometimes chooses to deliver his words.

The video that has called me out linked me to the group 269 Life as I staged the first North American branding early in the formation of their activism.

I performed the branding as an extension of my art practice but I have no official affiliation with 269 Life, though I respect all activists attempting to fight for the animals.  This does not mean I agree with everyone nor support every tactic, approach, sentiment, or belief.

Honestly, I’m not familiar enough with everyone else’s inner workings to even comment.  I try to focus on my mission of vegan education because right now, that is my purpose- and that alone takes all of my time!

But it’s not all that I am and it’s not to say that I don’t have many other passions.

My art practice before Bite Size Vegan focused on exposing the things we don’t want to talk about as a society, whether that’s mental illness, sexuality, the fact there are more than two genders, class distinctions, or what have you.  And with Bite Size Vegan I’m continuing to attempt to expose what is purposefully hidden.

I’m attempting to speak for those with no voice. This does not mean I don’t respect the battle raging for those with voices that simply aren’t heard or acknowledged.  Those screaming at the top of their lungs without even a turn of the head from society.

Just as the suffering of animals does not negate the suffering of marginalized groups, the suffering of marginalized groups does not negate the suffering of animals.  Speaking up for one group is not inherently attacking the other.

I don’t know your experience.  I haven’t felt your pain.  And you don’t know and haven’t felt mine. But we can all fight passionately for healing on a global scale.  If I could be everything for everyone and speak to every issue, I promise you I would.

I hope that this has brought some clarity.  You can let me know in the comments.  Feel free to like and share and subscribe if you’re so moved.  I will be getting back to my more typical video schedule soon.  Thank you for your patience with these few weeks of chaos in my life.

Now go live vegan, in the way that works for you and I’ll see you soon.

See ya next nugget!

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14 Comments

  1. Agnes on 08/19/15 at 11:12 am

    Hi there, though I have never left a comment here before (or indeed anywhere else) and I am probably not amongst the most regular viewers, I just wanted to show a little bit of support. I don’t even know what must have led you to feel like you had to justify yourself in such a way but I sense that you must have been really, deeply hurt. People are so quick to forget that being a vegan doesn’t make you any less of in individual, and that no one should be reduced to a simple “label”. Why should caring about a particular cause prevent one from caring about countless other causes? Thank you for having the courage to continue to educate those who want to listen. Thank you for caring. Thank you.

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on 08/22/15 at 2:05 am

      Agnes, than you so much for this–you have no idea how much it means to me and I apologize for the delay in my own response. I think this did strike a nerve especially because I already think I ever don’t do enough. There are so many battles and so much suffering and I always feel I’m falling short of making a difference. It really means a lot to me to hear your encouragement and have your support. Seriously, thank you so much.

  2. sally anne hubbard on 08/19/15 at 8:48 pm

    Brilliantly stated Emily. You are bringing more compassion to the world.
    Because someone is fighting for animal welfare does not mean they are not concerned with other issues that affect humanity.
    During some of my protests, particularly at circuses and fur stores someone will always say that we protesters are for abortion. I never could understand how a crazy connection is made. To me is it ignorant. These are two totally separate issues. Why don’t some people get it.

  3. Terry on 08/20/15 at 2:21 pm

    Thank you again Emily. Another wonderful job addressing a subject that no one wants to talk about.

    I have been accused of caring more for animals than people and not doing enough for people who need help.
    I like to say that there are gazillions of “Christian” churches that are supposed to be helping people, so I prefer to work toward helping those who aren’t considered by those organizations. And doing something (anything) positive is better than just sitting around complaining about the way things are.

  4. The Vegan Junction on 08/20/15 at 9:36 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to write this.
    Although with the possibility of being too vague…

    I fully appreciate (as I hope many do) that rarely does a major issue exist exclusive of other issues. Namely, prejudice comes in many forms, and the intersectionality of issues is very real. However, many activists across the ages have realised that in order to contribute to substantial change within a given area, it often works best to dedicate your focus and time primarily to “one” cause.
    As much as I hope, and prefer to see, activists respect and acknowledge other struggles when they can (particular when they intersect with their primary focus), it would likely be impossible to continually speak to other issues while still being effective in creating sizable positive change for one main cause. Even within veganism, there are so many aspects to address: the suffering of non-human animals; the environment; health; under privileged societies struggling to get access to affordable, healthy, local, plant-based foods. These are all part of the vegan/plant-based movement. There are so many issues that need addressing. And they are no quick fix.
    Hopefully, we can all make a bit of difference, and make this world a little better than we found it, using the resources, experience, abilities, and unique perspective that we each have.

    I think all I am really saying is thank you, for clarifying some of your own standpoints and for all that you do to bring awareness to the vegan movement, in your own way. It may not appeal to everyone. But it will surely appeal to someone, thus, initiating change.

  5. Kellie Kay on 08/22/15 at 1:35 am

    Well said Emily!

  6. Kellie Kay on 08/22/15 at 2:04 am

    Well said Emily! I tell people my compassion lies with the animals.

  7. Ann Madison on 08/22/15 at 3:29 am

    I found your site a few months ago and I have am so impressed with your research and your ability to state your case without attacking others with opposing views. Your intelligence and compassion are quite evident in you videos and writings. This post is no exception. My only question, to the public really, is why should you ethnicity matter? My belief is that we are all human beings sharing this earth for a limited number of years and we need to be kind to all living things. The country of origin of ancestors shouldnt define anyone and it is a sad thing that a person has to explain their”race”. You have spoken so well in response to this person, I am only sad that you needed to do so. Please realize the wonderful job you are doing educating those of us who are new to the vegan world and those of us ignorant to what is happening to the animals in our world. Thank-you.

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on 08/26/15 at 1:03 am

      Thank you so very much Ann! So glad that you found my site. And I appreciate you taking the time to share this and of course am touched by your support. Many thanks.

  8. Michaelb on 08/22/15 at 8:15 pm

    Following Agnes, if this is a response to something someone said, it is a reminder that our words can be more powerful than intended. Looking over the years of my Vegan journey, I am sure I said things that caused more damage than helped. Taking the ego out of the message places the message back where it is intended in showing compassion to all. Your message is a reminder to me, thank you.

  9. Jane on 08/22/15 at 11:39 pm

    This 68-year-old grandma is thrilled to see an intelligent young woman of obvious compassion speak so eloquently about the many dimensions of sentient experience. Emily has brilliantly illustrated the difficulty in living a compassionate life. That she has chosen to focus her energies in no way suggests that she lacks compassion for and understanding of other issues. Indeed, once truly embarking on a life that rejects cruelty to one segment of life, it becomes natural to open one’s heart to all that suffer, and to desire dignity and equality among all that live. Veganism is a darn good locus.

  10. Len on 08/24/15 at 8:16 pm

    Don’t let ’em get you down Emily. Sounds like a case of subconscious guilt to me. Wonder if these folks ever heard of Gandhi- he never wavered in his animal rights beliefs while destroying the British empire in India.

  11. vegangsterARNP on 08/25/15 at 6:36 am

    the woman in question is a racist, making outlandish accusations at any vegan activist who happened to have been born white; out of our control. nobody chooses where they are born or to what nation.
    I’m sad you felt the need to respond to her in this apologetic way. She is completely self serving, and ignorant. Not worth your justification of your actions, nor your explanations of all the good work you have done.
    People do not have to wear a badge of privilege, and this video is like yours. How sad you did it in my opinion. But it was your choice.
    I responded to her but not in an apologetic way, but rather by pointing out how she doesn’t talk about the animals at all. it’s all about her and her own.
    People who do work for those from whom they benefit nothing, are demonized in society, and those who champion causes related to themselves are lauded.
    Fighting for the non human animals who are at the bottom of the hierarchy, created by humans, is the most noble fight one can join.

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