I’m uncomfortable sharing my vegan identity in the same way I’m uncomfortable discussing my sexuality, especially when I’m talking to people I don’t know well. The questioner will often insist on a “simple” answer when an intersectional analysis reveals these questions as infinitely complex. When asked “Are you vegan?” by vegans, I assume the primary concern is the consumption of “meat” or products made from animals, but my vegan identity goes deeper than that. My practice of veganism involves avoiding, as much as possible or practicable, the exploitation and suffering of others. My veganism includes the exploitation of humans (certain of whom are categorized as “less than” and labeled “animals”) as well. My veganism includes the environment, upon which we all depend to live, and whose misuse causes immense suffering for species of all kinds all over the world. I question whether vegans I encounter, care who picked their organic bananas or how much that person was exploited. Basically, I don’t experience the word “vegan”, as used in modern contexts, as sufficient.
I became a vegan for pretty much the same reason I’ve taken on any identity: Life punched me in the face and said “Welcome to who you are now”. I had been slowly awakening as a social justice advocate, mostly because it brought me into a community where I was welcome even though I was of African ancestry, same-gender-loving, not-quite-cis-not-quite-trans, raised in a working poor family and other aspects I’m still not as comfortable sharing. Exposed to that community, I discovered tools for better understanding the systems that made moving through life just a bit more challenging than I believed it should be—certainly more challenging than the dominant narrative would have me believe. Going vegan, which I did initially for health reasons, created the space to get perspective on beings I had only allowed myself to be conscious of as food. It wasn’t that hard to make the association between the treatment of non-human animals and the treatment of “sub-human” humans.
As an artist, an activist and an educator I find myself engaging more around issues of structural racism and patriarchy than I do focusing on animal-rights advocacy. The people I care about most, the people who are suffering in front of my face are under siege by the police, under threat of eviction, assaulted because of gender-nonconformity, and targets of other forms of structural violence. Many in the vegan community (at least as I encounter it through my engagement with social media and the internet) don’t get that. It makes it frustrating and it makes the space pretty hostile for anyone trying to draw these lines of connection. I come into these spaces to expand myself and see the movement grow and, instead, often find myself under attack. As a result, I’m working to create a physical space in Detroit (altspacedetroit.org) where I hope to provide safe space for people who have historically been on the margins so we might better center ourselves in our activism, creativity and personal development.
Here are some videos from Reg's YouTube Channel: