content warning for triggering material, including racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, colonialism, transphobia, speciesism, tokenizing & violence against animals.
animal rights people love that word, intersectionality.
maybe you’ve noticed?
it’s a trending term of recent years within animal rights activism culture, popularized as a way to include animal advocacy among other historical-ongoing social justice struggles, as a way to finally be taken seriously when talking about animal abuse, about veganism, about speciesism.
but it is also a way that animal rights has fucked up, repeatedly.
when used to build bridges…
at best, the ‘good intentions’ of this trend is that vegans & privileged folk are only
trying to say “hey, the ways that animals are abused and exploited is just as serious, urgent and similar to the ways that humyns are abused and exploited.”
they are saying animal advocacy is intersectional (for including an often forgotten population of this planet, known as animals). or that other community organizing is not intersectional (for opposing organized violence but consuming animals who are systematically butchered, or for calling capitalists & cops animal slurs like rats & pigs when in fact rats and pigs are always being vilified and attacked).
they are trying explain that opposing speciesism will help in opposing things like racism and sexism too – though not always vice-versa, more on that below.
when used to burn bridges…
at worst, the trend is for vegans & privileged folks to say “hey, i don’t need to be supporting anti-racist organizing because we need to focus on anti-speciesism first okay?”, or “hey, how can my behaviour be misogynist right now if i am trying to help protect animals?”.
because this face of animal rights culture tends to be the loudest and takes up the most space, it is these politics that most people are familiar with when thinking about animal liberation. and that’s really unfortunate for everyone.
(if you identify with the latter/second, then i hope you can keep reading and hold your questions until the end.
if you identify with the former/first, then i hope you can feel some validation that i too know your frustrations)
but regardless of intentions, regardless of where you identify, the point i’m making here is that we all need to work on accountability – in the ways that intersectionality is appropriated & misunderstood when advocating for animals.
and i mean accountability with others – learning when & how to call people/groups/campaigns out & in – and accountability with ourselves – learning how to own up to mistakes/assumptions/crummy-behaviour and how to then learn, love & forgive when moving forward.
so, please, let us all continue with as much patience & grounding-of-egos as we move forward with what i want to say.
what is the deal with vegans & intersectionality?
if you want examples of what it means to blatantly & repeatedly tokenize intersectionality, then look no further than mainstream animal rights.
because this piece is about fostering accountable solutions for intersectional animal liberation, and not about spotlighting intersectional-fails in animal rights through the sharing of triggering & super-offensive posters/slogans/campaigns, i’m asking you to do your own research on that matter.
(if you want a hint on where to start: PeTA)
okay but what is the deal with vegans flocking to intersectionality? where does this inclination come from, to be so eager to make animal rights [appear] intersectional?
an honest answer is that by building one-way bridges with other social justice movements, by tweeting #intersectionality, you can fabricate reputations that appear more radical than they are, or than they deserve credit for.
so when vegans – who are usually super privileged among the humyn hierarchy, in more ways than one of course – say/believe they are being intersectional, they begin to feel confident that they understand oppression despite their privileges (at least, they seem to understand it better than anyone & everyone who tells them they just got triggered or something like that).
they think they can somehow transfer credits, play mad-libs, by switching species with something like gender identity or physical ability.
they assume because they protest pigs dying on slaughtering floors, they can take up space in conversations around racism, about white privilege, about white supremacy.
they mistake empathizing with a bird locked in a cage with knowledge about sexism, about male privilege, about patriarchy.
they think that while everyone should appreciate that animal oppression is akin to humyn oppression, that conveniently does not mean too that ableism or colonialism is relevant to the ways we try to help animals.
they think that because they can speak for animals without being called out by animals, then there shouldn’t be a problem when they speak for/talk over a humyn regarding another issue.
basically, they think oppression is simple, and they use the word intersectionality to express that false idea that all oppression is the same.
but why oh why does it always seem that animal rights fails miserably at at intersectionality??
because a lot of vegans don’t know what intersectionality actually means.
so if you were introduced to the idea of intersectionality through animal rights, you’d probably have the impression that intersectionality means something like “all oppression is connected because all of it is bad”, or that “the violence happening to these animals is essentially the same as what is happening to those humyns”.
no – that is not intersectionality.
because this word gets tossed around so much, both online & offline, it seems to have lost a lot of its significance, a lot of its potential power – at least within animal rights scenes. it has gotten diluted to the point now that most animal advocates always seem to talk around it, reference it, and give superficial passing commentary about it, but never actually seem to practice it.
and that is probably because they don’t know how to manifest intersectionality in animal liberation organizing.
but to get there, we first need to clarify for everyone who doesn’t understand where it came from, what it means, why it’s so important, where it goes wrong and then how to responsibly apply it.
so let’s start resolving that right now.
where it came from
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw – a Black woman, a legal scholar, a feminist – officially coined the term intersectionality in her 1989 article “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Anti-Discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Practices” (and expanded upon more in this 1991 legal note).
read it okay?
though the concepts bound up in intersectionality was being developed throughout the ’60s and ’70s, she is often credited for creating the word to articulate the compounding interactions between different forms of oppression.
what Crenshaw was trying to explain was that you cannot understand someone’s lived experience through any single category, like the category of race, or like the category of gender. instead, she was saying that we all need to appreciate that categories can overlap. specifically, Crenshaw was applying this idea when studying the interactions among race and sex, to help better unpack how sexism can be racialized, and how racism can be gendered.
she says that all that Black women experience is more powerful than the sum of their race and sex, meaning their experiences of racism and sexism cannot be considered only in terms of being Black, or only in terms of being a woman. and so understanding the experience of a Black woman needs to consider the interactions of being both Black and a woman, which frequently reinforce each other.
to articulate her point, after recognizing how Black women often fell between legal categories, Crenshaw drew upon a legal case known as DeGraffenreid v General Motors.
in this, the company GM (which had not hired Black women before 1964 and after 1970 fired all Black women) was sued by 5 Black women for discrimination, but the court found because Black women were not “a special class to be protected from discrimination” therefore GM was not discriminating if retaining Black men and White women.
so not only did Crenshaw recognize this whole “new” category of discrimination being lived by Black women, but she was also fairly explicit to identify how intersectionality can empower both Black people & women, writing:
“Among the most troubling political consequences of the failure of
anti-racist and feminist discourses to address the intersections of race and gender
is the fact that, to the extent they can forward the interests of “people of color” and “women,” respectively, one analysis often implicitly denies the validity of the other.
The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color,
and the failure of antiracism to interrogate patriarchy means that
antiracism will frequently reproduce the subordination of women.”
so Crenshaw identifies two things here:
- each form of oppression is unique
- oppressions intersect because identities intersect
for more from Crenshaw, watch this!
as said above, but is worth emphasizing (both for due-credits sake but also for deconstructing the myths of messiah culture):
these ideas were not entirely original to Crenshaw, because there were many Black feminists and women of color and queer feminists – thinkers & activists – who’s work Crenshaw drew from and built upon.
black feminists of the Combahee River Collective described intersectionality as “simultaneity” – meaning how there are simultaneous influences of identities like gender, race, class, and sexuality.
feminist women of color, as far back as Sojourner Truth in the earlier 1800s, explained that women are not homogeneous, and that gender oppression is often shaped by other kinds of oppression.
other important names include: Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, bell hooks, Nellie Wong, Naomi Littlebear, Mitsuye Yamada, Angela Davis, Chrystos, María Lugones and many, many more. 
all these people have helped identify the importance of understanding how oppression can & does intertwine with itself in different forms and expressions.
and since then, the idea of oppressions interacting have broadened to encompass other identities, like that of sexuality, class, disability, nationality, and more recently, species.
what it means
so what does Crenshaw mean when she talks about “categories” and “intersections”?
in a nutshell, Crenshaw is simply explaining how certain systems of oppression cannot be isolated into distinct categories to be addressed on their own.
this is because these systems intersect with one another, and cannot be un-intersected.
but to elaborate further, without confusing or appropriating anything, let us just refer to her writings directly.
to illustrate this un-intersectionality, Crenshaw used a traffic accident at a crossroads as an analogy, explaining:
“Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another.
If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them.”
so, if while driving (e.g. living), you experience an accident (e.g., discrimination), it is difficult to say if it happened on Racism Street or Sexism Avenue.
and it is difficult precisely because it happened at the intersection of these two streets, when you are on both of them in the same moment as the accident.
so in the legal case of DeGraffenreid v General Motors mentioned above, you can see that Crenshaw is explaining how it is impossible to say whether GM discriminated against Black women due to either a racial bias or a gender bias.
why it’s important
this is a radical idea.
it’s radical because it stops us from focusing solely on one element, on isolating something to dissect it with all our attention.
rather, it grasps at the roots of the problem by shifting attention to the intersections of oppressions, to help us recognize where they meet (e.g., the ways that colonialism depends on capitalism or the ways that classism reinforces ageism).
but more to the point, Crenshaw identified how we shouldn’t be relying on a single category of a lived experience (e.g., being queer, or being chronically ill) to explain something as complicated as oppression (e.g., homophobia, or ableism).
because when we opt to reduce an “accident” by blaming this Street and not this Avenue, then we are failing to really address the entire problem.
precisely because people constantly live at intersections of identities – which change and grow and fade – it is a huge disservice to those we are trying to help when we assume that oppressions are not also experienced within these intersections too.
just as different identities put together into one individual can form really brilliant & beautiful people with magical characteristics, there is also the potential for different oppressions to manifest into one expression that is as nasty as it is complicated, messy, and mutually-reinforcing upon itself.
with it, we are able to develop a deeper understanding of oppression.
without it, we will continue to struggle in accurately understanding the different violence we experience under oppressions, and too how we can produce effective strategies to help change & resolve this harm.
where animal rights gets it wrong
so fucking-up is nothing new to animal rights, but it’s also nothing unique to animal rights either. in fact, a lot of activism and campaigns against oppression have unpleasant examples of getting things wrong, either by what they do or what they don’t do.
these examples include feminism waves and their history of racism, as well as campaigns of anti-racism that has been homophobic, and also gay rights movements that have been transphobic. none of this should be news to you, and neither should the reality that these crummy politics still take up space in different organizations & communities.
understanding the rationale for the above examples is a post for another day – so suffice to say that this exists within animal rights organizing too.
and for ease of understanding, i will group them into 3 camps.
this is when animal rights organizing think that dogs need liberation before any humyn deserves help, or that the fur trade is more important than the leather trade, or that cats in china deserve more attention than cows in kanada. though this organizing can seem legitimate if they have managed to challenge our cultural anthropocentrism, it can still be all into hierarchies, species privilege, and other unfair, unhelpful things like that.
these single-issue campaigns happen all the time.
but before this post derails into unpacking the difference between single-issue organizing vs. focusing efforts strategically, let’s move on.
this is when animal rights organizing refuses to even accept how oppressions connect, let alone intersect. so even though some of this organizing may appear legitimate when acknowledging the complex oppression of speciesism, it still may be defending rich white privilege if it thinks racism & classism is not always relevant to the ways advocate for animals.
and before this post again derails into expressing my frustrations with privileged vegans who want all the credit (of being grouped with other radical anti-oppression efforts) but none of the accountability (of unpacking privileges they have among humyns), let’s move on to the focus of this post.
token intersectional organizing
this is when animal rights organizing seems to attempt an understanding & applying of intersectionality into animal advocacy, but then fucks up real bad along the way.
but where animal rights goes especially wrong with ‘intersectionality’ is when it becomes a token word for saying animal oppression is the same as humyn oppression.
as this was explained throughout the post, this is not intersectionality.
it is not intersectional when you attempt to compare, equate, reference, appropriate or misinterpret the trauma and/or victories of another social justice matter.
vaguely tagging actions or events from different communities, with totally unrelated issues to animals, is not intersectional. it’s misleading and not helpful for those listening, the animals or anyone else.
so those posters equating cows being sexually exploited for the dairy industry with rape and violence against womyn?
and those rallies comparing zoos and circuses to slavery of africans in the confederate south?
when you hear descriptions of indigenous communities as “noble savages” for their relationship with animals?
because intersectionality is about oppressions intersecting with one another.
in the above examples, not only are the other issues being appropriated out-of-context for self-interest, but they also illustrate why other people often see animal advocacy as a wider implied statement that patriarchy had ended, that racism is not alive, that colonialism is not an urgent matter.
whether it has been institutionalized into new expressions, or still resides in old privileges, it is still a loud yes – yes, patriarchy stills need to be smashed, and yes, black lives still matter, and yes, indigenous resistance is still happening.
“The legacy of anti-Black racism is that Black struggle gets deemed the property of all other social justice struggles. The symbols and tactics of Black struggle are deemed the common property of all…
Black oppression is always analogized to other forms of oppression in a manner that disappears Black oppression itself.
It is presumed we already know everything about Black oppression, so we can just use it as an empty signifier to explain other oppressions.”
though we can and should all learn from past efforts in community organizing, and take notes on how the system has attempted to divide us to conquer our spirits, that never excuses us to forget that these are also still extremely different struggles.
black segregation in the u.s. 50 years ago is not the same as humyn consumption of animals today. for some reason, that needs to be said.
because intersectionality is about oppressions intersecting with one another.
all the things above can help explain why so many folks perceive animal rights as just privileged people trying to elevate the status of nonhumans above and before other oppressed humans.
and it makes some sense why so many people would perceive it that way, when we see, time after time, efforts for animal liberation that resort to tokenizing issues, using “shock tactics” (aka, triggering tactics) and objectifying people.
it makes sense, when these same people and organizations make no effort to go beyond superficial solidarity with other struggles of resistance.
it makes sense for others to not support animal rights when animal rights is only working to recreate a hierarchy of oppression, by advocating for animals at the direct expense of others.
again – because intersectionality is about oppressions intersecting with one another.
if you find yourself talking over others who are voicing their feelings of being offended by simplistic comparisons, then you’ve fucked up.
but instead of denying or rationalizing against these legitimate concerns, try instead owning it and figuring out how to be accountable to that mistake.
do better because you can.
how to apply it
so, with the failures identified, now let’s unpack the strategies for practicing intersectional animal advocacy.
so where does the oppression of animals intersect with other oppressions?
there are 3 ways that you can really see this intersections come alive.
- when the exploitation of animals happens simultaneously with the exploitation of another community.
- when speciesism is layered with other oppressions, thereby harming some animals more than other animals.
- when advocacy for animals is corrupted due to influence from other oppressions.
when simultaneous with other oppressions
animals share this planet with us, and we always have. it’s easy to forget that we are all earthlings, especially in this era when humyns live within environments that are increasingly artificial, isolated and disconnected from the natural world.
but that doesn’t stop the fact that animals continue to be affected by humyns. animals live, suffer, and die largely according to the circumstances defined by humyn activities.
and so the oppressions that dominate in our societies? they contaminate the ways that we relate and interact with non-humyns – whether we realize it or not.
so when colonialism wants to build more pipelines on stolen indigenous land? yea that threatens to destroy animal habitats and homes too.
so when capitalism wants to log more trees & pollute more water, to cut costs? yes that fucks up the ways that animals are going to survive another year.
so when patriarchy encourages male-identified folks to prove their ability to commit violence, via hunting and fishing and rodeos? yep that means animals will suffer for these self-destructive behaviours.
so when racism ensures that people of color are more likely to have limited access to affordable & healthy foods that didn’t kill animals? yeah that concerns them too.
so when ableism makes it so that drugs are only available after testing on animals? mhm this oppresses non-humyns too.
when speciesism is layered with other oppressions
recognize that in one important way, animal oppression is like all other oppression:
it is complicated.
complicated like it targets these animals in this way, but not those animals in that way, meaning there isn’t some one-size-fits-all liberation solution for animals.
how some species of animals experience speciesism is going to connect and intersect with other oppressions very, very differently than other species of animals.
and this is important to understand, because ignoring the many particular nuanced experiences among animals under speciesism is always a failure. just as humyns are unique in the ways that their identities intersect with races, genders, abilities and other identities, so too are different non-humyns unique by both species (a dog and a chimp face different forms of species-based violence), and breeds within species (a dog bred for racing or animal testing will experience different oppression than a dog being forced to reproduce in a puppy mill).
so the take-away with this is to stop making generalizations that treat all issues of oppression against animals as the same or requiring the same solutions. framing species-based violence as an issue that harms all animals equally and identically results in erasing the lived experiences of many individual non-humyns.
when advocacy is corrupted with other oppressions
so the above 2 are intersects of animal oppression that we are not responsible for – but they are things we can attempt to undo in how we respond to each. and that is where our advocacy comes into play, and our responsibilities to hold ourselves accountable.
you can often see intersectionality within animal rights when you recognize all the ways that animal allies fuck up campaigns meant to help.
so if promoting veganism looks like shaming cash-poor people for not spending half their budget on local, organic lettuce instead of only a few dollars at a fast-food place, then you’re doing it wrong.
so if defending animals looks like targeting indigenous peoples and their cultural practices because your settler privileges encourage you to think you’re having more of an impact that way, then you’re doing it wrong.
so if promoting animal politics looks like taking up space on the streets, to publicly body-police female-representing people wearing fur, then you’re doing it wrong.
so if articulating the value of an animal looks like catering to ableist rhetoric that says because they are deemed intellectually smarter than a baby they deserve more respect, then you’re doing it wrong.
so if you talking about about veganism looks like hijacking conversations about racism, then you’re doing it wrong.
get the idea?
where to start
how do we keep ourselves accountable, to avoid the above and any future expressions?
well, lots of ways really.
as always, start with ourselves.
start with checking your privilege.
start giving more attention to our behaviour, our language and our assumptions whenever we’re using good intentions to interpret & respond to different voices, conflicting priorities and opposing experiences.
remember that we cannot be advocates and allies for one community while using tactics and philosophies that rely upon, enable, excuse & perpetuate another form of oppression against another community. the ends don’t justify the means.
so our animal advocacy should always be based upon a constant recognition & discussion of these very entangled relationships.
as Javed Deck says, for animals rights “to be a movement that actually transforms relationships between humans and animals it needs to take seriously issues of race, class, and gender, and the ways these impact animal systems. Just like the transformations feminist and queer struggles have undergone as they crossed cultural boundaries, so must animal struggle change across these boundaries.”
and to draw upon the wisdom of pattrice jones – who calls upon us all to work at seeing patterns, commonalities, relationships and systems instead of always seeing only individal abstractions – here are ways to keep at an accountable intersectional effort for non-humyns:
- Think of two forms of oppression, such as sexism and speciesism, and challenge yourself to come up with ways that they intersect
- Think of a problem, such as prisons or zoos, and challenge yourself to identify how many different forms of oppression intersect in it.
- Think of a tactic of oppression, such as stereotyping or forced labor, and challenge yourself to identify the ways that this is deployed in different forms of oppression.
- Think of a goal of oppression, such as profiteering or control of reproduction, and challenge yourself to see how this is sought by means of different forms of oppression
- Think of an impact of one form of oppression, such as the emotional callousness necessary for meat-eating, and challenge yourself to identify the ways that this reverberates so as to support other forms of oppression.
okay, to re-emphasize all that was just said:
intersectional animal advocacy is not
- chanting about how animal abusers are “blind” or “deaf” to their cruelty
- shaming strangers for how they spend their money
- comparing meat and fur farms to concentration camps
- holding rallies that are not safe for everyone to attend
- pairing images of chains on circus elephants with chains on an enslaved african
- using sexualized bodies to sell your campaign slogan
- hosting all meetings, potlucks, socials in space that is not physically accessible
- hosting events where animals cannot attend
- having “vegan socials” at expensive restaurants and without accommodations for people who have to work, or look after children or animals
- and basically anything else where privileged folks are centering themselves in movements that are specifically designed to de-center humyn supremacy.
so if you see this stuff, just don’t support it.
don’t go to it. don’t share it online. don’t retweet or like it.
as Mia McKenzie explains,
“If you’re an able-bodied person and that retreat you really, really want to go on isn’t wheelchair accessible, and the organizers of said retreat have been asked and supported in making a change and done nothing, and you realize how fucked up that is, don’t go.
It works the same for women-only events that exclude trans women. Don’t go. Even if you really, really want to go because your, like, fave artist ever is gonna be there. Especially then. Pushing back against your privilege often requires sacrifice. Sacrifice is hard sometimes, homies.”
and to be explicitly clear, remember this too:
intersectional animal advocacy is
- highlighting how speciesism can be sexist when it targets female animal bodies (e.g., reproduction, sizes of breasts and thighs, menstrual eggs, breast milk), putting them in battery cages and gestation crates OR when it targets male animal bodies using them for entertainment in bull riding and cock fighting
- work with feminist organizations to help establish a solid opposition to our cultures of domination and rape, which normalize non-consensual control
- highlighting how speciesism can be gendered when it markets animal exploitation (e.g., hunting, meat, fur, cheese, fishing, eggs, animal tested cosmetics) in ways that uphold patriarchal expectations of masculinity OR when it connects animal abuse as a tool for enabling gendered violence (as a tactic by the abuser and when domestic violence shelters refuse to accept animal companions as survivors too)
- work with queer & trans-inclusive organizations to help challenge oppressive gender norms, as well as helping establish accessible community housing that is connected to both violence shelters and humane societies
- highlighting how speciesism can be racist when it targets people of color and migrant workers for employment to abuse animals and then forces these people to be criminalized as result OR when the highly subsidized dairy industry promotes its products in every public school despite the fact that the majority of children of color are lactose intolerant
- work with anti-racist organizations to help establish safer employment for migrants and refugees, as well as helping foster community gardens
- highlighting how speciesism can be ableist when it has animals that have been genetically bred to be physically sick from birth (e.g. factory farming turkeys to have bodies that cannot survive a natural life span), OR whom are unable to survive anymore in the wild (e.g., every domesticated animal from cat to dog to cow to pig), OR animals who are slaughtered upon the first sign of a disability (killing horses with broken legs from racing)
- work with disability organizations to help challenge the animal testing industry’s failures, as well as helping fight disability stigmas
- highlighting how speciesism can be colonial when it results in killing wolves and displacing bears as more humyns colonize land to accommodate settlement OR when colonial settlement means bringing animals (e.g., chickens, cows and pigs) to new native lands OR when it involves uprooting animals to have them confined in manufactured ecosystems within zoo cages
- work with indigenous peoples by helping recover knowledge and traditions, while helping strategize ways to halt industrial capitalist expansion
- highlighting how speciesism can be classist when the kanadian criminal law orders high criminal penalties to people who abuse “working” animals (as opposed to wild animals, who do not labour for capitalism like farmed animals) OR when it means that cash-poor people are more vulnerable to depend on heavily subsidized meats that are cheaper to purchase and quicker to prepare.
- work with anti-poverty organizations to help increase access to both fresh produce and dairy alternatives in low-income communities, as well as work to challenge capitalist mentalities that define value by work
and if you want some inspiration, check out these rad efforts that are leading by example:
- VINE Sanctuary is an LGBTQ-run animal sanctuary organization to promote the “queering” of animal liberation.
- The Food Empowerment Project promotes access to fresh produce and dairy alternatives in communities of color.
- The Sistah Vegan Project promotes veganism as an anticolonial, antiracist, and feminist practice.
- At Black Vegans Rock is a resource of influential Black vegans who were doing incredible work to dismantle the stereotype that veganism was a “white person’s” thing.
- The Palestinian Animal League was founded in 2011 by a group of Palestinian youth workers who wanted to support young people to develop kindness and compassion for animals within Palestinian society.
- Resistance Ecology is an organization that prioritizes movement building for animal and ecological liberation and resistance.
stuff to remember
remember that intersectionality is intended to deconstruct the binaries and hierarchies of assuming liberation means one issue or community comes before another.
remember that intersectionality is about recognizing the big picture, to help identify where oppressions link and how different identities inform our experience.
remember that intersectionality is not perfect, and that in challenging some oppressions may be upholding other privileges or marginalizing others in a solution.
remember that intersectionality is a way to help us all work in better solidarity with other communities in different struggles.
remember that intersectionality is for helping us become comfortable with contradictions, in accepting that we can experience privilege and oppression across our different identities.
remember that intersectional animal liberation means that all layers of our identities are valued and respected, that all earthlings are honored and included.
okay that’s all folx.
thanks for reading!