I was recently approached by a perky-looking student in their late teens/early twenties, bravely standing firm in the floods of rain swooping down from the sky which were characterised with flashes of lightning. I admired her determination as she shuffled from big to small puddles, trying to talk to people who did not give a damn what leaflets she had or what speech she had rehearsed religiously that morning. So when she sloshed over to me I gave a damn and listened to what she had to say, only to be slightly annoyed because I lowkey felt that the cause she was promoting wasn’t worth the extra water drenching my socks.
Long before the phrase ‘privileged causes’ popped into my mind I had seriously considered doing one of my dissertations on black peoples’ lack of advocation for non-human focused causes when compared with other races. When I say (or rather type) ‘non-human focused causes’ I mean veganism, the environment, animal rights etc. The basis of this hypothesis was that black people have numerous immediate concerns affecting the quality and longevity of their lives, so do not have the time nor emotional pull to be out advocating for political action for an animal’s life when one’s own life is so often not valued (as Childish Gambino so aptly explained in ‘This is America’). The popular black feminist and author, Roxane Gay, once wrote:
“A late-night television host did not cry on camera this week for human lives that have been lost. He certainly doesn’t have to. He did, however, cry for a lion, and that’s worth thinking about.”
Now before you all jump into my mentions and comments, I am not saying that there aren’t any black people who care about non-human causes. Black people have pets, recycle, donate to such causes, are vegetarians/pescatarians etc. However the number of black people who pursue such areas within the charity industry as their career, who are willing to spend a Saturday campaigning and handing out flyers, who keep up with environmental/vegan/animal news, go to the events, follow the Facebook groups, like the insta posts, & engage in twitter debates over non-human causes are way less than other races.
Generally speaking, to passionately care about the chickens being killed for a Sunday roast means that you are privileged enough to do so. Your immediate priorities are not incarceration rates, mental health rates, and glass ceilings. You care because the quality of life that you and the people you know are living is of a particular standard.
My issue with many of these causes is that in order to care, you have to have the resources and time to do so. But rather than attempting to ensure that everyone can live a life which enables them to care, I just hear rants from middle class ‘woke’ people who spend their days posting angry tweets and still find it ok to sniff coke on a night out (no shade, just observations). But instead of jumping down people’s throats with Netflix documentaries, I don’t understand why there isn’t a rallying cry from the vegan community to make healthier foods less expensive than fast food so that people can be in a position to consider this lifestyle change. If you are a single mum of three & working two jobs, you aren’t really going to trek to a farmer’s market on a weekly basis and spend hours learning new vegan recipes. But if the general cost and accessibility to such foods are made easier, people may move towards the veggie life organically.
For animal rights, obviously I don’t want to see animals becoming extinct or being mistreated, like I love penguins! However I cannot actively care when there are animals in this world living a better quality of life than human beings. In both the veganism and animal rights campaigns it deeply frustrates me when an animal’s struggle is compared to that of a black body, or rather, any human being. Comparing struggles in this way is exploitative because human poverty, abuse, & general struggle isn’t over. Surely in 2018, only 24 years after South African apartheid, 37 years after the Brixton riots, and 50 years since the American civil rights movement, we are not comparing struggles which still affects human lives being born today. To put things into context, if my parents were born in America, they would have been born into Jim Crow law. So considering that such events occurred in very recent history, and still affect lives being born today, it’s difficult for me to want to actively care about non-human causes when my time, money, and argumentative techniques can be used for human lives.
So, to all of the non-human focused charity activists out there readying your keyboards for social media wars, I ask- no – I implore of you to consider trying to make the lives of human beings better, so that they may be in the position to aid your cause too.