There’s a lot of debate in the vegan community currently regarding how we approach veganism and whether or not it should be an “intersectional” approach.
Intersectionality is a term coined by American civil rights advocate and black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw, and it refers to the acknowledgement that identity and oppression occurs at various different intersections and not just in modular categories for example: race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, etc. Essentially, an intersectional approach requires recognising people as multifaceted individuals and acknowledging that not everybody has the same experiences, or the same experiences of oppression, despite sharing an aspect of identity. For instance, black women are oppressed in terms of both race and gender and this experience of oppression can not be compartmentalised. This is the sort of identity we overlook when we ask questions such as “Which is worse: racism or sexism?” Well, ask a black woman. And she will probably tell you both. Failure to apply an intersectional approach to activism and life in general often leads to a perception and representation of oppression that appeals to white or male privilege. That is, in any case, male voices and/or white voices are prioritised over female voices and/or the voices of people of colour. This isn’t a concept that only applies in discussions of power relations, either. It is a general understanding about people’s lives and their unique experiences of the world.
So, when we imagine a veganism that is intersectional, it may be confusing at first. How can we understand the oppression of animals through intersections of oppression? Where does oppression intersect for a pig, or, say, a cow? Actually, the intention is not to apply intersectionality to the animals but, rather, the people. As previously explained, everybody is different and not everybody experiences life in the same way. In consideration of this, vegan activism and advocacy may need to make room to consider the various different circumstances which people find themselves in. Vegan activists and advocates intend to create more vegans. I myself as a middle-class, able-bodied white woman with a strong support system around me, and access to an abundance of resources and food, don’t find it particularly difficult to be vegan. Other people, however, may have a situation that is unlike mine in one way or another. For example, some people live in what is known as a “food desert”, which refers to urban areas where access to affordable and healthy food is extremely difficult. Veganism in these areas is perhaps not as straight-forward. Intersectional veganism is about considering the fact that not everybody is able to approach veganism from the same starting point which may hinder their ability to start or maintain a vegan lifestyle.
Some vegans want to do away with intersectionality altogether and “focus on the animals”. The implication is that over-attention to human issues, such as those described above, leads to distraction from the matter at hand: animal suffering. We should stop bickering amongst ourselves and highlighting racism (etc) in each other’s activism and advocacy and just think about the animals. Human issues are unimportant in comparison to what animals go through. I think the fatal flaw of this outlook just goes full circle. Not everybody is in a situation where they can just “focus on the animals”. Some human issues need paying attention to. There are genuine barriers, both physical and social, that prevent people from being vegan. There are definitely instances where people too easily accuse others of ‘racism’, or ‘sexism’, or some other discrimination, and they derail vegan conversations by dismissing everybody as bigots rather than initiating a constructive conversation (although, sometimes, the accused of racism, and the likes, are, in fact, being racist and it is highly appropriate that someone informs them of this). Generally, though, it is about listening to each other and especially to minorities in order to actively avoid discrimination.
Therefore, I would argue that veganism should take an intersectional approach wherever possible, always keeping in mind the complex and diverse nature of humanity and society. That is not to say that all vegans must now commit their time and efforts to solving human issues, it is simply a matter of acknowledging and understanding the order of the world and accepting that oppression and hardships exist outside of the animal world (even if perhaps not in your world personally). I think a failure to do so leads to many of the bad stereotypes and stigmas which often surround the vegan community. That we don’t care about humanity, that we are classist, or ablelist. I really do view intersectional veganism as a more reasonable approach and alongside this we can clearly fine-tune our activism and advocacy with a better understanding of the world which, ultimately, will surely lead to greater efficacy of the movement.