5 Ways to Help Make the Vegan Movement More Racially Equitable

5 Ways to Help Make the Vegan Movement More Racially Equitable

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, countless individuals, politicians, companies, and nonprofits have taken to social media—many for the first time—to express solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and protestors fighting structural racism, racial inequity, and police brutality.

These are important actions, but let’s acknowledge them for what they are: the first steps in what should become long-term commitments to create a racially just society. We need to ensure our solidarity isn’t merely reactive to public pressure but proactive and embedded in the fabric of our lives and our movement for animal rights.

George Floyd’s murder kicked off a wave of protests against police brutality around the world.

As animal advocates, supporting racial equity is not just the right thing to do; it’s also the effective thing to do. The staff make-up of most animal protection organizations—and especially leadership roles—is predominantly white. However, to become a true mass movement for animals, the environment, and public health, we must devise new ways to fight animal exploitation by embracing and shifting power to Black, Indigenous, and people of color, so our cause can appeal to a larger audience.

It’s painfully obvious that the meat, dairy, and egg industries thrive on the exploitation of primarily Black, brown, and lower-income communities in order to keep animal products cheap and plentiful. To end factory farming, we need to amplify and center people directly harmed by these systems of institutional racism and engage in meaningful and mutually beneficial campaigns to end the exploitation of both human and nonhuman animals in our food system.

We must devise new ways to fight animal exploitation.
Fighting systemic racism and updating our work for animals with a lens for racial justice will make us a stronger and more effective movement in the long-term. Here are five steps individuals and organizations can take right now to bring their public statements to life and extend their support for #BlackLivesMatter beyond social media statements. Much of these steps hone in on how you can push your workplace to bring racial equity to life, but they apply to any vegan (or otherwise) company or nonprofit you’re affiliated with, whether as a customer, volunteer, or donor.  

1. Commit to a Personal, Introspective Process

Fighting racial injustice starts with you. It can be daunting to understand how you can make change, but we all have a role to play in this fight, and we all have agency. Start with reading and listening to Black voices in and out of the animal rights movement.

We often think of racism in its extreme forms—for example, the shooting of unarmed Black people. But racism is often
subtle and frequent. It’s asking a Black person why they are “so angry,” or asking someone who isn’t white “where are you really from?” It may feel good to pretend that we don’t see color or race, but research shows this backfires. We all hold biases because we absorb them through our culture and upbringing, and it’s up to us to be honest with ourselves and reflect on our prejudices. (Test yourself for hidden biases here.)

As you do this work, try to understand the assumptions you bring to interactions with people of other races, and correct for them. How do you promote racism with verbal, behavioral, and environmental cues (or “microaggressions”)? What vegan organizations and companies do you support, and what is the racial makeup of these organizations? Which influencers and activists do you follow for perspectives on veganism and animal rights? Is your vegan advocacy inclusive of people with different income levels? If not, what can you do to go beyond your advocacy comfort level?

2. Encourage Diverse Workspaces  

An organization’s most important policies and communications don’t come out of thin air; they’re created by executives and sometimes the board. If people of color aren’t at the table, these teams are significantly more likely to make ineffective or insensitive decisions based on the group’s limited viewpoints.

Having a strong representation of Black voices in senior leadership levels is key, but it’s only meaningful if those voices are heard, valued, and sought out. If not, staff and other stakeholders will see this representation as tokenism, a symbolic effort to showcase an appearance that is different from the reality, often to prevent criticism or to avoid making substantive changes. It’s damaging to morale, and to an organization’s bottom line.

3. Encourage Your Workplace to Take Accountability  

Have them communicate transparently why a commitment to racial justice personally matters to the leadership team, and what actionable steps they plan to take to make amends and rectify (e.g. conducting a pay equity audit with a plan to achieve parity).
If you are a white person, be humble and check your discomfort and fragility when discussing race. Share how you’d like others to communicate with you when you make a racial mistake. Value feedback, and make amends. 

4. Place Equity Strategies Into Business Plans  

Operationalize racial diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in your organization at all levels. This will take substantial time and monetary investment. Developing a strategy to integrate DEI into company policies, practices, systems, and procedures is vital. Review your organization’s strategic plan, business model, and/or theory of change with a DEI lens, and incorporate goals, benchmarks, and accountability metrics.

5. Hire a DEI Expert to Create Long-Term Change

Most companies need help integrating DEI into their organizational culture. Hire a DEI consulting partner to start the journey, and prioritize finding one led by Black women. While they will help you get started, committing to racial equity means integrating these concepts at every level of a company for as long as the company exists. This is not an exercise that can be done once and checked off a list.

You’ve done the right thing by taking a stance against racism. But remember: this is just the beginning. You have a long road ahead to truly integrate racial equity and inclusion into your company’s culture, but there are countless resources and experts to help you bring your statement to life and extend your work beyond social media statements. Let’s use this moment to make long-term personal and professional commitments so that everyone’s needs are met.

Aryenish Birdie is the founder and executive director of Encompass, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy nonprofit.