The “isms” within veganism

On February 23, That Vegan Teacher was banned from TikTok after sparking controversy around her rhetoric in videos advocating for veganism and animal rights. Some of the terminology she used in her advocacy includes “holocaust,” “slavery” and “murder.” The ban came as people from marginalized backgrounds expressed outrage at the comparison of human oppression to the suffering of animals. 

With over 1.6 million followers on TikTok, That Vegan Teacher, or Kadie Karen Diekmeyer, was a hugely popular creator on the platform, making educational videos about veganism and animal rights activism. However, she soon grew infamous due to her conduct both online and off, embroiling herself in petty spats with Minecraft YouTuber and Twitch streamer TommyInnit and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey. 

On YouTube, commentary personality D’Angelo Wallace made two 10-minute videos addressing Diekmeyer’s problematic conduct and messaging, especially regarding race and victimization. In one TikTok, Diekmeyer insists that a hatred of vegans, or “veganphobia,” is prevalent on the platform. She posits, “If we can get rid of racism here, if we can get rid of homophobia, surely we can get rid of the cruelty that animal rights activists are exposed to on a regular basis.”

Racism and homophobia are far from being eliminated on TikTok and in the world at large. In addition, there is no comparing “veganphobia” to systematic and structural oppression. Unlike one’s race or sexual orientation, Wallace states, you opt in to being vegan. 

“It’s racist, sexist, homophobic, insert bigotry, to compare these issues to animals in any way shape or form,” Wallace says.

Soon after Wallace’s first video, Diekmeyer responded with a video on her own YouTube channel. In it, she repeatedly mispronounces Wallace’s name as “dan-ge-lo” rather than “d-an-ge-lo”, which could be considered a microaggression. She ignores most of his arguments in favor of chastising him for not talking enough about veganism and animal rights. In the process of comparing the oppression of humans with that of animals, she trivializes the suffering of minorities.

“Those who claim to be oppressed should not stand on the windpipes of animals and expect sympathy while they themselves are the oppressors…We need to teach this to all of these minority groups who claim that they are victims.”

Diekmeyer’s belittling of minorities and infantilization is a recurring issue. In an earlier TikTok, she responded to a Black commenter by using the commenter’s racial identity and heritage to shame them for criticizing her.

“Do you know how your ancestors were treated, enslaved? Do you not know what you do to the animals right now in the industry?” Diekmeyer says in the TikTok. “It would be great, even if you’re not saving the animals and if you don’t give a [expletive] about anyone but yourself, you at least don’t make it worse for people like me.”

In another YouTube video, Diekmeyer published an original song called, “I Can’t Breathe”, named after George Floyd final words, with the caption “All Lives Matter” and apparently composed it on the day of his death. She took the dying words of an innocent Black man and somehow made it all about animal rights, which is disgusting and racist.

“I don’t understand why there’s so much passion instilled into creating ethical ways and practices of treating animals before Black folks.”

Savion Jean-pierre, SESP Junior

At one point she sings: “I am a Canadian woman with a protest sign, your Auschwitz truck has run over me. I can’t breathe.” This is in reference to animal rights activist Regan Russell, who was run over and killed by a truck driver transporting pigs to a slaughterhouse last year. Diekmeyer compares pigs going to slaughter for food, to Jewish people being trucked off to be killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust.

Most charitably put, That Vegan Teacher’s rhetoric is overtly problematic. Her comparisons of human and animal suffering are not thoughtful analogies but ill-explained false equivalences. It feels disingenuous and disrespectful.

There is a reckoning on the befuddling racism that permeates vegan advocacy and animal rights activism. This toxic atmosphere has persisted since the beginnings of the vegan community online, according to vegans of color.

“This extremely white wall you’re first greeted with when you first come to veganism pushed me away from the movement entirely,” says Happy Black Legends, a queer Black vegan YouTuber.

Legends responded to some ideas presented in a video of Cheap Lazy Vegan aka Rose, another popular vegan YouTuber. In the video, Rose acknowledges the offense that minorities take to their suffering being compared with that of animals, expressing that words like “holocaust”, “slavery,” and “murder” to describe the slaughter of animals, are often “thrown out, willy nilly, without consideration of who is listening on the other side.” 

However, Rose asserts that it’s “speciesist” to think of animals as less valuable than humans, defining speciesism as “the differing treatment or moral consideration of individuals based on their species membership.” When marginalized groups find comparisons to animals offensive, the assumption is dehumanization, becoming “lesser than” human. Rose wants to get away from this assumption, and says there is nothing inherently wrong with using terms like “slavery” and “holocaust” to refer to the treatment of animals in the meat and dairy industry.

Happy Black Legends, admitting that they hold speciesist attitudes, points out that those comparisons not only hurt minorities, but also turn people away from veganism.

“People see you saying shit like that and they think you’re fucking crazy,” Legends says, “You’re playing into the white… out-of-touch, stupid vegan. ”

Vegan rally from 2017 via pixy.org

This stereotype of vegans is challenging for vegans from marginalized groups, like Savion Jean-Pierre, a junior in SESP who has been vegan for six years.

“Veganism is synonymous with whiteness and privilege,” Jean-Pierre says. “It’s very rare for me to meet any people of color who also pursue a plant-based diet.”

Jean-Pierre used to watch and respect vegan YouTubers like Freelee the Banana Girl and Unnatural Vegan, and had zeal to participate in the “pro-plant”, “pro-veg” lifestyle. However, he now describes them as “crazy”, and has completely lost his passion for the increasingly toxic community. He attributes this toxicity, by and large, to these white women creators.

“They bring this stance of ‘it’s all veg or you’re an unethical, immoral person that doesn’t know what they’re doing.” Jean-Pierre says.  

Upon first hearing the comparisons of inhumane conditions for animals to the Holocaust or slavery, Jean-Pierre “thought it was way too much.”

“I just thought it was insanely insensitive, and it was mostly from the people who were not Black people, which really turned me off,” he says. Jean-Pierre also dismisses the “veganphobia” that some vegans claim to experience. “To even say that, I think, is very tone-deaf.”

In a video, Happy Black Legends raises the issue of vegan influencers piggybacking off of BLM to profit socially off of supporting them, or tear the movement down to prop their own agenda up. Legends says some vegans took to their social media to post, “Yes! #BlackLivesMatter, but what about the pigs, what about the cows, and the chickens! #PigLivesMatter” and “If this was BLM, this would have more notes, this would be getting more attention.” This opportunism speaks to a deep problem with vegans not allowing other kinds of advocacy to exist.

“I don’t understand why there’s so much passion instilled into creating ethical ways and practices of treating animals before Black folks,” Jean-Pierre says. “I think that really speaks a lot to the rhetoric behind veganism, that you would value animal lives as opposed to Black lives first.”

Happy Black Legends encourages people of color who wish to go vegan to get their information and support from other vegans of color in their community, as well as small vegan content creators. 

“A lot of the big creators fail to make the intersectional importance of activism,” Legends says. “I feel like smaller creators put a lot more care and have more interesting perspectives.” 

The lack of intersectionality or acknowledgement of social issues outside the vegan bubble are enormous problems in vegan and animal rights advocacy. Some vegans accuse minorities of being oppressors of animals, while they contribute to an industry that exploits indigenous and immigrant farmers and strips vitality from the land. They claim veganism is accessible and affordable, while the existence of food deserts make this assertion false. 

“I wish we were grounded more in reality with a lot of vegan-based arguments,” Jean-Pierre says. “The real world is much more dynamic than what variables you control in your vacuum environment.”

All those clicks and views on wildly offensive content amount to people dismissing veganism, because they are too busy ridiculing its delivery. With real effort toward incorporating intersectional politics into veganism and animal rights advocacy, the message of humanity, kindness and environmentalism at the core of their activism would draw people in.


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