Aph Ko, who founded the Black Vegans Rock website, also co-authored Aphro-ism with her sister Syl. It’s a comprehensive look at the blog’s philosophical underpinnings, which give voice to the black vegan perspective.
Ever since George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, America has been reflecting on its deeply entrenched history of white supremacy. As we’ve struggled to grasp the deeper meaning of phrases like Black Lives Matter, confusion has inevitably followed.
But is that such a bad thing?
Not according to Aph, who welcomes the confusion as an essential stage in rewriting our “cultural script.”
“Questions dismantle cultural scripts and confusion can produce new blueprints for change. Confusion is a necessary phase in activism, and if you find that you’re rarely confused and rarely challenged, then you may be operating from a script yourself.”
In Aphro-ism, the authors bring clarity to the confusion.
They begin by comparing racism with humankind’s attitude towards animals. Throughout history, they observe, people of color and animals have been dehumanized in the same way.
Until we move from abusing creatures of other species to liberating them, they argue, we’ll continue relegating marginalized people to the lowest rung of society.
Perhaps the proper response to the phrase “Black lives matter” is simply, “How much?” Against what standard does our society measure their importance?
The Ko sisters imagine the measuring stick as a continuum between two poles:
“The racial hierarchy tracks not just a color descent but also a species descent. At the top of the hierarchy sits the white male human and at the bottom sits the shady and necessarily opposite figure of ‘the animal.’ These two poles signify two contrary moral statuses. The closer your category is to the shady, vague ‘animal,’ the less you ‘matter.’”
Aphro-ism focuses on the social differences between humans and other species. They openly discuss the emotional consequences of sub-human treatment:
“Internal racism is that painful and ever-present mode living inside every radicalized minority. It’s the feeling that we are not quite human! The feeling is, ‘We are not human,’ or ‘we are subhuman’ or, if we are having an especially honest moment, ‘basically, we are animals.’”
Given our disregard for the lives of the creatures we eat, imagine the terror that would come from being counted among them. Yet throughout human history, Aph and Syl write, “‘Animal’” is a category that we shove certain bodies into when we want to justify violence against them.”
They continue, “… which is why animal liberation should concern all who are minoritized.”
For anyone willing to simultaneously fight racism and defend animal rights, the sisters provide a great example of the honest (and often uncomfortable) discourse we’ll need to build a better world.
“Being a radical anti-racist activist… requires you to be uncomfortable, exposing yourself to new ideas that challenge the frameworks you operate through. Being radical is about asking the tough question, engaging with different worldview, and prizing critical thinking over popularity.”
What is the black vegan worldview they propose? That issues of racism, sexism and all other ‘isms’ are rooted in humanity’s view of animals. Thus, in order to get to the roots of all oppression, we must first organize around the human-animal divide!