Two scenes from the recent „Black lives matter!“ protests.
Monday in Grand Central. A group of protesters stands in a semi-circle shouting „Black lives matter! Black lives matter!“ A white middle-aged commuter mutters: „All lives matter,“ as he passes the group. The protesters who have heard him are visibly annoyed, and a woman calls to the group: „Just ignore him.“
I doubt any of the protesters would disagree with what the man meant, namely that all human lives matter—black, white or otherwise. And yet they found his amendment of their cry disrespectful, intrusive, and misguided. This was not the time for bringing up other causes or being a smart ass.
At another demonstration, a protester harangued against cops: „We hate pigs! Fucking pigs!“ A fellow protester—vegan—objected „But we love four-legged creatures.“ The „pig“-hating protester turned away and ignored the comment, just like the „All lives matter“ comment had been ignored by other protesters a few days earlier.
I also love four-legged creatures, and I think that all lives matter. Unlike the smart-ass passerby, I mean it literally. All lives matter. I truly believe in intersectionality. Empirically and in theory, different kinds of oppression are related. People who oppress and abuse one type of „other“ being are likely to do the same to other „other“ beings. The parallels between some of the worst historic acts of violence are frightening and clear.
It is difficult for me to understand when social justice activists eat meat. Sure, being passionate about one cause doesn’t mean you’re perfect in every other way. But being the type of person who cares and being intimately familiar with oppression as a concept and its implications for those deemed „less than“ should make you more sensitive to all forms of othering and exploitation.
In short, literally all lives matter to me, and it saddens me to see people bold and caring enough to hit the streets for their fellow-nationals eating the flesh and secretions of their fellow earthlings. Nevertheless, now is not the time to bring this up.
What is the goal of the vegan movement? If our goal is to be right and to make a point, then, yes, we should be shouting „All lives matter!“ and arguing with meat-eating „Black lives matter!“-activists. But if our goal is to get more people from all regional, racial, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds to be vegan, then we have to be sensitive about timing our arguments. Most activists don’t want their cause to be compared to any other, especially not at the kind of pivotal moment the „Black lives matter“ movement is in right now. Comparisons to animal suffering are always considered offensive, and this is especially true for people who have themselves been discredited as animals. All lives matter - but now is not the right time to say so.