Boris Tsang / Sun Staff Photographer

Christopher-Sebastian , an adjunct lecturer at Columbia University, emphasized how racial oppression intersects with animal violence at a talk on Thursday.

February 23, 2018

Veganism a Way to Combat Race-Based Violence, Says Columbia Lecturer

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This article has been edited after repeated threats to the subject’s personal safety. 

In a packed auditorium on Thursday evening, Christopher-Sebastian, an adjunct lecturer at Columbia University, presented a talked that alternatingly sent waves of tears and laughter throughout the audience as he discussed intersectional discrimination between class, race and species.

The event, which was organized by the Cornell Students for Animal Rights, provided an “abridged version” of Christopher-Sebastian’s class at Columbia on how anti-black racism and class discrimination are related to animal cruelty.

The Columbia lecturer noted early that “the mainstream vegan movement usually focuses almost exclusively on the consumption of animals’ bodies.”

“I want to talk about the psychology that goes into why we do this, the way that we do this and the ways that animal violence and exploitation manifests itself outside of our food system,” he said.

Christopher-Sebastian addressed how mainstream media, institutions, mindsets and lexicon contribute to the oppression of nonwhite or vulnerable persons and species.

“What we do to other animals informs how we treat one another on this planet, and it is always — always — someone who doesn’t have institutional power, and they’re usually brown,” Christopher-Sebastian said.

Christopher-Sebastian described in detail how the dehumanization of nonwhite persons has become a justification for their discrimination. To drive home his point, he displayed an article about a black man whose murder had been justified by police officers because he was an “animal,” along with various historical examples to demonstrate the significance of black people being denied self-determination.

Humanity itself, Christopher-Sebastian argued, is a societal construction. Prior to the sixteenth century, he said, “we didn’t actually think of human as superior to or separate from everyone else in the animal kingdom. But the adoption of ‘human’ has become kind of a by-word for whiteness because in order to be fully human … one should be white.”

“Where does that leave people who look like me? Where does that leave people who look like some of you in the audience?” Christopher-Sebastian questioned.

“As not human, as animals,” was his response.

According to Christopher-Sebastian, by relegating black people and animals to a political identity, white powers have been able to steal their bodily autonomy and effectively colonize and exploit both groups.

However, Christopher-Sebastian was quick to note that  “the commonality of [black people and animal] oppression under the scope of white supremacy … does not mean it is making a comparison; it is the fact that whiteness has analyzed us and decided that we are not worthy of our individual selves and our individual bodily autonomy and that we get to be objectified and used. Both of us, black people and animals.”

Spikes under highways to deter homeless people, and the self-congratulatory nature of sustainable and ethical hunting are among examples of the bodily autonomy of marginalized communities, humans and animals alike, being violated, often violently, for the sake of serving white, capitalist interests, according to Christopher-Sebastian.

Veganism, however, is the most comprehensive way to resist the violence associated with the subjugation and oppression of nonwhite groups, Christopher-Sebastian said.

“It has an impact on environmental racism, it reduces our use of resources, it helps people who are living in poverty, it rejects the violence that happens in slaughterhouses, it helps people across the planet,” he said.

“[Veganism is] what we can do, and is something that is so much more powerful than all the other things that we can do combined. And we don’t have to wait do it, you can do it right now, because your liberation is wrapped up with every other being on this planet we have to love and defend,” he told the audience.