When activist Aph Ko wrote an article entitled “100 Black Vegans,” she planted the seed for something even bigger to sprout. The list — which highlights a diverse array of black vegan activists including writers, chefs, athletes, musicians, and more — garnered massive attention and support, and inspired Aph to create an entirely new platform: Black Vegans Rock.
The site (which launched earlier this month) shines a spotlight on amazing vegan activists from the black community, offering a voice to those too often overlooked by the mainstream movement. Black Vegans Rock is rapidly gaining steam as a powerful platform, and we spoke to Aph about her new endeavor, its impact, and what the future holds:
Compassion Over Killing: What inspired you to start Black Vegans Rock?
Aph Ko: Black Vegans Rock was born out of my frustration with the lack of racial representation for black folks in the vegan and animal rights landscape. On top of that, black vegan perspectives are marginalized and/or ridiculed, even in progressive spaces like anti-racist and feminist activist spaces. I didn’t feel like there was one space completely devoted to spotlighting black people who were vegan. In June 2015, I wrote the first list that spotlighted 100 Black Vegans and I was overwhelmed with the amount of support for that list. So many people were emailing me black vegans who should have been featured on the list and I thought to myself, ‘Hey. Why not create a platform that spotlights black vegans every day since there are so many?’ Black Vegans Rock was born soon after that.
What makes this such a unique project?
It’s unique because it’s devoted to spotlighting black vegans and the work that they do every day. We don’t just focus on recipes and there’s no real ‘leader.’ Also, we spotlight well-known animal rights activists as well as everyday vegans who aren’t as well-known. Everyone can be a part of the site.
It’s easy for mainstream black communities to think of veganism and animal rights as a ‘white person’s thing’ because of the distorted racial representations in vegan campaigns. On top of that, really Eurocentric logic and theory is employed to structure some of these movements which alienates those of us who are often treated as sub-human or animal in our daily lives. Because we’re supposed to view animal oppression as it’s ‘own’ oppression according to Eurocentric logic, a lot of black folks aren’t connecting with the message considering we are also experiencing systemic violence. Only when black vegans made the explicit statement that animal oppression and black oppression are connected and parts of the same territory, did more black folks start connecting to the message.
Black Vegans Rock is also unique because we’re aware that black people are being targeted by meat-centric corporations like McDonald’s and others. Mainstream vegan spaces rarely talk about this, but it’s important to know. McDonald’s has a website called 365 Black where they celebrate black culture 365 days a year. They are trying to form a relationship with the black community to ensure that they become life-long consumers of their products, and Black Vegans Rock is trying to combat those messages by exposing black folks to black vegans every day.
Black Vegans Rock has a sister site that I’ve created called Aphro-ism which provides a lot of refreshing, new theory for black veganism. Racial representation in vegan spaces won’t necessarily lead us to liberation. We have to change the way people think about black oppression and animal oppression which is the next step and some of the theories on Aphro-ism will be instrumental to Black Vegans Rock.
How has the site been received so far?
We have been absolutely overwhelmed with support. I’m receiving messages from black vegans who are inspired by the features. Additionally, I’m receiving messages from black non-vegans who are now re-thinking their relationship with animals because of certain black animal rights activists who have been featured on the site. They are relating to their stories and trying to change their lives. That was the goal. It was to show black folks that they can be vegan too! We have a rich history of black folks advocating for animal rights and eating a plant-based diet. Our culture and history has been erased, so black activists are trying to re-write our future so that we’re living a compassionate life.
Of course I’ve been receiving negative criticism for being divisive. Any time black folks do anything for empowerment purposes, we’re called segregationists. I would argue that in order for black folks to be useful agents of change in the mainstream society, we first need to rebuild ourselves through our own grassroots movements. Black Vegans Rock has been receiving a lot of attacks from some animal rights activists who seem to be threatened by the idea that there are different ways to engage different communities in veganism and animal rights. However, I don’t focus on people who want to attack. I believe that there should always be a diversity of perspectives in activist spaces. The more people share their ideas for making veganism and animal rights more accessible for different audiences, the better. I don’t think there’s one way of doing it. Animal oppression is a very serious problem and we need to always remember that this is why we’re doing our activist work.
What’s your vision for the future of the site?
I would eventually like to have a Black Vegans Rock festival similar to AFROPUNK, but centering on black vegans. I’m all about celebration and education so I would love to have an in-person gathering where we discuss animal rights, veganism, and celebrate black folks who doing incredible things in vegan/animal rights activist spaces every day.
If anyone reading this is a black vegan and wants to be featured on the website, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We spotlight a new black vegan every day so please contact us if you want to be featured, or if you know someone who should be featured.