Aph Ko, Black Vegans Rock – “Representation is the first step”

Aph Ko, Black Vegans Rock – “Representation is the first step”

December 18, 2018 0 By Emma Letessier

Creating a space to celebrate the achievements of the black vegan community


Aph Ko is a black, vegan, decolonial, feminist, who also identifies as an ‘Afro-futurist’, citing that as the ‘space where real liberation for black folks is taking place’. Aph was the first person to ever compile a list of 100 influential black vegans to help dismantle the stereotype that veganism was a “white person’s” thing.


This inspired her creation of a unique and dedicated space on the subject, in the form of the recently launched ‘Black Vegans Rock’ project; a digital space that seeks to spotlight everyday black vegans and celebrate the diversity of talent and achievement in the black vegan movement.


When compiling the list, Aph realised just how many active black vegans there were that rarely got recognition for the work they were doing. The release of her article, entitled ‘100 Black Vegans that Rock’, sparked both praise and criticism from members of the vegan community and the experience proved insightful for Aph.


“First of all, I learned how powerful it is when black grassroots organising takes place. I am tired of only critiquing Aph Kowhite spaces as though I don’t have the power to create my own space. Additionally, I learned how disingenuous some people are when they scream about black lives matter.


“All over Facebook, folks who kept talking about black lives showed disdain for my list that celebrated black achievements. I don’t think people realise that you can celebrate black lives….while they’re still alive.


“You don’t have to wait for a dead lifeless body to start celebrating blackness. Part of the reason why black folks are being killed is because we aren’t seen as cultural contributors because our brilliance has been erased by white supremacy. So, if you want to help the black lives matter movement, you can do more than just re-posting an image of a dead black person on the ground on your Facebook page. You can celebrate black projects”.


Animal oppression is a part of black oppression.


The publication of ‘100 Black Vegans that Rock’ saw Aph (or anyone else that shared it) accused of being racist and criticised for ‘diverting’ the focus of  vegan discussion away from the animals and making it about race. Veganism had been something that was on Aph’s radar for years because she had discovered how animal oppression was a part of black oppression.


An added motivator for creating the list was due to the fact that the mainstream vegan movement is white in terms of its leaders (tending to be white males). This results in people ‘leading’ movements without understanding or considering how their white privilege impacts on how it plays out.


Unsurprisingly, many minoritised people don’t feel included in this kind of movement or even want to join. Aph argues that these movements aren’t just white in terms of their representation, they’re also white in terms of their logic.


“Uncritical, white logic suggests that we should ONLY focus on the animals in our animal rights campaigns. Human issues are seemingly irrelevant, whereas, in the black vegan movement, we think it’s absurd to assume that the oppressions we experience every day don’t factor into animal oppression.”


For people that could not see the value of celebrating the work of black vegans, the concept of intersectional veganism is a foreign one, yet while there are many activists that talk about this, Aph offers up a further idea that by viewing oppressions as ‘intersecting’ rather than being part of the same territory, it leads to an approach that is less effective for structuring liberation movements.


This results in the kind of sustained negative response that ‘100 Black Vegans that Rock’ received, where misunderstanding and wrong-thinking is reinforced and oppression continues in forms both obvious and hidden away in our collective psyche.


Aph comments: “It’s not a coincidence in the U.S. for example, that black folks are constantly called “animals” as a way to justify violence against our bodies. Activists like me and Syl [Aph’s sister] argue that animal oppression is a racialised phenomenon.

“Because of intersectionality, a lot of our social justice movements today are ironically compartmentalised, which is why a lot of people today don’t know how to talk properly about activists like Angela Davis, who is a black, vegan feminist. Some black spaces only tease out the “black” part, some white vegans only tease out the “vegan” part, and some feminists only tease out the “feminist” part.

“This is why mainstream activist spaces are becoming increasingly uncomfortable for people like me who view all of these spaces as part of the same territory, rather than separate spaces that intersect.”


Recognition is important


This is the reason why Aph is advocating for black veganism, which doesn’t just mean being black and doing animal rights work; it means understanding black oppression and animal oppression as parts of the same issue.


In responding to the criticism that Aph’s work has garnered in this area, she points out that regardless of whether or not white people realise it, people of colour are experiencing violence and racism is still very much prevalent in our society. Therefore, it’s important that we recognise minoritised people for their work.


“I think it’s important that minoritised folks have their own grassroots movements, rather than join white mainstream movements, which aren’t designed to include them or their everyday lived experiences. Very rarely do we recognise that most of our movements happen on the backs of minorities. Just ask Gloria Steinem, who recently stated that she learned feminism from black women, although we all know her name.


“I think white folks get upset when black folks carve out spaces of empowerment for themselves because white folks are accustomed to gaining access into every space without conflict (geographically and ideologically). Every territory seemingly belongs to them. So, when a space is for black folks, they get offended for all the wrong reasons and scream “segregation” which is absurd.


Black folks can’t be useful co-architects of society until we have our own empowerment spaces to rebuild ourselves.”


Spotlighting the work of inspirational black vegans


After Aph’s list was published via Striving With Systems, she received emails from black vegans from all over the world who also wanted to be featured. This led to the creation of the Black Vegans Rock platform and a space that could spotlight the work of inspirational black vegans every day.


Aph received grants from A Well-Fed World as well as The Pollination Project to help get the project off the ground and it went live in January 2016.


The advisory board for Black Vegans Rock boasts an influential and diverse collective of black vegan scholars, entrepreneurs, and activists including:


public health nutritionist, author, and international lecturer, Tracye McQuirter; creator of The Sistah Vegan Project and the editor of the ground-breaking anthology, Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society, Dr. Amie Breeze Harper; founder of the Vegan Hip-Hop Movement, Kevin Tillman, and associate director of preventive medicine for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), Dr. Milton Mills – among others.


The project has gained great traction and a strong following on social media, demonstrating how hungry the black vegan movement was for such a platform: “[The Black Vegans Rock website is] a space of community-building. We want to spotlight vegans while also providing a new way of thinking about veganism, anchored to the diverse black experience.


“Before black folks (as a group) can explore their own vegan politics, they first need to know there are others like them out there. Representation is the first step, and next, we will start to change the way people think.”

Aphro-ismTo find out more about the Black Vegans Rock project, read the articles on people that have been featured so far, or to find out how you can be featured, check out the website. You can also connect with the project via Facebook and Twitter. (The Black Vegans Rock website and artwork is created by EastRand Studios).

In addition to their involvement in the Black Vegans Rock project, Aph and her sister, Syl, also run a website, Aphro-ism, which provides critical analysis from a black, vegan, decolonial perspective, presenting theories that challenge and expose the multitude of ways in which oppression is largely accepted as the norm in today’s society, so much so, that it frequently goes unrecognised.

They have recently published their first book via Lantern Publishers entitled, ‘Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism and Black Veganism from Two Sisters.


Emma Letessier
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Emma Letessier

Editor at Barefoot Vegan
Barefoot Vegan was founded and is edited and designed by Emma Letessier. Emma is a blogger, life-coach and qualified PR professional and journalist, who also happens to be a passionate vegan, animal and nature lover. She lives in a small village in France with her husband, daughter and their rescue animals at the Barefoot Vegan Farm and Animal Sanctuary.
As a writer, Emma’s work has been featured in other popular well-being and spiritual websites such as Elephant Journal, IVORY magazine, and she’s part of the Huffington Post’s team of regular bloggers. Her writing was also included in the Tiny Buddha book 365 Love Challenges from Tiny Buddha,released in 2015 by HarperCollins.
Emma Letessier
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