Monday, November 29, 2010

intersectionality 101: addressing racism and classism in animal rights activism (a talk) + USA-centrism

About a month ago I went to the Gold Coast for a few days to present at the Australian Animal Activists Forum. I presented, with Katrina Fox on intersectionality in animal rights. It was mostly a primer, a basic introduction to intersectionality. Going in, I assumed that it would all or mostly be new concepts for people, which is why I made it really basic and really casual, lots of chatty examples and things.

My talk has been up at The Scavenger for a couple of weeks: Addressing racism and classism in animal rights activism.

Overall I was quite happy with it. It was very condensed, as we only had thirty minutes between the two of us, so there were lots of leaps and gaps and so much covered, but still, I understand it's the first time this sort of topic has been brought up at the forum, and lots of talking came out of it, and I hope that it's a conversation that can filter through AR in Australia and keep moving, because I find that intersectionality is severely lacking in Australian AR.

Since this is, specifically about AR in Australia, it has therefore been of ongoing frustration for me that little criticisms have been filtering through looking at it from a not-Australian perspective. Such as someone posted my article at the PPK forum, where mostly the comments were fine but one person was like "Why single out "WASPs" and use a sort of derogatory word at the same time?" which I was frustrated by, because I worked so hard to make this as Australian as possible and then there the USians go, making it all about them again.* After some poking from Miss T, I may have committed the cardinal sin of responding to criticisms on the internet. It's interesting, because the comments on the original Scavenger article, whilst frustrating, didn't provoke me to response because it was so clearly trolling; but in the instance of Isa on the PPK I wanted to prove a point. AR (and many social justice issues) are so incredibly USA-centric in online communities, it is so frustrating and I just want to carve out a space where talking about Australian AR issues is legitimate and doesn't have to be dragged back around to USA issues. I realise that in my talk I used very USA examples, but that's because, due to the constancy of the USA discource, those are the big examples. I would really like to change that.

*apparently WASP is a derogatory term in the USA! Who knew! In Australia it is just a descriptor, there is no emotional or derogatory loading. But I felt a little bit odd about defending my use of the term WASP, because I was reminded of the strident defence of blackface after the Hey Hey thing, how everyone was like IMPERIALIST AMERICANS. But actually I think this is quite different, unless someone wants to enlighten me about WASPs having a history of persecution within the USA leading to the development of WASP as a derogatory term.


  1. Hey Steph, it's a great article and I think that you are absolutely right about getting a more Australian-centric discussion going in AR. We're trying to do that with ARA, but it's slow going. I gave a talk at an ARA workshop a few months back about non-native species and AR, and I actually found quite a bit of Australian information, but that's because I could go look at the DEC, DAFWA, etc. Even so, at this talk I found it really hard to keep the focus entirely on Australia, in spite of the fact that in this case I think it was completely possible because all the data is there.

    As far as the term WASP, yes, it is offensive in the US and as you know I am from there... so I'll admit it - the use of the term jumped out at me too. Given that I am white but an atheist and I didn't grow up eating burgers (my mom barely ate anything, but when she did it was actually veggie burgers or food that could barely be considered food), so anyway...I tend to resent the application of the 'P' part of the WASP, as I think it assumes something about my background and me personally that I don't believe is true. But I know that Americans, myself included, can be overly sensitive about these things. I was unaware that it was used merely as a descriptor in Australia because I've never heard anyone use it here at all, negative, neutral or otherwise.

    There are a lot of words that are used as a descriptor here that I find offensive, but I recognise that I don't really the right to tell people not to use. Hell, even within the US words mean different things to different people. (E.g. in Michigan, there's a coffee shop called "beaners". It wasn't until I was 21 that someone told me that was a derogatory term for Mexicans. we don't use that word in Michigan, as far as I know.)

    I know this is an aside, but this brings to mind the other terms that are different here and in the US. When I moved here, I was shocked to see that people freely use the term 'boat people' in the media and in casual conversation. I think most Australians just view it as a descriptor, and I am being overly sensitive, but it gets my heart racing every time I hear it because it's so often part of a debate imbued with racism. I'd be curious to hear your take on it. Have you written about this at all in the past on your blog?

  2. Ha, I'm US-ian & had no idea people considered WASP offensive -- then again I'm not one & most of my friends aren't either, so...

    (Also, general boo for US-centrism, natch -- that I am not surprised about. The WASP=offensive thing does surprise me though!)

  3. Hiya,
    Sorry - I didn't mean to poke! But I think it was a great article that got all snaps except one from the PPK, which you have legitimately addressed. Also the trolling on Scavenger (at least the first one) was particularly brainless so congrats on having the-one-brain-cell-brigade troll you - what a compliment!