Becoming and Creating Allies: Ways to Transform and Talk About Privilege

Essay 4 of 4

Dr. Melanie Joy

First Published on: 

So far, this series of essays has covered the basics of what privilege is, how it can affect ourselves and others and weaken the vegan movement, and how we can become privilege-literate, so that we can more effectively work to create a better world for all beings. This final installment discusses some practical steps we can take to change the dynamics of privilege and oppression in the vegan movement, whether we're in the position of being privileged or of challenging privilege.

This essay is divided into two parts. The first is about what we can do to become a part of the solution when we're members of a privileged group. The second is about how we can invite others to become a part of the solution when we're members of, or are speaking out about, an oppressed group – how we can communicate in a way that increases the chances that our message will be heard and heeded.

Part 1: Becoming an Ally When We're Privileged

We don't have control over whether we're privileged or not, since our privilege isn't typically something we can just get rid of. What we do have control over, however, is how we relate to our privilege. When we are aware of our privilege and its impacts – when we are privilege-literate – we can relate to our privilege in a way that offsets, rather than reinforces, oppression. In other words, we can become an ally to those who are harmed by and/or working to transform oppression.

An important aspect of privilege-literacy – and therefore of becoming an ally – is knowing how to communicate about our privilege with those who have been harmed by it, so that we can understand why and how to change some of our beliefs and behaviors. Often, our usual ways of communicating are not sufficient. This is largely because those who have been negatively impacted by our privilege may have strong emotions, and possibly even post-traumatic reactions, around the issue. They may have experienced years of oppression, or have been witness to such oppression, and they can, understandably, carry a great deal of pain that's been caused by the damage our privilege has enabled. So they may have strong feelings about our privilege, even if we, ourselves, haven't been direct contributors to the oppression. In order to communicate effectively, then, we first need to appreciate the emotional toll of oppression, so we don't end up misinterpreting reasonable anger as irrational and a legitimate sense of urgency as melodramatic, and communicating in a way that is unproductive or counterproductive.

Appreciating the Emotional Toll of Oppression

Even in their most "benign" forms, oppressive systems chronically disempower those who are disadvantaged and who must live with daily perils, injustices, and affronts to their dignity that are invisible to the privileged and are therefore widely ignored and denied. Often, trauma is also involved: oppressive systems, in their ultimate expression, enable atrocities, or mass traumatic events. If you're not a member of an overtly oppressed group and can't relate to the experience of disempowerment and traumatization caused by oppression, just think about your experience as a vegan who's witnessed the horrors of carnism, and the justifiable anger and grief you may feel about the oppression of animals (and consider how these emotions can become compounded by the fact that your attempts to bring about justice are often met with resistance, hostility, and even mockery). And members of oppressed groups, who constantly have their experience invalidated by the dominant culture, are often told that their oppression is either not real or isn't as bad as it seems. They are often blamed for the unjust circumstances they find themselves in, learning to believe, for example, that the reason they're not as successful as they could be is that they're just not hardworking enough, or they aren't smart enough, or attractive enough. Although vegans as a group are not oppressed in the same way as, for example, women, they can get some understanding of what it feels like to be invalidated by the dominant culture by reflecting on their experience with non-vegans. Non-vegans may deny that carnism is an atrocity, minimize the suffering it causes, and invalidate vegans' message in a variety of ways, often pathologizing vegans as overly emotional or extremist and blaming vegans when vegan advocacy doesn't bring about the desired effect (saying, for example, that the vegan advocate wasn't respectful enough, or rational enough).

Over time, people who started out simply trying to raise awareness of privilege can end up angry and defensive themselves. When people aren't listened to when they talk, especially about matters where the stakes are high, they talk louder and eventually end up yelling. Finally, they can fall into despair, as productive conversation seems hopeless.

Understanding Emotional Repression

It's not uncommon for the painful emotions caused by oppression to be stuffed down, or repressed, at least to some degree. People often repress their emotions when they get the message that such emotions are "wrong" (e.g., that what they're emotional about isn't really happening or is their fault) and so they don't feel entitled to feel them. People may also repress their emotions when they believe that it's not safe or useful to feel and express them – when, for example, nobody will take them seriously and they know that they'll end up even more enraged and despairing. Such a dynamic is perhaps easier to understand in the context of an abusive relationship: as long as the abuser refuses to acknowledge the injustice and harm of their behaviors, the person being abused cannot afford to feel, or to fully feel, their resulting emotions – unless they are ready and able to end the relationship. Repressing emotions in order to function is a coping mechanism that enables people to continue in unhealthy systems that they are not free to exit.

Once there is an opening for repressed emotions to emerge, they can come rushing to the surface. This can occur when the denial of those of us who are privileged is pierced and we are finally able to start acknowledging the pain our actions (or the actions of others who share our privilege) have caused. Often at this point, those who have been harmed by our privilege are still reeling from years of emotional (and sometimes physical) wounding – but we are not sufficiently literate and we don't realize that the usual ways of communicating are not appropriate and can even be counterproductive. We can see such a phenomenon in the #metoo movement, where a number of men are responding with concern and a genuine desire to engage in productive dialogue, but are finding that their attempts to do so are fueling, rather than offsetting, the problem.

Stages of Recovery and Appropriate Methods of Communication

Recovery from trauma occurs in stages, and these stages may be also be applied to recovery from the dynamics of privilege and oppression. Understanding these stages can help us recognize how to communicate about our privilege productively.

The first stage of recovery is safety. An individual (or group) who has felt unsafe (emotionally or otherwise) and disempowered – hallmarks of both traumatic and oppressive experiences – needs to know, first and foremost, that they won't be further harmed. The second stage is the victim(s) acknowledging and expressing the emotions related to the trauma (which is only possible if safety has been established). In the third and final stage, the victim(s) reconnect with others – and it is only at this point that normal ways of communicating with the victim(s) are appropriate.

When an individual (or group) first begins raising awareness of our privilege, it is not the time to employ our usual means of learning or communicating, such as playing devil's advocate or otherwise second-guessing the validity of what we're being told. Doing so can cause the other to feel their reality is being denied or otherwise invalidated, mirroring the very methods that had been used to maintain the oppression they're speaking out about. This dynamic was apparent in the #ARmetoo dialogue earlier this year: many men, who were attempting to join the conversation about sexual harassment in the animal rights movement, felt frustrated at what they believed was an expectation that they stifle their curiosity and suppress their questions, assuming that the current conversation was preventing a diversity of opinions from being shared. But timing matters, and – given that #ARmetoo had been in an early "stage of recovery" – now was not the time for communication as usual.

Now is also not the time to question members of oppressed groups' requests for safety measures, such as for creating safe online spaces where offensive attitudes and behaviors won't be tolerated; doing so can come across as further invalidating. Just as we (hopefully) wouldn't argue with a veteran of war who asks us to avoid making sudden loud noises which can trigger a post-traumatic reaction, neither is it appropriate to argue with a woman who asks us not to make jokes about sexual assault. Vegans can perhaps appreciate the need for safe spaces when they consider how much more secure they feel in a group of their peers who they know won't make offensive comments about eating or killing animals.

It is also not the time for debates or for exploring differences of opinion. These, too, are methods that have been used to invalidate and silence those who are oppressed, and so they can be experienced as triggering and offensive.

Nor is now the time to talk too much about ourselves, including about our own concerns about the problems our privilege has caused. Doing so can be perceived as (and can in fact be) placing ourselves back in the privileged position of being the focus of attention, of being "centered." Centering ourselves can also be seen as a demand for empathy, and for many people who have been oppressed, empathy for those who have contributed to the oppression (even if such contribution was not direct or intentional) can be dangerous. Members of oppressed groups are socialized to over-empathize with members of privileged groups; they often learn to see the world, including themselves, through the eyes of those with privilege and to believe the privileged group's version of reality over their own. And they can perceive their own experience and needs as less valid than those of the privileged group. Developing healthy psychological boundaries, to avoid over-empathizing with those who have privilege, is central to recovery.

Now is the time to listen – to listen deeply, with the goal of fully understanding the experiences of those who have been oppressed. It is the time to be a compassionate witness, to use the term coined by psychologist Kaethe Weingarten: to listen with empathy, compassion, and without judgment.

There's no set time for how long we should wait before inserting ourselves back into the conversation. Once we feel we've listened fully, we can simply ask if it's okay to start sharing our thoughts and feelings. A large part of such interactions is really about feeling them out, doing our best to be present and empathic while appreciating that we'll make mistakes along the way, as none of us is, or should even try to be, perfect.

Steps Toward Becoming an Ally

Following are some practical steps you can take toward becoming an ally.

●      Commit to becoming literate about systems of privilege and oppression and about specific types of privilege. One feature of privilege is that, by default, it's invisible to those who have it. So don't assume that understanding your human privilege automatically makes you aware of your White or able-bodied privilege.

Becoming literate isn't simply about reading up on the issues, but rather about truly understanding them, emotionally as well as intellectually. It means looking at the world through the eyes of those who are harmed by our privilege and understanding and empathizing with their experience. Literacy is not just being informed; it's being aware.

Becoming privilege-literate should be something you genuinely want to do, so you can be more of an ally. So if someone offers to share information with you about your privilege, don't respond by offering a quid pro quo, saying, for example, that you'll learn about White privilege if they read something about how White people are losing social power. This kind of suggestion is both ineffective and offensive, and it wholly denies the literacy gap. Imagine a non-vegan saying they'll read Animal Liberation only as long as a vegan reads The Vegetarian Myth, as though the vegan hasn't spent a lifetime being spoon-fed carnistic propaganda just like everybody else. The informational playing field isn't level: we all are literate in the dominant way of thinking, since that's what we grew up with. Plus, asking others to expose themselves to information that seeks to justify their oppression or the oppression of those they care about can be disrespectful and hurtful.

Of course, becoming literate isn't a guarantee that you'll become an ally. Some people become literate about their privilege and still don't care about changing their relationship with it – just as some people learn about the consequences of animal agriculture and don't care about changing their consumption patterns. But if you're reading this series of essays, and you've already chosen to become vegan in order to do less harm in the world, chances are, you are indeed concerned about your impact on others and want to become an ally.

●      Take responsibility for your own literacy. Don't expect others to teach you, which makes them carry the burden of your education. Consider how frustrating it is when non-vegans expect you to handhold them through their dietary modifications, where you feel like you have to bend over backwards to make eating vegan seem effortless or they'll continue to eat animal products. Consider, too, how unfair it feels when the non-vegan expects you to be an expert on everything when you're advocating veganism – of course you don't know all there is to know about vegan nutrition during pregnancy, agricultural economics, veganic farming, and so on. So don't expect those you're talking to about your privilege to have all the answers, either.

●       When your perspective on your privilege differs from the perspective of those who are harmed by it, assume that their perspective is more accurate. Remember: our privilege distorts our perceptions while making us believe that we're seeing clearly. And because of the near-universal acceptance of the privileged group's perceptions as fact rather than opinion, their perceptions aren't held to the same standards of accountability as others'. When nearly everyone agrees on something, they are unlikely to feel the need to examine it to ensure that it's actually accurate. For example, when alchemy – the mixing of metals to treat disease – was the dominant medical model in the Middle Ages, just about everyone believed in the approach, so alchemists weren't held accountable for proving their methods to be effective (which they turned out not to be). It was the chemists – who challenged the alchemist model – who had to prove the accuracy of their approach.

●      It's important to distinguish between accurate and inaccurate sources of information, as with any educational endeavor. A number of reactionary blogs, books, and films purporting to raise awareness of privilege and oppression, but which actually justify them, are part of a growing backlash against the increasing power of social justice movements; the growth of anti-vegan literature is but one example among many. In the second essay in this series, I suggested ways to determine which sources are trustworthy and shared a list of recommended resources.

●      Speak out when you hear something oppressive. If someone says or does something sexist, ableist, racist, or otherwise oppressive, point it out. If you merely go along to get along, you become a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.

●      Don't assume that others share your privileges just because they aren't visibly disadvantaged. Many disadvantages -- such as chronic health conditions, psychological problems, and socioeconomic status or class -- are invisible, so it's important never to assume that you know what others are capable of or need. Vegan advocate Carolyn Zaikowski (1) explains how it's not uncommon for activists to organize events -- such as those that require long bus rides or sleeping in shared and cramped quarters -- that are impossible for people with disabilities (and older people, for that matter) to attend, and when someone's disadvantage is invisible, they can end up judged and pressured for simply taking care of their needs. Perhaps the campaigner who doesn't want to sit on a bus for hours has chronic pain, or the activist who chooses not to attend the farmed animal vigil has PTSD, or the staffer at a vegan organization who isn't willing to put in unpaid overtime can't afford to because they have don't have an economic safety net like those who come from more financially stable families.

●      If you're in a position of leadership, model a commitment to privilege-literacy and inclusiveness. Those heading organizations or groups and those who have a high level of influence in the vegan community have an added responsibility to ensure that they are literate themselves and that they expect literacy among those they influence. If you're in a position of leadership and you choose not to prioritize literacy, you're sending a message to those who look to you as an example. And even though "leaders" (2) can still get away with not being literate, soon enough they won't be able to. The world is rapidly changing and, at some point, those who chose unawareness will be looked upon as having remained willfully ignorant and having enabled oppression, similar to what's been happening as a result of the #metoo movement. If you're a leader, you now have the opportunity to be ahead of the curve, putting your forward-thinking approach into action in order to step up and speak out. No matter how busy you are, finding – or, making – the time to become privilege-literate may be one of the most important choices you make, for yourself, for the movement, and for the world. You can refer to the resources here, and you can also bring in experts who can give a diversity training and/or a bystander intervention training for your team. And make a commitment to ensuring that your organization is diverse, with women, people of color, and others who are members of disadvantaged groups adequately represented on your team.

●      Pay attention to some of the specific ways privilege is manifested in your group. There are some predictable ways privilege shows up in groups. For example, people with privilege tend to take up the space of others, such as interrupting during conversations and talking without pausing to give others the opportunity to participate. They may also be more likely to dismiss feedback before fully considering it and to take credit for others' work. As you become more privilege-literate, you will likely begin to automatically recognize such behaviors.

●      When you're working on campaigns or on team projects, make sure that everyone involved has a similar (and sufficient) level of literacy, or you'll likely end up in unproductive debates that both waste time and decrease morale. For example, if you're discussing whether to change your terminology so that it's non-sexist, it's important that everyone on the team is literate about patriarchy and male privilege. If there are members of the team who have never truly considered or experienced what it feels like to have their gender erased from their language, and who aren't educated about the role language plays in both maintaining and challenging oppression, then they are not in a position to make informed decisions. Giving them such power is like allowing a non-vegan who has little to no understanding of carnism and veganism to share in decision-making for vegan outreach campaigns. Just as it's impossible to have an objective conversation about eating animals as long as we're dialoguing from within the mindset of carnism, it's impossible to have an objective conversation about gender as long as we're operating from within the mindset of patriarchy.

●      Notice your defensiveness, and don't act on it. If you find yourself feeling defensive – feeling angry, looking for justifications for your privilege, seeking examples to "disprove" another's perceptions of their experience, minimizing another's experience (such as assuming they're overreacting or exaggerating), not feeling empathy, and so on – consider that it may be your privilege trying to prevent you from evicting it from your consciousness. Try to act in spite of your defensiveness, rather than because of it.

Part 2: Creating Allies: Communicating to Raise Awareness About Privilege

As with any issue, especially one that's sensitive and complex, privilege needs to be discussed in ways that encourage openness and enable learning. This is no simple task, since the nature of privilege is such that it creates defensiveness against talking about it in the first place. And such defensiveness often leads to a counterproductive dynamic, where the privileged individual or group resists developing awareness and those challenging the privilege feel increasingly invalidated, silenced, and frustrated – and then fight harder to break through the defenses.

But fighting defenses rarely works; people typically become even more defensive when they feel attacked. When we try to break down the fortress of privilege by throwing weapons at it, it adapts by becoming stronger. Instead, we need to find the cracks in the fortress and slip through them. We need to reach past, rather than fight against, the fortress – because the fortress of privilege isn't defending a monster; the fortress is the monster. We simply need to reach the human mind and heart on the inside of it.

The most effective way to get past the fortress of privilege is to make sure that when we challenge privilege, we're not communicating from a place of trauma but, rather, from a place of presence, from a place inside ourselves that is grounded in a deeper consciousness. When we're present, we're more connected, with ourselves and with others, and we're spacious – we're able to appreciate nuance and to sense and honor the dignity of others, even as we hold them accountable and seek to change problematic attitudes and behaviors. We recognize that good people can participate in harmful behaviors, and that individuals are more than just their privilege. When we're present, we're less hijacked by our painful feelings – we may feel them, but we recognize them for what they are: painful emotions that are a normal reaction to witnessing and being harmed by injustice. We don't mistake our feelings for ourselves, and we don't allow our feelings to create a narrative, or story, in our minds in which we see people as either perpetrators, victims, or heroes, with no overlap and no shades of gray. In other words, we feel and honor our emotions, but we don't let them override our recognition of our shared humanity.

In order to be able to communicate from a place of presence, timing matters. Everybody needs time to process painful emotions before being able to fully engage with those who have contributed to their pain. We can know we're in a state of presence when we can feel and honor and even express our anger and grief without allowing these emotions to shape our narrative or drive our behaviors – when we can recognize the injustice caused by privilege but we don't see the privileged individuals as morally inferior and we don't feel the emotional charge of contempt.

I am not suggesting that the responsibility of communicating effectively should be on the shoulders of those who are already carrying the burdens of injustice and suffering caused by privilege. Nor am I suggesting that we can, or should, remain silent until we're no longer angry. Especially for women, who have been socialized to deny and repress our anger – particularly anger toward patriarchy – it is important to reclaim this emotion. I am simply suggesting that we be mindful of our internal state and consider both the effectiveness and the appropriateness of our communications, which will make us more likely to bring about the kind of change we seek.  

Effective Communication and Leadership

It is particularly important for those of us in positions of leadership to be mindful of how we communicate, since we're modeling behaviors and influencing the tone of the collective dialogue. This is no small challenge, since leaders of social justice causes often carry the trauma of others; not only have they witnessed the horrors of the oppressive system, but they are frequently the ones to whom survivors turn. So they may have heard story after story of suffering and injustice, and can end up consumed by the pain, looking at the world through the lens of trauma and relating to everyone as though they're either a perpetrator, victim, or hero.

When we communicate in a way that doesn't respect the dignity of those whose privilege we are challenging – even as we rightfully hold them accountable and demand change – we not only reinforce their defensiveness, we also create defensiveness and fear in those who are observing our behavior. If our efforts to bring about positive change are driven by unprocessed pain, and especially trauma, we risk becoming, and creating, that which we seek to transform. We can see some of this problematic communication in the #ARmetoo dialogue, where bullying – character assaults and shaming – has been used to show that bullying is wrong. (Ironically, much of this bullying has been carried out in the name of feminism, with the – correct – argument that women need to reclaim power. However, feminism is ultimately about balancing power, not wielding it over others.) If leaders are not mindful of their approach to challenging privilege, instead of creating a forum for collective healing and a just redistribution of power, they can raise a battle cry that simply feeds the trauma of their base of supporters, reinforcing the very problem they're trying to resolve.

For our communication to be effective, we need to speak to the person, not to their privilege. This means that we need to communicate about privilege in a way that doesn't harm the dignity of the individual behind it. If people feel that their intrinsic worth is not being honored, even if they know that they are being rightfully chastised, they will be less rational and empathic, and therefore less likely to change their problematic attitudes and behaviors. So we need to communicate in a way that is not shaming – that doesn't suggest that the other is morally inferior, or "less worthy" than ourselves or others.

Effective Communication Is Not Shaming

A great deal of communication among social change advocates, vegans and non-vegans alike, is shaming. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that some advocates do indeed assume that those who have not made the same moral choices as they have are somehow morally inferior, and therefore don't deserve to be communicated with compassionately. However, believing that engaging in problematic behavior means someone forfeits their right to be treated with basic respect is precisely the kind of thinking that caused the problem such communication is attempting to change. Another reason is that most of us never learned how to communicate in a way that reflects the integrity we may try to inspire in others. A further reason is that we often mistake someone's privilege for who they are; we fail to recognize that people are more than just their privilege. In addition, when we're interacting with people who are in positions of power – which includes being in a position of privilege – it's easy to forget that they, like everyone, have vulnerabilities. We often assume that there's an inverse relationship between power and vulnerability – that the more power someone has, the less vulnerable they feel. This is often not the case, and sometimes the opposite is true. Often, critics who publicly shame celebrities, and employees who talk degradingly about their supervisors, do so because they assume that the powerholders are somehow immune to such attacks. However, virtually nobody is immune to the toxic and debilitating effects of shame. The final reason so many advocates use shame as a tactic is because they believe – incorrectly – that shame will motivate people to change.

However, one of the best ways to demotivate people to change is to shame them. Shame is so disruptive to our sense of self, and so painful an emotion, that most people react to being shamed by withdrawing or attacking in self-defense. Shamed people typically do not feel the esteem or confidence necessary to open themselves up to potentially painful truths about their participation in injustice and to take positive action on others' or their own behalf. Instead, they encase themselves in the emotional armor necessary to prevent further shaming. Although some people claim that they were inspired to change by having been shamed, it is likely that they changed in spite of the shaming, rather than because of it. Studies have shown that shaming behaviors – which are those that harm dignity – trigger a defensive response that reduces the likelihood a person will be open to making positive changes. (3) So, if we want people to be open to a message, especially one that challenges their self-concept as an ethical person, we would do well not to water the seeds of shame, which will more likely cause them to feel disconnected from us and fearful of being further shamed.

Those who are privilege-literate know that the "fragility" of people whose privilege is being challenged – the heightened sensitivity to feeling ashamed they can feel – can sometimes be a way to avoid accountability or an excuse not to discuss the issue. I'm not suggesting that we enable such fragility, or coddle defensiveness, but simply that we communicate in a way that honors dignity, applying the practice of respectful, compassionate communication which is important for all communications, not only those about privilege.

Of course, people can feel shamed even if we're not communicating in a shaming manner. But that doesn't change the fact that we're responsible for our own part in a communication. Below are some practical tips for how to talk about privilege in a way that is empowering, rather than shaming.

●      Don't assume you know the internal experience of the privileged person(s) you're communicating with or about. Don't, for example, assume that you know why they said or did something insensitive – such as assuming that it's because they just don't care or they're selfish. Allowing others to be the expert on their own experience is a generosity we all deserve and is the opposite of the non-relational attitude that reflects privilege.

●      Avoid character assassination. Calling someone a racist because they made a comment that is racist is conflating one's character (which we can't know since we're not in their mind) with their behavior – and it's more likely to turn people off to a cause than to win supporters to it.

●      Focus your communication on observable behaviors, not on your interpretations of the behaviors. For example, rather than say, "He made a sexist comment and won't respond to my criticism about it, so that means he wants to hold onto the power that comes with his male privilege," simply focus on the comment and the fact that the person didn't respond.

●      Stay connected with your empathy. When you're discussing someone's privilege, be especially careful to consider how your feedback will feel to them. Imagine them reading what you write or hearing what you say and frame your message in a way that's respectful of their dignity, even as you point out the problems their privilege causes. If you feel unsafe remaining empathic, worrying that you'll lose your own perspective if you are too open to the other's, then you might need more time to heal and shore up your psychological boundaries before speaking out about the issue.

●      Avoid absolutes (e.g., all vegans, all men), which are rarely accurate and come across as blaming all people for the actions of some.

●      Stick to the facts. Avoid hyperbole, and communicate the facts as objectively as possible. For example, don't refer to someone's comments that offended others as "malicious statements." You can't know the intention of the speaker (unless they've told you) so you can't know if the statements were intended to harm. Instead, refer to such comments as "statements that were experienced as offensive."

●      When feasible, communicate with an individual privately, rather than in public. Of course, there are times when publicly pointing out someone's privileged behavior can be useful – such as when the person is a celebrity and is not personally accessible, or when it's important to publicly counter a problematic message they're communicating, or when they've engaged in bullying or violent behavior such as sexual harassment and they pose a threat to others or to the integrity of the group impacted (as we've seen with #metoo). However, many people who make offensive statements are simply unaware of their privilege and end up being publicly reprimanded, when sharing critical feedback in private would be both more respectful and likely more strategic, since it doesn't make you come across as insensitive. Regardless of whether you are giving feedback privately or publicly, it's important to communicate respectfully. "Call-out culture" has become problematic in that it often involves exposing and punishing misdeeds rather than truly raising awareness and inspiring change. We are unlikely to win allies by calling people out; inviting people into dialogue is often a more effective approach. Calling people out also sends a message to others that they are at risk of being publicly shamed, and they may become increasingly worried about character assassination and less likely to engage in a productive dialogue about privilege and oppression.

●      Make sure your facts are accurate. There are countless examples on social media of comments that appear to reflect unexamined privilege but have been taken out of context or misconstrued. Such a lack of attentiveness can devastate the people whose words or actions are being publicly displayed.

●      Make sure the goal of your commentary is to raise awareness and bring about positive change. If your goal is to be right or to express your anger, your communication will no doubt reflect this fact and be unproductive or counterproductive. Of course, you may be right, and you may well have a right to be angry. It's simply important that these feelings not be ends in themselves.

I began this series of essays explaining that, although the vegan movement is in some ways flourishing, it is also fractured, in large part because vegans' lack of awareness of the dynamics of privilege and oppression is causing the movement to be less unified and powerful than it could otherwise be – and that awareness is the key to transformation, to creating a new and improved veganism. With awareness, we can not only repair our movement, we can also help it grow stronger. When we are willing to do the messy and sometimes painful work of peering into the darkness of the fractures in our movement, fractures that also reside within ourselves, we can emerge with greater wisdom, unity, and empowerment. As Ernest Hemingway wrote, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places." I wrote these essays to help us become strong at the broken places. The animals deserve nothing less.


1. See Zaikowski,Carolyn Six Ways Your Social Justice Activism Might Be Ableist.

2. I’m using the term "leader" simply for the sake of clarity, with the awareness of its limitations - specifically, of the fact that the term can be interpreted as defining someone's character, rather than as referring to a role they are occupying.

3. Erskine, Richard G. "Shame and Self-Righteousness: Transactional Analysis Perspectives and Clinical Interventions." Transactional Analysis Journal, Vol. 24, Issue 2, 1994, pp. 86-102.

Dr. Melanie Joy is a Harvard-educated psychologist, international speaker, organizational consultant, trainer, and relationship coach. She is the author of the award-winning book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, as well as Strategic Action for Animals and Beyond Beliefs: A Guide to Improving Relationships and Communication for Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Eaters. Dr. Joy has developed and implemented vegan advocacy trainings for more than a decade, and she specializes in effective communication, organizational leadership, the psychology of social change, interpersonal relationships, and preventing and treating burnout. She has trained vegan advocates and given her acclaimed carnism presentation on six continents and her work has been featured in major media outlets around the world. Dr. Joy is the eighth recipient of the Ahimsa Award – previously given to the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela – for her work on global nonviolence, as well as the Empty Cages Prize – previously given to Tom Regan – for her contribution to furthering the cause of animal rights, and the Peter Singer Prize for strategies to reduce the suffering of animals, and the video of her recent TEDx talk on carnism is in the top one percent of the most-viewed TEDx talks of all time. Dr. Joy is also the founding president of the charitable organization, Beyond Carnism, a co-founder of ProVeg International, and the co-director of the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy (CEVA).

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