The Black Vegans Who Inspired Me to Change
I had always thought vegans were weird, right up until the moment I became one.
And to my knowledge, until finally embracing veganism six years ago, I had never personally known any vegans ... except for one.
I’d met him several decades ago when I was a college junior, home to spend Thanksgiving with my mom and one of her closest friends, Jean. Jean’s daughter had a new boyfriend, and she was bringing him to dinner with us.
Before we even met him, we had decided he was “one of those vegan-type guys.” We didn't know exactly what that meant—and we surely used the term vegetarian and vegan interchangeably—but before he even walked in the door, we already decided he was weird.
But then we met him. Personable, strong energy, and overall good-looking, the "weird guy's" complexion was very fair and was a stark contrast to his thick, dark brown, curly hair. We all made pleasant (if not light) conversation, and then it was time to eat.
Our plates were heaped with the usual heavy helpings of fleshy items typical of a Southern holiday meal. The weird guy's plate, however, held cranberry sauce, steamed spinach, asparagus, and nuts (I specifically remember gazing at his heap of walnuts, almonds, and dried apricots).
I was horrified. What kind of hardcore depravation kick was this dude on?
So, for decades, any time I heard the word vegan, I fully pictured having to subsist on lightly steamed vegetables, dried fruit, and nuts. I found it almost comical.
Fast forward to 2007. At the time, my antiracist, social justice blog—"All About Race"—was gaining strong traction, and was read by many writers and activists who are still pushing at the forefront today.
One of them, A. Breeze Harper, Ph. D., the prolific author of Sistah Vegan, reached out to me with a request: She needed to publish an article related to her thesis and hoped to publish it as a guest post on my blog.
I immediately said yes, although I thought the topic was a bit of a stretch. Dr. Harper’s post discussed the connection between animal liberation and Black liberation.
With my “wide tent” philosophy, I was glad to post it, even though I didn’t think I would find it personally illuminating.
Well, the opposite happened. As I read Dr. Harper's essay, a seed was planted and an entire world opened up to me.
Just like that, suddenly understanding that the same forces that established arbitrary hierarchies foundational to racism and sexism also established speciesist frameworks for how we treat and consume non-human earthlings shifted my worldview.
Dr. Harper's essay was fully persuasive, but I was not ready to integrate what I was learning into my life. The new awareness was compartmentalized, although I thought about it often.
Seven full years after Dr. Harper's essay appeared on “All About Race," I had the opportunity to go on a whale-watching expedition with documentarians in Mexico. Something about the majesty of those whales, dolphins, and manta rays swimming free and unencumbered unlocked something in my heart.
By the time I returned home from the 10-day trip and walked into the grocery store to stock up on food, I could swear I heard screams coming from the carcasses in the meat counters.
I embraced veganism at that very moment.
As fate would have it, around that time, vegan chef, actor, and activist, Ayinde Howell was hosting a pop-up dinner to publicize his most recent cookbook. I bought a ticket and had my first sumptuous vegan meal.
Having a new awareness of what was possible with flavor was a game-changer (turns out vegans eat a whole lot more than dried fruit and nuts!). But the strongest impact was the community offered by other attendees.
That dinner was heavily attended by Black vegans and other vegans of color. Up until that point, I hadn’t known such a community existed. I had embraced veganism thinking I would be pretty much alone in my newfound worldview of seeing animal liberation as an essential element in a broad commitment to liberation for all beings.
As it turns out, I have never been alone on this journey.
There is no one single vegan community. It is varied, and inclusive, and multi-hued.
And more than ever, thousands of all kinds of activists are recognizing the importance of veganism as critical to the fight against all oppression.
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Carmen Dixon is an antiracist vegan, writer, and entrepreneur, who believes we are here to help each other.