By Wayne Hsiung
“These f__ing Chinese all deserve to die!” he screams out. Angry tears are running down his face. It’s a violent, racist thing to say. But the strangest thing is that the kid spewing this hate is… Chinese. You can hardly blame him. On the screen, he is watching a sight so horrible that it’s hard to believe.
A beautiful dog, just a few years old, is being led on a leash somewhere in China. We can see that the pup trusts the man who is with her. She walks with the energetic, joyful strut of a dog who is happy to be out. Her eyes dart to the left, and to the right, and have an excited glimmer that exclaims, “Oh, what fun! Where are we going now?”
But something strange happens. The man suddenly pushes her against a fence and ties her tightly to a pole. Her head is pinned against cold steel. The pup looks back, curious as to why she’s being tied up. And then, before she has a chance to realize what’s going on, the man lifts her up by the back legs and cuts her open with a knife. She cries out and jerks her head back violently. But she can do nothing against the suffocating wire that has her neck tied tightly against the pole. As the blood pours out profusely from her hip, staining the snow with blood red, the crying stops. She shrinks into herself. Her shocked cries turn into a fearful squeal. Then a desperate moan. And finally, a hopeless whimper. It’s as if she’s saying, “Please, I didn’t do anything wrong. I just want the pain to stop. I’ll do anything for you, master. Please, just make the pain go away.”
Her plea for mercy is ignored. And we slowly see the life in her disappear. The man hangs her body up and begins to skin her now lifeless corpse.
Those of us who have known and loved dogs can understand the hate that boils up when we witness such acts of violence. We can understand fantasies of vengeance against the people who perpetrate such horrors on innocent animals. And we can understand how, in the face of such atrocities, even a Chinese kid could cry out in hatred against his own people.
I know this. Because I was that Chinese kid.
How did I end up a self-hating Chinese?
It’s a tough question to answer.
There are many animals that we do kill and eat in America—indeed, more than twice as many animals per person than the average Chinese. But somehow, when the Chinese do it, it is disgusting, contemptuous, and an indication of a perversion in their culture and race. When Americans do it (and on far greater scale), it’s just the way things are—unthinkingly accepted by the masses and rarely protested even by those who have sworn their lives to defending animals. Though we use condemnation, aggressive protest, and even physical force to stop the exploitation of animals by foreign peoples and nations, animals used for food in the West, we are told, cannot be defended too aggressively. To do so, after all, would be to disrupt the American way of life.
There’s a lesson here. Because when people in the U.S. who eat beef, chicken and pork lash out against the Chinese for eating dog meat, or a self-loathing Chinese kid unthinkingly screams out against his own people…they are not speaking from a vacuum. Rather, those thoughts grow from a system that places some cultures, ethnicities and peoples above others. This system goes by many names—entitlement, privilege, racism, and even supremacy—but following Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, two distinguished scholars at Queens University, I will call it “performing whiteness.” It is the idea that what “we” do is right and normal and good, and what “they” (immigrants, people of color, foreigners) do is weird and unacceptable and even wrong. As described by Kymlicka in 2013 at the Mellon Sawyer lecture at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York:
“In both of these ways—the broader public’s targeting of ‘cruel’ minority practices and the AR movement’s promoting of a vegan lifestyle—contemporary animal politics is often seen not just as presupposing a privileged white perspective, but also as reaffirming or relegitimating those racial privileges, treating white perspectives as normative while ignoring the extent to which those perspectives are made possible by the oppression of others. Animal advocacy, in short, is seen as performing whiteness.”
It is so insidious that it infiltrates even the minds of the people, like immigrants and people of color, whom it disadvantages. It socializes all of us to view so-called “minority” practices (dog fighting, primate trapping, whale eating) with contempt while ignoring violence happening right next door. And it just might be the most important stumbling block facing the animal rights movement today.
Stirrings of Anti-Speciesism.
When I went vegan in the late 1990s, my family thought I had gone off the rails.
Given our family’s tortured history with food, I couldn’t blame them. Growing up in Taiwan, an impoverished, war-torn country, finding something to eat wasn’t easy. My grandmother ate boiled grass while on the run from the men who wanted her dead—the cruel victors of a decades-long civil war. My parents didn’t have things much better. They were basically vegan as children, because of poverty rather than ethics. They survived on handouts from the American military, had a steamed egg occasionally as a birthday indulgence, and ate flakes of yeast for dessert. When my parents arrived in America in one of the first waves of Chinese immigrants in the 1970s with $40 to their name, one of the most astonishing things was the fact that cheap meat was everywhere.
Notwithstanding this abundance, the move to America was a difficult one. The family would be entering an unfamiliar culture with an alien language. They would be separated from everyone they had ever known by thousands of miles. (Phone calls were prohibitively expensive back in those days; flights home just a fantasy.) And they were confronted by the continuing indignity of racism. By the time he was in his twenties, my father was a popular and successful figure back home, as the #2 ranked student in his department at the prestigious National Taiwan University. But in the U.S., he was…nothing. Mocked for his broken English and deferential Confucian manner, stuck in the Midwest where there was nary another Chinese, and warned by his boss that there was no place in America for a “Chinaman” (“You’ll need to go home eventually,” his boss said. “It will be better there.”), there were a million reasons for him to leave.
Weighing against it was this: in the U.S., his family would have meat at every meal. After a lifetime of deprivation, that was perhaps reason enough to stay. Meat was not just a perk. It was not just food. It was a sign that we had made it.
It was a rude shock, therefore, when I announced almost two decades later that I would no longer partake in a practice my family had fought so hard for, that they had literally risked their lives for. My parents were anxious and confused. “You eat so much meat,” they said. And it was true. I would chomp down on an entire stack of bologna when I got home from school. “You can cut back, but why be so extreme?” My grandmother, in turn, worried that I had an eating disorder and tried to slip meat into my food. “You cannot survive without meat,” she once told me. “This is why all of our children are shorter and weaker than whites.” When she realized I was serious about abstaining from animal flesh, she proposed having me committed to a mental institution.
Perhaps the most interesting reaction was from some of my younger relatives who, upon hearing my ethical reasons for rejecting animal flesh—the horrendous violence against animals—speculated that I was being unduly influenced by whites. “There are so many suffering Chinese,” one cousin told me. “It’s only white people that worry about such trivialities. Why be like them?” Still new and insecure in my animal rights consciousness, I nodded quietly.
But it’s a question that has been nagging me, now, for over 15 years. And it’s a question that I have now realized has much greater importance than I previously believed. As I look around me at a movement overwhelmingly filled with white faces, and unusually focused on criticism of “minority” practices: Am I just performing whiteness?
Social psychologist Scott Plous, an expert in prejudice and discrimination, first demographically profiled the animal rights movement in 1990, when he published an article in the prestigious journal Psychological Science showing that 99+ percent of participants at the largest national AR event were white. In a country where people of color (PoC) are already the majority in some states, including California, these statistics are, to say the least, jarring.
What is less discussed, however, is the strategic problem this lack of diversity poses: we often perceive it as a mere faux pas. “So many animals are suffering,” we tell ourselves. “We can’t worry ourselves with the hurt feelings of a few blacks, Mexicans, or Asians.” Alternatively, we blame communities of color for their own non-participation. “They just don’t care as much as white people do.”
But there are compelling reasons to think these reactions are problematic on both ethical and pragmatic grounds. For one, according to Kymlicka and Donaldson, PoC appear to be vegetarian at significantly higher rates than whites, both domestically and abroad. Indeed, traditions that stretch back thousands of years in countries such as China and India (both of which have millions more vegetarians than the United States) promote compassion for non-human life. If vegetarians are the fertile ground on which a movement can grow, we should expect far more PoC in our ranks.
For another, racial diversity has been shown vital to improving outcomes in areas ranging from education to problem solving to non-profit management. As economist and Nobel Laureate Gary Becker pointed out over 40 years ago, racism simply doesn’t pay. There are too many hard-working people with unique perspectives and talents—and too much important work to be done—for us to exclude anyone from our ranks due to bias. And a failure to attract or include diverse faces is a demonstration of insular thinking that causes problems far beyond race. Even those who are not interested in racial diversity for its own sake, then, must pay heed.
But if including PoC is important for our success, and if we can’t blame PoC for their non-participation, what exactly is the problem? To answer that question, we have to return to my cousin’s question from 15 years ago: “It’s only white people that worry about such trivialities. Why be like them?”
We have to unpack what it means to perform whiteness.
An Awkward Beginning
I have been part of the animal rights movement for 15 years. Being Asian in the animal rights movement is a little like being a Dodgers fan in Giants Stadium.
When one walks into a room filled with even “radical, anti-racist” animal liberationists the awkwardness is painful. The few friendly voices might nod and smile at you while they nervously find any way out of the conversation. The more typical reaction is befuddlement: “What is this person doing here?”
I had almost forgotten how long it took me to build my credibility as an animal rights activist. The early road was incredibly hard. I just didn’t look the part. I would go to protests or leafleting events, and people would invariably assume I was a passerby rather than participant—often even after I was holding a sign or handing out leaflets. If I hadn’t been so acclimated to exclusion after a childhood of extreme unpopularity, I probably would have given up. But I believed in the people in our local animal rights community. I believed I had something to contribute. And most importantly, I believed in our cause. So I kept plugging along. And eventually, I won over many of the people who, initially, would not even look me in the eye. One activist, who confessed later that he was initially sure that I was a federal agent in disguise, became a dear friend and co-organizer.
But despite these struggles, I never tied my personal experience to any broader political consciousness. As Chinese, we are taught to accept dominant modes of thought. If people were not accepting me, it had to be my own fault. Even when I heard people saying expressly racist things (“It’s really sick what Asians do to dogs.”), I would just pretend I didn’t hear it. Sometimes, I would even agree. And, even if I was not readily accepted, no one in my animal rights community personally attacked me for being Chinese. So I thought to myself, “You’re just seeing things. Calm down and get to work.”
What I was missing is the fact that racism, like speciesism, is not a product of individual prejudice but systems—broad cultural patterns of thought that often are entirely subconscious. Open racists are a dying breed. The forces of bigotry now operate in a more subtle and insidious way.
In 2011, scholars at UC-Riverside found that Asians are perceived as weak, effeminate, and less attractive. And a 2014 study at Wharton showed that PoC are six times more likely to be ignored by those in positions of power, simply because they have a non-white sounding name, e.g. Ramirez, Chen, or Ahmad. What’s striking about these bodies of research, however, is not that they show bias but how that bias is expressed.
Racism has deeper roots in human culture, community, and even cognition. Racism, it turns out, is everywhere.
Being exposed to this research awakened something in me that was lying dormant. For decades, the some of the most aggressive and angry animal liberation campaigns have targeted Asians. Whether it’s the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, threats to orangutans in Indonesia, the dog and cat meat trade in China, or the burgeoning fur and vivisection industries across the entire continent, Asia has, in many ways, become Public Enemy #1. (The nuanced distinctions between the many categories of Asian—who, despite their status as “minorities,” in fact vastly outnumber the people from any other continent in the world—are lost in the mix.) I had previously accepted the mainstream narrative—that Asia was being targeted because Asia was especially bad—but what if there was something else at work? What if, in attacking minority peoples and practices, the AR movement is simply performing whiteness?
The discomfort for Asians in the animal rights movement has, in many ways, followed the broader trend in American culture. Historically hated by both the left (for taking American jobs) and the right (for refusing to adopt Christian values), Asians had a brief resurgence in the 1960s and 70s as an emblem of anti-imperialist politics. As millions of yellow and brown-skinned people in Korea, China, and Vietnam were being murdered by an American military juggernaut, progressives in the United States found inspiration in the fierce (and successful) acts of resistance by people in Asia. Huey Newton of the Black Panthers made Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book required reading for his followers. Jane Fonda flew to Hanoi. Even the now infamous Kim Jong Il, tyrant of North Korea, had a brief popular spell in the American Left.
But Asia’s moment in the sun—tokenized though it was (Newton did actually visit China, but most of those raving about the heroism of anti-imperialists in Asia never actually talked to any Asian people)—came to a crashing halt when Nixon visited China. With Asia’s biggest power now kowtowing to American hegemony, the continent that once symbolized resistance to colonialism suddenly became Benedict Arnold to the Left. Things only got worse under Deng Xiaoping, the one-time Maoist exile who took control of China after Mao’s death. Not content with just politically opening China to the West, Deng sought to actively copy the West’s capitalist system. American leftists, who had lionized China as a symbol of grassroots resistance to Western capitalism and power, felt utterly betrayed.
While Asians in the United States never enjoyed the brief popularity of the Asian revolutionaries in their homelands, Asian Americans still suffered the consequences of this cultural turn against Asia. A people who were once heralded as symbols of revolutionary resistance were now perceived as sniveling and traitorous cowards. Centuries old stereotypes, of Asians being disgusting, dishonest, and servile, reared their ugly heads. Asia’s rapid economic growth, though it primarily benefited American consumers and corporations, was seen as a threat to American workers. Episodes such as the 1982 beating and murder in Detroit of Vincent Chin—who was accused of being a “job-stealing Jap,” though he was actually Chinese—were ignored or even celebrated. (The white assailants who bludgeoned Chin to death with a baseball bat received three years’ probation as punishment. “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail,” the judge said.) Never heard of Chin, you say? Well, it’s no surprise. Because, to this day, Asians and animal rights activists have one surprising thing in common:
We are both Orphans of the Left.
Orphans of the Left
When I was growing up in central Indiana, my family, like many immigrant families, was alienated from the white communities that surrounded us. My parents have never had a white friend. Heck, they have never, as far as I know, been invited to a white social gathering. Worse yet, living in central Indiana, where people of color were basically nonexistent, there was not even a ghetto for us to retreat to. We lived, for all intents and purposes, in isolation.
Isolation breeds fear. Fear of the uncertain. Fear of the unknown. Fear of those tall, sun-splashed, statuesque white people who seemed to effortlessly walk through a world that to us was terrifying and foreign. From our broken English to our sloppy immigrant clothes, we stuck out like sore thumbs. So it was with great trepidation that I made my first entrance into the white world: first grade.
It did not go well. On the first day, the kids looked at me with curiosity. I could see their strange glances, and hear their whispers. And it did not take long for one of them to finally pop the question.
“What’s with your eyes?” a girl asked me at lunch.
“My eyes?” I mumbled in broken English.
“I mean, what’s with your eyes?” the girl asked again, this time with a slightly mocking smile.
Fighting tears, I looked away from her and tried to focus back on my food. But the chatter continued. I noticed the girl and her friends using their fingers to bend their eyes upward, to mimic the slanty shape of the stereotypical Chinese eye. They later pulled me over to perform the infamous limerick—“Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees” (with eyes pulled up, then down, then hands placed on the knees)—that to this day makes no sense to me at all.
Except that it sort of did make sense because, from that day, the pattern was set: I was expected to perform whiteness, i.e. to normalize and privilege Western attributes and perspectives above all others.
And so, even when a bully was battering my face and screaming that I was an ugly chink—which happened on more than one occasion—it never occurred to me that the problem was racial.
“It’s just me,” I told myself. “If only I weren’t so stupid, so ugly, so clueless.” If only I could properly play white.
And my experience is not unique. Millions of Asians across the country face the same struggle. The mainstream media loves to promote the myth of the model minority. We are the chosen colored people. The people who have assimilated, adopted Western norms and habits, achieved social and economic power, and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams!
There’s just one little problem. Consider the facts:
According to a 2001 survey sponsored by Committee of 100, a Chinese American Leadership organization, a frightening, 68 percent of the American public has “very negative” or “somewhat negative” views of Chinese Americans, and those views extend to Chinese in leadership positions (with over 50 percent more people saying they would be uncomfortable with a Chinese president than a black president).
Asian Americans are represented at lower rates in positions of power despite having higher educational status. Asians comprise 0.3 percent of corporate officers relative to five percent of the population—a 17x difference based on a 2011 University of California, Riverside study. (Last year, the Center for American Progress noted the comparable rate for women, who are also discriminated against, is 14.6 percent, relative to 50.9 percent of the population—a 3x difference.)
Asians are paid lower wages for equal work, even in industries such as Tech (where Asians make $8,146 less than white workers, compared to a $3,656 gap for Black employees, a $6,907 gap for those whose race is “other,” and a $6,358 gap for women).
Asians have far lower representation in the mainstream media and other public roles than other races.
Victims of bullying in schools are “disproportionately Asian,” according to scholars at University of Southern California. Those of us who grew up in white schools know this very well: we are perceived as weak, and often the first targets on every violent bully’s list.
And then there is, of course, what happens in Asia. Nearly one billion people in my home continent (70 percent of the world’s total) live in extreme poverty, defined as less than $1.25 a day in income. That is just the tip of the iceberg because millions more don’t meet the criteria for “extreme poverty” but nonetheless suffer under the crushing weight of Western hegemony.
In short, Asia and Asians have been forced into the most humiliating positions, used to serve Western capitalism, confined in spaces no living being should be forced to endure, kicked out of our homes when the land is needed for more powerful peoples, and even murdered in cold blood. And yet the American Left is unmoved. Indeed, they hardly even remember that we exist. Sound familiar? It should. Because there’s another group that suffers from the same problem to a much more severe and horrific degree: Animals.
Ten billion land animals killed for food in the United States. Hundreds of millions more for fur, experimentation, and entertainment. Even dogs and cats, our beloved family members, are murdered by the millions every year—all for the crime of being born to a different species
When I see the world through these animals’ eyes, I can barely maintain my composure. I think back to the moments in life where I have lived in fear, in isolation, in terror of imminent violence, and I can barely stop myself from screaming out, at the top of my lungs, “JESUS CHRIST! WHAT THE F–K IS GOING ON? SOMEONE STOP THIS NOW!”
And yet, despite the horrific evil that surrounds us, oppression of animals, like discrimination against Asians, is largely ignored. Approximately two percent of the American population has taken the small step of declining to consume the bodies of animals. Even in that small sliver, only a small percentage endorse true animal rights or species equality. And finally, there is the sliver of the sliver: those proud few activists who have committed to take a stand and join the political movement for animals.
Abandoned by the Left, you might think that Asians and animal rights activists would be allies. But instead, we have the opposite.
It should also be no surprise when Asians, and other minority communities targeted by the animal rights movement’s ire, don’t take well to these campaigns. My cousins asked me if I was performing whiteness. But perhaps they should have been harsher on me: Am I betraying my own heritage, culture and people—betraying my own non-whiteness—by fighting for animal rights?
Representing the World
Perhaps 85 percent of the people on this planet are people of color. And the most rapidly growing animal killing industries are in India and China, where the people have not, historically, eaten much meat. We cannot change the world, in short, if we are only changing the white world.
But one might say, “People from developing countries can’t be won over at this point. There are too many struggles these people face, and they don’t have time for animal rights. Let’s focus on the low-hanging fruit.”
And there is some truth to this claim. Our ability to change foreign peoples is quite limited… but not because animal rights can’t take hold in a poor country. After all, the main objectives of animal liberation, contrary to conventional wisdom, are not economically privileged. My own parents, who grew up on a quasi vegan diet due to poverty, are one example.
The reason we struggle to recruit foreign peoples, then, has nothing to do with material deprivation and everything to do with… friendship. That’s the conclusion of a new strand of research that has burgeoned in the past ten years, network science. And what network science has taught us is this: When it comes to social change, we are affected first and foremost by our immediate peers. Government and public health professionals have struggled for half a century, for example, to determine what drives people to stop smoking. We’ve tried education, taxes, and replacement products galore, but smoking rates have remained stuck at the same 20 percent of the adult population. What social scientists have found is that a single intervention beats pretty much any other in causing even the most stubborn smokers to quit: the smoking norms of one’s friends. If a smoker’s spouse stops smoking, and begins to condemn the practice, an astonishing 67 percent of people will follow by quitting themselves. And if a single friend stops smoking, the figure is 34 percent.
Spreading influence through peer networks, in short, is the Holy Grail of social change. And this is exactly where we have little capacity when we attempt to change a foreign practice or community. Yet, because of our unspoken commitment to performing whiteness, our most popular and passionate campaigns focus on these areas. In short, we engage in campaigns against foreign practices and communities because they are foreign, and not because they are effective.
We should not be surprised, then, when those campaigns fail. Take the white-led campaign to end whaling in Japan. The Japanese activist Tetsuhiko Endo writes that “the international whaling industry makes no more than $31 million a year while major anti-whaling NGOs spend around $25 million. What have whales gotten out of all this anti-whaling money? Hunting rates that are twice as high as they were in 1990.”
What’s the problem? Well, the campaign has made no traction whatsoever in Japan. Endo writes that “for many Japanese, citing whaling as a source of ‘national heritage’ is another way of saying ‘I’m not going to let some fat, aggressive White man tell me what I can and cannot eat.’… [I]f the scales were reversed, and it was the Japanese… who were slandering us for eating, say, tuna, most people would feel the same way.” And without the support of the Japanese—without local activists working with us—it is the whales who ultimately lose.
But anti-colonial sentiments are not confined to the issue of whale slaughter. Virtually every campaign of ethnic targeting creates the same us v. them dynamics. Whether it’s dog meat images that portray “uncivilized” Chinese taking advantage of men’s best friend. Primate trapping videos where “barbaric” Cambodians kidnap primate children from their mothers. Or even fur protests that make unusual and derisive emphasis on Asia as the region of origin. All of these campaigns play into racial animosity, shape the way people of color view our movement, and create situations in which a poor kid from China can’t work for animals without feeling like a traitor to his own people. Who wants to side with the bullying white man, after all, against his own family? The entire movement for animal rights, in short, is discredited within communities of color by anti-foreigner campaigns.
The problem goes even further than this, however, because performing whiteness does damage within white communities as well. The unusual focus on “minority” issues, and by privileged white folks who know almost nothing of the communities they are targeting, creates a public perception that the animal rights movement is frivolous. The province of bored and entitled white people who have too much money and time on their hands. Country club activism. Not a true social justice movement. Maybe even, dare we say it, a little racist—which, at least when it is finally acknowledged, is the cardinal sin of the Left.
How can anyone—even white people—take this movement seriously when it’s so inconsistently, incoherently, and arbitrarily attacking foreigners, people of color, and marginal practices while ignoring far larger and worse atrocities occurring in our own neighborhoods?
A Path Forward
Progress on these issues requires us to address the bigotry within our movements—and not just without. And that is a painful process. I know this because I went through the process myself. For most of my life, I hated being Chinese. I looked at the few Chinese people I grew up with with contempt. I went out of my way to avoid Chinese foods, culture, and people. And I accepted the values imposed on me by the dominant American culture—that playing football was more important than math, that success could be measured by individual accomplishment rather than community empowerment, and that charisma and talent were more valuable than nose-to-the-grindstone effort. In short, I was performing whiteness.
Even after readings in college politically awakened me to the world of anti-discrimination (and ultimately, anti-speciesism), there was a difference between my stated values and my emotions. I still felt embarrassed, for example, when I walked through the din of Chinatown. I felt disgust when I saw another video of Asian people hurting animals. And I felt ashamed when I looked around me, in the social movements that I was working in, and saw nary a colored face. In the recesses of my mind, I secretly still feared that, perhaps, white people truly were better than the rest of us.
But a little project we started in 2013—which we called Direct Action Everywhere—has transformed that fear. The theory that I never dared to test—that animal rights activists could be found on all nations and continents, and from all cultures, races, and creeds—has now been tested, and we have passed with flying colors. I now realize that I never should have worried at all. We can speak proudly for animals—and for our own people—and be confident that we can find allies of every race. No more apologies. No more begging. No more fear and shame. Liberation is born from confidence and honesty, from shining the light of truth onto even the darkest recesses of the human condition.
If I could go back, then, to my teenage self…to the self-loathing Chinese boy, I would share three lessons that I have learned, lessons that I think the entire animal rights movement can apply.
The first is that oppression is, in fact, everywhere, and that we don’t have to be scared or ashamed to admit this. It’s in the unthinkingly violent Chinese man who skins a dog without a second thought. It’s in the angry white bully who pummels a poor Asian kid in a gym class in Indiana. It’s even in a radical anti-racist activist who has spent her entire life thinking about justice but, somehow, doesn’t have any non-white friends. The reason for this is that oppression is systemic, not individual; and as individuals who are fundamentally shaped by the systems in which we live, we can’t avoid the system’s impacts on our beliefs, on our behaviors, and even in our most basic emotional reactions. (For example, having grown up in the U.S., the Western preference for dogs may remain forever imprinted in my mind. Though I love hens dearly, I fear that I will never emotionally respond to a chicken the way that I respond to my dogs Lisa and Natalie. That is speciesism.)
The second lesson is that contesting this oppression is hard, and requires a constructive, open-minded and inclusive outlook—one focused as much on calling in as calling out. Performing whiteness—the elevation of white and Western perspectives—is in fact just one instance of deep and insidious discrimination. Performing maleness. Performing straightness. Performing humanness. Each is an equally important frontier of social justice. When our most basic assumptions about life—that traditional American practices are superior, that men are stronger or smarter than women, that alternative sexual behavior is disgusting, or that meat is just “food” and not the body of a murder victim—are dictated by unspoken systemic bias, we have to dig deep into ourselves and think hard about our own beliefs and behaviors to uproot discrimination and make real and permanent change.
The third and most important lesson, however, is that there is hope in the intersection of all of these struggles, and in the progress that has already been made. My father never became a leader, but he still survived in a country that, just a generation ago, barred everyone of his race from entering its borders. My mother never became a math professor, but she was an astonishingly successful small businessperson in a state where both Asians and women faced obstacles that I can only imagine. And my people may be universally denigrated for eating dogs in the West, but an inspiring movement of young people in China—many of whom I have now met in person—are rising up to defy racial stereotypes and fight for those whose voices have so long been ignored.
As our movement grows, it touches people across the world, and relates the animals’ struggles to their own. When we recognize the commonality of oppression, we also recognize the commonality of liberation. We recognize that direct action is, in fact, everywhere. And in the brilliant connections that are made, we will light the path to liberation.
Wayne Hsiung is a lawyer, writer, and co-founder of the global animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and lead investigator in the DxE Open Rescue Network. Follow Wayne @DxE_Wayne