Note: The slides here have been created after the event, to accompany the recording and were not shown during the talk itself. See also the essay referenced during the talk, here.
The Vegan Flag: A Critical
“I apologise for my voice, I actually have a cold right now, and it’s also really dry here so if it sounds like I am gasping for air, I probably am.
“I am very excited to be here over Skype and this is such a wonderful opportunity. My only regret is that I couldn’t make it in person to see all of these people that I have either worked with or spoken to online, and most of all I want to thank my friend and long-time supporter, Julia Feliz who is probably there right now, who along with the other organisers was instrumental in making this event possible, and I am so grateful for her invitation to speak here today.
“Before I begin, I must acknowledge that I am currently occupying the traditional ancestral lands of Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. Specifically, I am on Treaty Seven Land and I remain in solidarity with Indigenous people all over the world who continue to resist theft of land, water and resources by Governments and corporations.
“So I am going to be talking today about ‘The Vegan Flag’ ..”
[Slide: ‘The Vegan Flag’ flying – a large white ‘V’ extending to the top corners, with blue below and green above.]
“.. and my talk is based on an article I wrote about a year ago, when the vegan flag began to gain popularity in mainstream and vegan spaces, and I noticed that since that time the popularity of the vegan flag seems to have declined, despite it being overwhelmingly supported by mainstream white vegans, and I am not precisely sure how to account for this decline, but I do strongly feel that a critical discussion about flags and what they covertly represent is still needed if we – we being, those of us in the human community – are to address oppression in a consistent and radical way.
“So, a recent example of this is the rainbow Pride flag .. ”
[Slide: The ‘Reboot’ Pride Flag, appropriated from e.g. the Puerto Rican Pride flag, with chevrons of white, pink, pale blue, brown, black at the left edge pointing right across the six horizontal stripe rainbow Pride flag, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple from the top.]
“This flag is meant to reflect the diversity and unity within the LGBTQ+ movement. Black, Indigenous and other Trans People of Colour remain the most marginalized, they experience disproportionate murder rates, and are over-represented in prisons while Black and Brown representation even in ‘queer-friendly’ spaces like Pride parades, marches and the media. Recently, Daniel Quasar, who is white-passing, came up with a ‘Reboot’ of the original flag to include a striped chevron ..”
[Slide: The ‘New’ Pride Flag, centreing Black and Brown Trans people, with stripes of white, pink, pale blue, brown and black from top left corner to the centre, overlaying the six horizontal stripe rainbow Pride flag, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple from the top.]
” .. I don’t have a Powerpoint so you are going to have to picture it .. overlapping the initial design of the flag ..
[Slide: The ‘New’ Pride Flag at the top, the ‘Reboot’ Pride Flag at the lower left]
“.. with the colours of the Trans flag along with black and brown on a triangular area pointing to the right – which is meant to represent progress.
“The problem here, as Julia Feliz has pointed out, is that this design appropriates the Puerto Rican flag. Daniel has exceeded their original goal of US$14,000 on Kickstarter for this campaign, while Julia – a Puerto Rican Person of Colour – has not received any significant funding for the new, inclusive Pride flag that she conceptualized and brought into fruition with graphic designer Hayley Brown, and both of them are vegan. So while People of Colour try to reclaim flags, as they reframe it, their own histories and their experiences, they are still up against colonial powers that privilege and benefit people who are as close in proximity to a white male.
“So, moving along to the vegan flag, on June 9th 2017, Gad Hakimi released ‘an official vegan flag’ with the intention of ‘unifying the vegan movement and developing a clear and consistent brand for veganism’. The flag is freely available online – and if you have your device on you now, you can probably just do an image search for what it looks like. It is meant to be shared widely as a mass-mediated image amongst vegans and other mainstream public spaces.
“In a recent analysis of the emerging interest in the vegan flag, Frances McCormack argued that the flag erroneously centers vegans, rather than non-humans as a marginalized group, that it upholds a capitalist approach to veganism, and that it assumes that the vegan movement is currently in a state of unification. Following McCormack, I would like to further problematize the flag from a critical race and de-colonial perspective. I contend that the flag covertly upholds Western imperialist and racist ideology through its conceptualization as a flag, in the first place, its dependence on Western linguistic and alphabetic conventions, and, finally, the symbolic associations of its colours.
“So, primarily my concern with the vegan flag is that fundamentally, all flags are entangled with the historical colonialist narrative. The notion of a flag to denote a symbolic and ‘legal’ claim to land, resources, and people was popularized by Western societies and continues to function as a marker of Eurocentric power structures globally. For racialized people, flags in general are a reminder of ownership and occupation, as well as violence, genocide, and cultural theft that come along with colonization.
“In the current social and political climate, flags are also clearly aligned with the military industrial complex, a system that merges corporate interests with government and military to further entrench a colonial legacy. In addition to upholding speciesism by displacing non-humans from their natural homes and forcing them to participate in military activities, the immediate connotations of nationalism that are conjured by a flag are underpinned by the school-to-prison pipeline and an over-representation of racialized people in prison systems.
“Therefore, marginalized groups remain subjugated as a result of what flags represent. Even seemingly benign uses of flags, such as the Girl Guides flag, are still connected to colonial traditions and participate in a system that continues to uphold Western imperialism and values.
“As a Girl Guide myself for many years, I can still recall part of the Girl Guide Pledge. It might be different in other parts of the world, but in Canada it stated: ‘I promise to do my best to do my duty before God, the Queen and my Country.’ And we recited this with almost militaristic precision every week in Girl Guides.
“So, by ignoring this history and its residual effects, the vegan flag perpetuates the myth that a flag is an appropriate and universal tool to unify vegans of colour with the mainstream (white vegan) movement.
“So, in the vegan flag, the dominant visual element is a large ‘V’ located in the center and extending to the top corners. The ‘V’ represents veganism in English and in other language systems that are Eurocentric in origin, but it also signifies the colonization of ideas and language by Western cultures. While the term ‘veganism’ is still fairly new to Western discourse, there have been civilizations throughout history and around the globe that ate veganically and continue to celebrate their identities through the consumption of only plants. Indigenous societies all over Africa, India (the Shakaharis for instance), Southeast Asia, and the Americas who use different language systems but have been eating this way for centuries have been effectively erased by the this flag.
“As some point out, however, this way of eating was not necessarily intended to bring about animal liberation. Yes, that is true, because Indigenous societies which lived with a reverence for the Earth and understood our connection to nature were also not factory farming millions of animals and reducing the status of these animals to commodities. So there was no need to #EmptyTheCages until white people invented massive killing operations and popularized capitalism.
“Again, the idea of eating plants, through the dominance of a ‘V’ becomes congruous with mainstream (white) veganism and is indicative of culturally coded assumptions of Eurocentrism and European alphabets as universal.
“Finally, the ideas represented by the colour choices of the flag continue the embodiment of Eurocentric representations of reality and truth. Although interpretations of colours and their meanings can vary, the designers stated (without irony) on their official website that they chose white for its associations with ‘light, goodness, success, and beginning’ and blue as symbolic of ‘heaven’. Again, the idea of heaven is a primarily Eurocentric idea and eliminates many Eastern traditions. Further, the obsession with white as an indicator of goodness and success has been used throughout history to oppress and subjugate people who do not meet the criteria to be racially ‘white’. The reason the colour white can be accepted as symbolic of goodness and success is because ‘white’ people have determined themselves to be inherently good and successful, implicitly reinforcing the colour black’s negative interpretations. Thus, those who are not white must be better suited to life of enslavement and servitude.
“This paradigm is reinforced by the blazing white ‘V’ on the vegan flag, reminding us that the vegan movement is a white movement, with the most dominant vegan voices being those that de-emphasize or ignore racism and other human struggles in the quest to forward animal rights.
“So I argue for re-thinking of what symbols we use in the vegan movement to represent unity. And that is all I have to say.” [Applause]
(Transcript kindly done by AC B. – thank you!)