I have four go-to blogs that I read for celeb gossip and fashion and not just for the photos but because I also enjoy the writing (insert, “…and I read Playboy for the articles,” joke here). One particular writer named Sarah, who has her own movie review site called Cinesnark and also writes for LaineyGossip (one of the aforementioned go-to sites), is someone I’ve quickly become a fan of over the past couple of years. While I don’t always care about the topics she covers (my profile pic aside, Superhero films and comic books aren’t really my jam), I love her writing. On more than one occasion, I’ve finished reading a piece of hers and thought wistfully to myself, “How can I learn to write like that?!?” She has the ability to explain her point of view and then summarize it perfectly in a few sentences. Entertainment writers will probably never get the same respect as “serious” journalists do but good writing is good writing and I would argue that the subject is of secondary importance if the piece is well-constructed and can launch a dialogue on a particular issue.
After the recent verbal drubbing my friend endured from a total stranger in a restaurant just because she was vegan, I happened to read a post by Sarah she had written about several Native American actors walking off the set of the new Adam Sandler film, “…in protest of the racist, crass depiction of Native people and culture in the movie.” It’s absolutely worth the read and I’m not going to try to recapture it here. Put simply, the actors walked off because when they pointed out to the filmmakers that a lot of the script’s dialogue was racist, sexist and their wardrobe inaccurate, they were told by one of the producers, “If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.”
Nice, uh? Completely rejected for standing up for themselves. Imagine being outright dismissed for who you are by someone who couldn’t possibly know the first thing about what that experience feels like.
Netflix’s official response to the actors walking off (Netflix is airing the film) was equally as repugnant as the producer: “(The film) is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of — but in on — the joke.” As if labelling something satire gives someone carte blanche to write a lazy script with little research or effort or automatically makes it funny.
Even though Sarah’s post was not about being vegan, the way she described this attitude and the response of the producers/Netflix was what made me have one of those god-I-wish-I-could-write-like-that moments because it’s how I often feel as a vegan. Speaking of her own personal experience of racist stereotypes from “the Pocahontas jokes…plus a hundred other indignities I’m expected to let go of on a daily basis,” she nails this, “It’s just a joke!” attitude that is meant to not only absolve the offending, ignorant person of any wrongdoing but is also designed to make it your problem that you were offended in the first place! And when we do react and say something, we’re labelled over-sensitive or, in the case of animal activists or vegans, “militant.” She writes:
“It’s always our problem, isn’t it? Someone else’s sexism, racism, or homophobia (or in the case of animals, Speciesism) is never their issue—it’s ours for being upset. I don’t think the issue is that people are over-sensitive these days, it’s that people aren’t willing to bear someone else’s dumbassery anymore. For the most part, we aren’t mad when someone says a dumb thing, we’re mad because we’re expected to go along with it like nothing happened.”
This is precisely how my friend felt that evening in the restaurant. She even said as much herself, “Needless to say I was fuming but hid it graciously ‘cos that’s what vegans do EVERY DAY of our lives.” We rarely bring up being vegan because of the stereotypes and yet when someone else does, we’re expected to just laugh right along with the hippie, tree-hugging, I’m-totally-going-to-make-a-big-deal-about-eating-this-rare-steak-in-front-of-you because if we don’t, we risk being labelled humourless and hypersensitive.
This is WHY stereotypes – any stereotypes – are so damaging. They are assumptions based on one-dimensional impressions that have been perpetuated for so long everyone assumes it’s the sum total of what it means to be that person or animal. Stereotypes turn harmful when they become so engrained that perhaps-well-meaning-but-still-clueless morons assume this gives them endless permission to make jokes, comments and further assumptions on a subject they know jack-shit about because they’ve never bothered to find out what it actually means in the first place.
For me, being vegan is first and foremost about standing up for animals. Animals suffer from stereotypes as much as humans do (e.g., birds are stupid, pigs are dirty, sheep are dumb, etc.,) and just as with human stereotypes, it is these false perceptions that have given companies and consumers lawful permission to confine, breed and slaughter animals by the millions every year for food we waste and products we don’t need. These animals endure pain, loss and terror on levels we actively choose not to think about so we can continue with our lazy choices and dismissive comments. But as a vegan, I must also learn to stand up for myself. Vegans don’t deserve to be ridiculed for our food choices any more than a Native American actor does for standing up for themselves on a movie set that is subjecting them to blatant racism.
At the end of the day, what makes phobias and prejudice so objectionable is that it is someone else speaking on behalf of another person’s experience, one they couldn’t possibly have a clue about because they’ve never actually had to deal with it. Just as I can never know what it’s like to be an animal “raised” on a factory farm who never steps foot outside except to go to a slaughterhouse or what it feels like to be an immigrant and leave everything behind to start over in a new country or what it feels like to be gay and have to come out to my family, please stop assuming you know what vegans are all about. Because until you ask or find out for yourself, you don’t. You really, really don’t.