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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Been down this road before…

Food Empowerment Project has recently thrown our support behind AB 376, which would ban the possession of shark fins in California.

But unfortunately, this blog isn’t about why sharks are one of my favorite animals (oh, but let me know if you want me to elaborate on that), it is about a situation nearly as grim as the one that sharks are facing now.

The bill has stirred up controversy – it is co-authored by a wonderful Assemblymember in my county, Assemblymember Fong, but it is being blasted by a State Senator Yee from San Francisco, who is running for mayor. And unfortunately, he is attempting to make this an issue about Chinese culture.

As a person of color, I find two things incredibly distressing about these situations:

  1. When ethnicity, race, or whatever you want to call it, is used to condone any form of animal exploitation or cruelty.
  2. When people who defend the animals expose themselves to be racists.

Food Empowerment project was started to show the interconnections of both human animal and non-human animal injustices. One of my main mottos is “Oppression is oppression no matter what form it takes.”

Now, as someone who attended the charreada when I was young, I often speak out in opposition to the cruelties involved in these traditional rodeos (not the beauty of other parts of these events, just those involving animals). My memories of attending are of complete sadness. I am appalled when people call that our “culture.” To me, every cruelty and injustice, even under the guise of cultural tradition, needs to be stopped (including many of those in the U.S.).

Regardless of how strongly I feel about the animal cruelty at these events, I am just as disgusted by the vitriolic comments against my people (for example Mexicans are lazy and are just cruel to animals). In order to comment along with the people who are opposed to the animal cruelty I have to speak against their hateful comments otherwise I would feel as if I am siding with absolute racists.

Those of us who do not tolerate animal abuse can still be proud of our culture.

When I worked on the law in California to ban the production and sale of foie gras, the race card was brought out again. The producer (of El Salvadorian descent) claimed it was a race issue. I quickly reminded the legislators that the cruelty involved in the production of foie gras had nothing to do with culture.

And here it is again with the shark finning bill. The race card is dropped and people who are working on the bill are at a loss since it is such a simple and clear issue of preventing a form of cruelty as well as protecting species who are currently threatened with extinction. And yet, I read comments on blogs that absolutely sicken me with their xenophobic, racist remarks about the Chinese people.

My initial reaction of course is to worry about how incredibly prevalent racism is – even in California’s Bay Area. How can people who care about non-human animals be so filled with hatred? And what do they think they accomplish by expressing this?

This is the road I would never like to go down again. But I know it is inevitable in a society where the we are often pitted against one another.

I just hope that those reading this will stand strong and speak out against both. Please do not allow any comment in favor of the animals with even a tinge of racism go without speaking up for the animals and speaking against racism.

We, as advocates for justice, for compassion and for the animals, cannot allow it to continue.

For information on sharks, please see our webpage:


  1. Thank you for writing this, Lauren. I am always inspired to work even harder to expose the link of all oppressions when I read your blogs.

  2. Thank you so much Sophia for caring and being on the side of justice. Stay in touch!

  3. Thank goodness the world has people like you Lauren - working hard to educate others that our fellow creatures on the planet deserve respect, love and comfort ..... not so different from the things that human creatures wish for.

  4. Thank you for writing this lauren! I just posted this on our APAOHA Facebook page:
    Fellow humane advocates & environmentalists, if you come across any posts or comments re: the shark fin ban where race/culture are used in a degrading manner, please gently remind people that they are giving our opponents ammunition (making it a race/culture issue). Please remind them politely to keep the dialogue civil & respectful. Thank you!

  5. "As a person of color, I find two things incredibly distressing about these situations..."

    Yup, I find myself in this boat SO often. But that's why I'm happy that more people like you are talking about it...I feel like there's a growing consciousness about it as I'm meeting more vegans of color. I'm hopeful that things are changing. Thank you for writing this.