What is the privilege of carnism?
Dr. Melanie Joy gained international recognition when she coined the term “Carnism.” Carnism can be defined as a prevailing ideology in which people support the use and consumption of animal products, especially meat. In a talk with Jane (posted below), this Harvard-educated social psychologist breaks down what it means to live in a society dominated by carnism, and the dangers of carnistic privilege. Dr. Joy is an award-winning author and longtime social justice advocate. Her latest book, The Vegan Matrix, explores the issues of unexamined privilege within the animal rights movement and discusses healthy ways to communicate towards mutual understanding.
We’ve all been at that dinner party where the privilege of carnism seems to dominate. Friends make fun of the vegan in the room, and make jokes about dead animals on the table. Or, much worse, that moment where a non-vegan treats a vegan’s facts as just opinions.
Dr. Joy explains that the carnistic mentality exists to keep carnism alive. Carnists become defensive about any challenges to their decisions as a result of this mentality. Carnists believe that they have a right to eat animals, and vegans are a direct threat to their carnistic privilege.
“Carnistic privilege causes people—non-vegans—to perceive minor inconveniences as major burdens. So, simple changes that would save lives feel like an injustice or an unfair request.” -Dr Melanie Joy
Privilege and its impact on relationships
Why is it that friends and family can be the hardest people with whom to discuss veganism?
Dr. Joy explains that privilege is hard to see within oneself. Privilege thrives when it is unseen by the person who possess the privilege. Privilege is only visible from the other side of it. This can lead to misunderstandings within otherwise healthy relationships.
“Unexamined privilege causes us to be defensive against anything that would help us become aware of the fact that it exists,” Dr. Joy explains. “The antidote to carnism is awareness. Except that carnistic privilege exists specifically to block awareness.”
Dr. Joy challenges us to shift our mindset when it comes to communicating. While we all wish to guide our friends and family towards changing perspectives, the focus must be on understanding one another. She explains that healthy communication depends on achieving mutual understanding.
Managing Emotions Towards Carnists
When we see injustice, our natural response is to feel anger. Dr. Joy explains: “anger is the emotional response to injustice. Your anger is a sign that your moral compass is working.”
Especially in the vegan movement, we all wish to defend the sweet and innocent animals who cannot speak for themselves. But, Dr. Joy asks us to look at how that anger can become unhealthy. Anger can begin to manifest itself into contempt, which leads to unhealthy communication.
“As soon as you feel contempt, that is a red flag that you are relating to your anger in a way that is not healthy. Contempt is a sign that you have put yourself in a position of moral superiority, that you are perceiving someone as morally inferior.” -Dr. Joy
Recognizing Privilege in the Vegan Movement
Within the movement, we must acknowledge the respective privileges that we, as individuals, have. Infighting is dangerous and risks destroying the movement. Dr. Joy reminds us that unchecked privilege can lead to destruction.
As vegans, we share the common goal: to transform carnism into veganism. But, in order to get there, we must consider the privileges we each bring to the movement. We must not only be open to hearing different perspectives, we must actively pursue and amplify diverse voices.
Dr. Joy encourages us to look at the realities of privilege within the movement. She points out that the leadership often fails to reflect the diversity within the movement.
“If you quantify it, there are more men in positions of power relative to the amount of women in the movement.” -Dr. Joy
Dr. Joy calls for more inclusivity and diversity within the movement to reach the broadest audience. As vegans, we possess the superpower to feel empathy for the most oppressed beings on the planet.
“To feel compassion is a privilege.” -Dr. Joy