Woke Animal Rights Means No Animal Rights, Part 1

Gary L. Francione
8 min readMay 16, 2021
(source: deseret.com)

Is being sensitive about injustice a good thing?

You bet it is.

Racism, sexism, homophobia — and speciesism — are all around us. We need to be aware of these various forms of discrimination and we ought to reject them. Principle 5 of the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights is clear: Abolitionists reject all forms of human discrimination, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and classism — just as they reject speciesism.

Abolitionists reject speciesism because, like racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other forms of human discrimination, it uses a morally irrelevant criterion (species) to discount and devalue the interests of sentient beings. But any opposition to speciesism makes sense only as part of a general opposition to all forms of discrimination. That is, we cannot oppose speciesism but claim that, as animal advocates, we do not have a position on these other forms of discrimination. We cannot say that we reject species as a morally objectionable criterion to discount or devalue the interests of nonhumans but that we do not have a position on whether race, sex, or sexual orientation/preference are morally objectionable criteria when used to discount or devalue human interests. Our opposition to speciesism requires that we oppose all discrimination.

So to the extent that “woke” refers to being awakened to the pervasive societal discrimination against human and nonhumans, that’s great. For example, Black Lives Matter is a movement that is necessary to help to educate everyone about how systemic racism pervades our society.

But there are ways in which “woke” is nothing more than speciesism masquerading as progressive thought. I will give you two examples of the problem — two of the many examples I could give and that I will be writing about at length at a later time.

I. Veganism as a Moral Imperative is “Racist”

It is fairly common to encounter the argument — particularly (but not exclusively) in academic circles — that it is “racist” to maintain that veganism is a moral imperative even for communities of color or other groups that have particular food traditions.

Gary L. Francione

Gary L. Francione is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers University and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Lincoln.