Moving Towards Antiracism in the Animal Advocacy Movement: the “Encompass Essays”

Antiracism in Animal Advocacy: Igniting Cultural Transformation, which was originally published as the series “Encompass Essays” by Sentient Media, is a collection of essays by 15 prominent animal rights advocates that tackles the current issues of race and racism in the animal advocacy movement and offers an antiracist path forward. Born out of Encompass’ 2020 Racial Equity Institute, this collection offers an “exploratory space” wherein movement leaders consider ways to make the animal welfare movement more just. 

The collection is compiled of short chapters that are organized into subcategories such as “awakening,” “introspection,” “accountability,” and leading.” After a foreword by Aryenish Birdie, the founder of Encompass, and an introduction by the editorJasmin Singer, the first section “Awakening” includes chapters that detail the moment and aftermath of advocates becoming aware of their own racial identities and the rampant problems of racism within the animal welfare movement. As written by organizing manager for Mercy for Animals, Shayna Rowbotham: 

In better understanding white supremacy culture it’s clear how white-lead, white-majority animal advocacy organizations have long upheld white supremacy through tactics and strategies centered on [] pervasive values and belief systems, especially the hoarding and preservation of power, within a racist paradigm… our society, including the animal protection movement, continues to be plagued by covert white supremacy. 

This collection’s strength isn’t in its critiques of racism and white supremacy within the contemporary animal welfare non-profit landscape, though, but instead in its recommendation on how to rectify these problems. Each chapter includes strategies organizations can make to reform their organizations and move towards a more equitable movement. Specifically, the chapters by Jamie Berger and Cailen LaBarge offer helpful and concrete steps to approach and improve upon racial inequity in animal advocacy.  

While Antiracism in Animal Advocacy: Igniting Cultural Transformation is certainly needed and is a must-read for all staff of the leading animal advocacy non-profits in our movement, I find myself apprehensive to fully endorse it. Part of that apprehension to fully endorse this collection comes from its lack of citing the work of trans and queer vegans of color who have been doing this work for decades. Specifically, I find it strange that this collection, though narrative-based, excludes the genealogy of work from Julia Feliz and Sanctuary Publishers, including the titles Veganism in an Oppressive World: A Veganism of Color Community Project (2017) and Veganism of Color—Decentering Whiteness in Human and Nonhuman Liberation (2019). 

Similarly, while I am beyond excited about the work and success of Encompass and Antiracism in Animal Advocacy is itself a testament to collaboration, as it was developed with the support of Sentient Media, Our Hen House, and Encompass— it seems to have an uninterrogated problem with whose voices should be and are amplified. There is an absence of voices included in this collection from those who may not have been able to afford to attend Encompass’ 2020 Racial Equity Institute which costs from $425 to $625 for a ticket, which is prohibitively expensive to large swaths of our community, and this sits strangely with me. And while Encompass did offer no-cost registration scholarships for select animal advocates of the global majority, the inherent classism in this collection is difficult to overlook. Likewise, the contributors of this collection are mostly well-established advocates with positions in the movement. While I do believe that their inclusion in the Racial Equity Institute is of the utmost importance and I find their dedication to antiracism required for any chance of a more equitable movement in the future, I can’t help but think of the more precarious workers in the movement whose voices weren’t given a platform and who should be leading these conversations.  

Lastly, I find it problematic that this collection and Encompass’ work in general, is visibly absent of a vocal critique of capitalism, which other more radical activists would argue is integral in our fight against white supremacy, as the institutions that uphold racism are wholly interconnected with capitalism. For example, Mikaela Saccoccio’s chapter, “How Philanthropy in Farmed Animal Advocacy Reinforced white Bubbles,” critiques how “the overwhelming majority of philanthropy fighting factory farming” goes to white-led organization in the Global North, illustrating that the money pipeline in the animal advocacy movement is heaving embedded in “white power structures” that illustrate “deep histories of racism.” However, she does not call for an overhaul of the effective altruism movement, but instead for “educating and advocating” for anti-racism efforts. 

This funding issue that Saccoccio tackles concerning who receives funding and why, as well as who is able to acquire a platform and how they use it also has implications for Encompass itself. Encompass has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from Open Philanthropy, Animal Charity Evaluators,, and other organizations, while other groups led by trans vegans and Black vegans struggle to receive funding.

If Encompass’ goal is to challenge the animal advocacy movement and the audience of this book are the well-to-do staff and management at these organizations then the book is resoundingly a success. However, I think that our movement needs much more than a reform, and, in many ways, needs to be revolutionized. I don’t believe that reform will dismantle the systems of white supremacy that are institutionalized within every segment of our movement. Similarly, I don’t believe that antiracism without anticapitalism can create structural change. Consistent anti-oppression cannot occur within the confines of vegan capitalism and its dual branches of effective altruism and performative philanthropy. Inclusion isn’t enough to end the politics of commodification, domination, and supremacy, but total liberation might be.  

Zane McNeill is the founder of the DEIJ organization, Roots DEI Consulting and Policy, and co-manager of the labor rights group, Rights for Animal Rights Advocates (RARA). They have published anthologies on anti-carceral veganism and queer and trans liberation with PM Press, Sanctuary Press, and Lantern Publishing and Media. They are also a contributing writer with Sentient Media and Law@theMargins.

Artwork by Heather Fraser

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