APHRO-ISM: AN INTERVIEW WITH APH KO
Aph Ko is a blogger, performer and vegan. She became prominent after writing the first article that listed 100 Black Vegans. This then led to her creating Black Vegans Rock which spotlights individual Black vegans on a daily basis. The website won a 2016 Bloggy Award from VegNews Magazine. She is also the founder of Aphro-ism which higlights black vegan feminist critical analysis. In 2014, Aph was named in the top 10 indie creatives by IndieWire. VC sat down with her before her upcoming speeches at Vegfest London in October.
Can you tell us your vegan story ?
I went vegan for both health and political reasons. Originally, I checked out veganism because I was having horrible cramps during my period. It was a nightmare and that was when I started checking out lifestyle changes. Then, when I went to graduate school, I was motivated to politically understand animal oppression. I didn’t understand how people who regularly discussed issues relating to racism and sexism were struggling to discuss animal bodies in their analyses, even on the theoretical level. It was frightening actually. I like theorizing around animal oppression and race and I am interested in providing new theoretical frameworks for anti-racist movements to help lead us a little closer to liberation.
Were there any low points whilst transitioning towards a vegan lifestyle?
I wouldn’t necessarily frame the rough spots in my vegan journey as the “low points” of my vegan journey. I think I was merely UNLEARNING behaviors that I had been conditioned to follow my whole life, and that process of conceptually and physically detoxing from being brainwashed was intense. I didn’t know how to cook vegan food so I just bought processed unhealthy crap. It was hard for me to eat healthy foods because previously, I only knew how to cook chicken and steak. lol. I didn’t understand what vegan cooking meant. I didn’t even really know how to grocery shop as a vegan. It was quite a process. However, it’s become so much easier to make vegan dishes now that I’m immersed in the diet and political lifestyle.
My sister Syl was already vegan when I went vegan, so having that support was nice. However, I have some family members who don’t understand this choice. The hardest part of being vegan though is dealing with other vegans. I’m being honest here. A lot of vegans are really Eurocentric and have a really white-centered understanding of animal oppression. Some white vegans infantilize animals and hyper-fixate on their literal bodies which can be corny. I don’t relate to that movement at all. Sometimes I feel like I fit in better with the anti-racist movement than I do the vegan movement.
Another difficult part of veganism is realizing how so many people in the mainstream vegan movement don’t understand how diverse black vegans are. There’s this assumption that we’re all the same and we all do the same type of work. People automatically assume I’m a food justice activist when I’m not. I’m a theorist, so it’s always frustrating when people ask me questions in interviews that have nothing to do with my work. So many people have asked me how low-income black people can get access to vegan food and I’m like: do you not know what a theorist does? Why are you asking me this question? That’s frustrating. Black folks are always seen as a monolith which is what happens when white supremacy is the dominant power structure.
What were the motivations behind starting Aphro-ism and Black Vegans Rock?
I started Aphro-ism because I wanted to create my own space where I could control the content and the overall narrative of the site. I didn’t want to privilege page clicks or garbage analyses. I wanted to offer tough, intense material that would take some time to process. All too often in our social justice movements, we don’t seek to challenge people to think. That’s why I had to stop blogging on other people’s websites. Sometimes, it feels like some folks just make websites to own a piece of digital land...not to actually change the conversation or add a new critical component. That was the point of Aphro-ism. I have removed some of the essays from the website because Aphro-ism is actually being turned into a book...so stay tuned. I also wanted to make the space to theorize from a black perspective. Unfortunately, there are a lot of vegans of colour who adopt a white-centric understanding of animal oppression. Aphro-ism has its roots in black epistemology...we prize black knowledge. We wanted to understand animal oppression through the black socio-historical experience which produces different types of analyses.
I started Black Vegans Rock after I wrote the first article listing 100 Black Vegans back in June 2015. I received so much positive feedback from the list, and I realized how many incredible vegans I left off the list, so I created a platform to spotlight vegan work every day. It’s a lot of work, but it’s therapeutic waking up each day and reading the words of a black vegan. Instead of fighting racism in white vegan spaces, I just decided to make my own space that was offering the types of representations that I wanted to see. I think more people of colour need to deal with racism in this way...instead of trying to educate white folks and spend all of our precious time and energy fighting them, we just need to look in another direction and make our own spaces that privilege our own voices.
Were there any negative responses to the 100 Black Vegans article?
Yes, when I wrote the 100 Black Vegans article back in June 2015, I dealt with a lot of negative racist feedback because people weren’t understanding what racism had to do with speciesism. They kept saying stuff like, “There are no black vegans or white vegans...we are ALL vegan.” They would also say things like, “All Vegans Rock” which sounded a lot like “All Lives Matter”. Even some vegans of color said some awful things because some of them didn’t understand what race had to do with speciesism either. That made me realize that just because you’re vegan doesn’t necessarily mean you understand what oppression is about.
Can you tell us about your work with Dr Breeze Harper?
I am helping Dr. Harper edit the next Sistah Vegan book tentatively titled, The Praxis of Justice in an Era of Black Lives Matter. I think Dr. Harper’s brilliant work has been such an integral part of so many black peoples’ vegan journeys, including my own. I can’t tell you how honored I am to be working alongside her. Some days I have to pinch myself. I read Sistah Vegan when I was an undergraduate, so it’s surreal for me to be editing this volume with her.
I’d love to know what being vegan means to you?
Veganism is a praxis of justice.
You can find out more about Aph at: aphko.com