Veganism, race, oppression—VGN talks to Jay Brave
Some people may know Jay Brave as the guy who made ‘Vegan Shut Up', but there is a lot more to him than his viral video (although millions of video views are nothing to be sniffed at).
As an artist, events coordinator and activist, Jay cannot be pigeonholed.
Earlier this year VGN sat down with him at The Africa Centre in London to discuss identity, breaking down stereotypes and the importance of tackling oppression of all forms.
First of all Jay, we are here in London, do you see yourself as a Londoner?
"I’m a Londoner, I was born in London in the 1980s, my parents are first generation immigrants, but I’ve come to feel that London is my home.
"I definitely don’t feel English—sometimes I worry am I even British—but I’m definitely a Londoner."
And, obviously you are a vegan, how does veganism play into your identity?
"It’s interesting how veganism has ended up defining part of my identity, because I’ve always been somebody who has been seen as a contrarian. I like to go against the grain, I always question decisions that are made by the mass.
"The concept of veganism was something I laughed at. I was part of that crew who [was] akin to William Sitwell recently going ‘why don’t we feed vegans steak and wine.’
"What spoke to me was a larger understanding of humanity and the trials that we face as a collective, not just as a human collective but as a sentient collective. We are destroying our environment, whether through warfare or farming. Whatever it is.
"When people go to me ‘those are pretty macro views, they don’t affect you in a day-to-day’, I recognise they don’t necessarily affect me, but I’ve never believed that having such a myopic view of the world is sustainable in the short term, let alone the long term.
"It takes a bigger view to be able to come from a place of compassion or empathy; you have to put yourself in a situation to really speak to how we can do better. So for me, veganism offered an answer that allowed me to feel less conscious about the harm I cause.
"Bit by bit, veganism really spoke to me in a way that helped me find the answers I needed."
With ‘Vegan Shut Up’ specifically, you featured veganism in your art. How important is that to you?
"I truly believe that art is how I live my life. I am only a paintbrush of which my life is a canvas. Every stroke I make in life is a yearning towards a creative output.
"When I made the song [Vegan Shut Up] people tried to pigeonhole me as ‘the vegan rapper’. Long before I put these words to a beat, I was a writer. I’ve been everything from a music manager to a newspaper editor to a hairdresser. There aren’t many things I haven’t tried my hand at because I believe in transferable skills based on an engineering mindset—how does something work, how can I make it work better?
"By making ‘Vegan Shut Up’, what I recognized was that I want to talk to people about my veganism, but I don’t want to be what is stereotyped as preachy, or hippyish or moany. So I thought, “What would be the best way to convey a message that I believe in my heart and want to get across, but still want to have all the fun elements and not be a lecture?’ So ‘Vegan Shut Up’ was born."
Veganism is often classified as a white, middle class movement. How do you respond to that?
"It’s funny, this stereotype of veganism as a middle class, white thing because I have been in discussions recently on social media about William Sitwell and his comments about vegans.* If that was about any other group of people or other situations and someone was to say something like that, some of these people would be the first people to say cancel this person, let him lose his job. But what it really speaks to is if something isn’t important to you, suddenly it doesn’t mean anything.
"If you’re angry with one prejudice, you have to be angry with all prejudices. Otherwise you are letting us know who you really are.
"For me, while I’m out here really feeling the effects of race—something I don’t want to be a part of; I don’t classify myself racially, but unfortunately I live in a society that forces me into a racialised identity—I recognize the fight that women have trying to unpick the pedestals that a male patriarchal society has forced onto them. And similarly with the animals. All of these are behaviours which come from a similar route of search and destroy, divide and conquer.
"Just because it doesn’t affect me in one situation doesn’t mean that same person who is the oppressor in one, will not come to oppress me at some point.
“The people in this movement I do respect I’ve heard say ‘if we aren’t breaking down all oppression, we aren’t breaking down any of it.’"
*William Sitwell's fall from grace didn't last too long as he was recently employed by The Telegraph newspaper.
Jay Brave will be speaking at VegFestUK in Brighton.