Book Review – Aphro-ism

Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two SistersAphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters by Aph Ko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five stars because everyone should read and consider it.

For some years, sisters Aph and Syl Ko have been blogging under the title Aphro-ism about black veganism (and other related topics); Aph also started the Black Vegans Rock! website. I knew of them, but hadn’t sat down with their thinking before this book. Here they collect and revise some of the key posts from the blog.

One of the running themes is the human-animal binary, a conceptual framework that they trace to the colonial, Enlightenment era. As such, the term “human” signifies not only a member of the species homo sapiens, but a culturally specific view of the ideal human: male, white, European, [capitalist]. In this mode of thinking, anyone who deviates from this standard “human” falls — to greater or lesser degree — into the Other category “animal,” essentially exploitable and marginalized.

Thus, the Ko sisters argue, animal advocates and anti-racists must disturb and re-imagine this binary. It’s a challenging task, and the essays presented here are only a starting point. Aphro-ism isn’t a historical investigation, or a presentation of the alternative modes of thinking that the human-animal binary cries out for — and it doesn’t purport to be. Instead, the book is a an attempt to fully understand the conceptual problem that lies at the heart of animal exploitation and white supremacy. Along the way, Aph and Syl pause to comment on trending topics, like the Black Lives Matter movement, the killing of Cecil the Lion, and the rise of social media stars. Their writing style is inviting and sharp, with Syl diving perhaps more often into the heavy philosophy. [Reading her pieces, I often felt like I was back in grad school.]

As a sincere attempt to re-think a problem, you won’t find that changing one’s mind, or harboring doubts, are signs of weakness here. Nor do Aph and Syl insist that their way of thinking is the only workable approach, but they find that it is the most workable approach for them. It is an approach that I believe has the power to re-inspire vegans and animal activists old and new, provided we are ready to understand the roots of racism and to care about human beings as fiercely as we care about chickens and rabbits. As Carol Adams does in the afterword, I urge you to read it with an open mind and open heart.

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