Yvette Baker is a Los Angeles based writer, social critic, and intersectional activist whose work is devoted to exposing and analyzing the intersections of human and nonhuman oppression. With her activism, she aims to empower the vegan movement as a movement for total liberation. She also dances, even when there’s no music playing.
In this interview, she talks about how her mom sparked her passion for helping others from an early age. She further shares her thoughts on total liberation and why we must include Indigenous sovereignty and the commitment to decolonizing our food system in animal rights and liberation.
Q: Yvette, thank you so much for this interview. Could you tell us a bit about yourself as a person as well as your activism journey?
I'm a self-taught academic and social critic who chose international travel over finishing college. I've had a passion for sociology, specifically race relations and sociolinguists, long before I was aware of what those terms meant. I've only started referring to myself as a 'writer' at age 37 because imposter syndrome is hard to overcome. But some of my earliest memories are moments of challenging societal rules and norms and I’ve always loved to write about them. I'm not sure when I began thinking of myself as an 'activist' but it's fair to say that I've probably always been involved in some form of social justice activism.
I couldn't have been older than 5 or 6 years old when my mom and I would ride around our city (on a public bus) and gather fruits from the trees in the yards of upper-middle-class folx so we could distribute them to homeless folx; a lot of the fruits had already fallen onto the grass anyway. We were financially poor ourselves, but her passion for helping other people in whatever way she could really helped shape my worldview. And watching my mom negotiate with squirrels over the possession of avocados was just priceless. Since then, I've always been someone trying to help; organizing strikes and contesting unjust policies, even when they don't affect me personally.
My animal rights activism began pretty shortly after switching my diet to plant-based, nearing 6 years ago. Unfortunately, in its early stages, it was heavily influenced by what I now refer to as 'mainstream/white veganism.' I was guided by a lot of self-righteous activists who’d take the condescending approach as they’d preach to people that the solution to animal exploitation was simply living as a vegan. The spaces were apolitical and problematic all over the place. But since then, I've spent a lot of time reading, learning, and critically thinking about how animal liberation fits into the overall goal of liberation for everyone, aka 'Total Liberation.' Focusing on how the goals of other movements for justice and freedom intersect with the goals of animal rights activists has really helped me grow. These days, the pandemic has forced me to shift most of my activism to digital spaces. I started posting more frequently on social media -- sort of -- and I continue to support as many grassroots initiatives and sanctuaries as I can.
Q: You describe yourself as an “Afro-Indigenous Anti-Speciesist Abolitionist for Total Liberation”, could you explain what that means to you?
I use that in an attempt to preview what one can expect by following my work online. I think it's important that I highlight both who I am as an Afro-Indigenous "American" as well the liberatory ideals of veganism, where my activism is mainly focused. The latter is too often overlooked while throwing around the term, 'vegan'.
I say, ‘Afro-Indigenous’ because both sides of my family have ancestors originating from Africa as well as the peoples indigenous to the land I live on in the U.S. 'Abolitionist' because I believe that every type of cage should be emptied and abolished. 'Anti-speciesist' because it’s a large part of my ethical/political worldview.
I've found that I can't really trust the term 'vegan' anymore because it's become so convoluted with dietary practices and lifestyle consumerism. 'Total Liberation' is the goal of my activism; I see it as an appropriate Anarcho-communist term for "no one's free until everyone is free".