Syl Ko is an independent researcher known for bringing race to the forefront of the movement to end animal abuse. Her writing challenges species-centric terminology and dominant conceptions of veganism, encouraging brave and imaginative shifts in thinking that prioritize multispecies justice.
An academic background in philosophy from San Francisco State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill contributes to Ko’s skillful contextualization and framing of history. In a recent interview she remarked that “veganism ought to address not just literal non-human animals, but also and especially the narrative of animality that is responsible for all of the ideas we form about anything we think of as an animal.” She takes on centuries of racist animalization in her work, drawing connections between the “Animality” narrative and the white supremacist tradition of placing white men at the locus of humanity.
Ko is the co-author (with sister, Aph Ko) of Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters published by Lantern Books. This book reconciles gaps in our understanding that have placed Black liberation at odds with animal rights by providing the theoretical position of Black Veganism. Syl describes Black Veganism as the understanding that nonhuman animal subordination is a specifically racial phenomenon. “We cannot talk about nonhuman animals if we do not also talk about race. And we cannot talk about race if we do not talk about nonhuman animals,” she says, “I do not think anti-racism is effectively mobilized if we leave out billions of beings who we view through racial thinking.” The billions of beings that Ko mentions are the nonhuman animals that have been racialized under the binary structure of thinking that places the categories “human” and “animal” in opposition to one another and requires the devaluing of one for the valuing of the other.
When met with resistance from folks committed solely to improving the lives of nonhuman animals, Ko manages to express her commitment to rule-breaking and revolutionary thinkers pluralizing what it means to be an activist. She says, “I don’t care so much about there being different kinds of people representing veganism as much as I care about there being different kinds of veganism.”
Aside from giving lectures and workshops around the U.S. and abroad, Ko can be found in Maine, working on a journal article using the black decolonial tradition that argues against a view that uses Wittgenstein to defend the human/animal moral divide. She lives in Westbrook, Maine. In addition, she is finalizing her educational video series, The Black Veganism Memoirs, which expounds the theory of Black Veganism. We are humbled and excited that Syl Ko is on the Culture and Animals Foundation advisory board.