Racism in Me, the Movement, and the Meat Industry


by Jamie Berger, Sentient Media

February 16, 2021


Berger is an independent documentary filmmaker, the chief of staff at Mercy For Animals, and an Encompass advisory council member.

This article is part of the Encompass Essays: a new series written by farmed animal protection advocates.


We sat in the back seat of the car like kids waiting for mom to pull out of the driveway, cameras and sound equipment at the ready on our laps. Before starting up the engine, Akilah turned around from the driver抯 seat to look at us, her brown eyes stoic and piercing. My heart began to race as she spoke. Typically friendly and warm, the tone of her voice had turned flat, serious. I felt my palms turn damp with sweat inside my gloves. The still, cold air inside the car suddenly felt suffocating. I don抰 remember her words exactly, but I know she conveyed that our repeated requests to interview her, to have her take us on this filmed driving tour of her hometown, were an imposition梐nd that we, as white filmmakers producing a documentary about racism, must take more care in the requests we make of our subjects.


Of the countless uncomfortable situations my colleague and I have experienced while creating our film about environmental racism and the pork and poultry industries in Eastern North Carolina, this one stands out to me. Here was a Black woman whom we抎 pressured into filming with us梔espite a challenging family situation and a more-than-full-time job leading a grassroots organization梑earing the added, heavy burden of educating us about the impact of this ugly abuse of our privilege. I have never felt more fragile, more guilty, more ashamed than I did in that moment. But I also felt grateful. I thanked her for sharing that with us. And in the days, weeks, and months that followed, I have been profoundly grateful for the lessons I learned that day and for the experience of seeing the racism inside of me surfaced and on full display.


What I hadn抰 realized was that my calls, emails, 揻ollow-ups,?and 揷ircling backs敆typical and accepted within the culture of white-dominated professional spaces, including the animal advocacy movement and filmmaking industry梬ere, in this context, racist harms against the very people we hope our film will support. Though we were well-intentioned, in demanding to tell Akilah抯 story on our terms instead of hers, we were exploiting her as a means to an end.


But the bigger lesson I took from this experience梐nd many others throughout my filmmaking process梚s that we animal advocates will never create the world we envision if we refuse to confront our own racism. Further, we will fail if we refuse to address racism in our food system and in society more broadly.


So close you can smell it ...


Racism as a business model ...


Cops and pigs ...


Nothing without Black lives ...?


Weak alone, strong together ...?


What will it take? ...牋