Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Do PETA’s race-based tactics work, or just alienate? February 19, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 8:58 pm
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There’s a discussion going on here, in the Livejournal community debunkingwhite, over whether or not PETA’s latest campaign, comparing the AKC to the KKK, is racist.

The gist of PETA’s ad is that promoting purebred animals is no more morally sound than promoting racial purity among humans.

What disturbs me about the discussion so far is that everyone is basically saying that humans are worth more than dogs, thus PETA is wrong. The author of the post calls the AKC a “relatively benign” organization — I suppose that’s true if you’re not a puppy in a puppy mill, which are supported by, & legitimized by, the AKC. And I suppose, given the intense focus on breeding, you might think the AKC is benign if you’re not a dog euthanized because the shelter is full of dogs already.

I am generally not a fan of PETA. They have done a lot of sexist campaigns, & I don’t think their record on race has been any more productive (not to mention, I hate their stance on pit bulls & homeless animals generally). The thing is, I agree that it is speciesist to place human lives above animals; I think that’s wrong. So I can logically see the comparison between, say, slavery & factory farm animals.

However, as a person of color I am very sensitive to any sort of racial slur that compares people to animals. It’s been used so often, & so viciously, that I think it’s really hard to shake off the fear & anger evoked. I feel I can pretty safely say that most people of color have never been called an animal as a compliment. Thus I don’t really think it’s going to be very productive, comparing them to animals in the way that PETA does — meaning, using shock tactics to get attention, but in such a way that most folks are probably going to be put off. This is why I don’t use Holocaust analogies either. I’m not black, & I’m not Jewish, but I know that there are many people historically, & today, who would consider me, & members of my family, monkeys. And not in a positive, we’re-all-animals-together sort of way, but as in, “You piece of shit, I’m going to kick your ass.”

So that’s where I’m coming from on that one. What about you readers? What do you think of PETA’s tactics regarding race? I’m particularly interested in hearing from the vegans of color out there, but also people of color who may not (yet?) be vegans — do these tactics make you aware of speciesism? Do they make you empathize with animals? Or do they put you off finding more about animal rights issues?

There’s a wonderfully thoughtful post about this stuff on the Sistah Vegan Project blog here.

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14 Responses to “Do PETA’s race-based tactics work, or just alienate?”

  1. I hear what you’re saying (or think I do anyway). But I saw the ad and thought it was a good analogy. I even blogged about it.

    I’m not sure if PETA’s campaigns work or not to change public opinion. I know lots of people talk about PETA ads and even if the majority of reactions are negative, they still produce conversations where real changes take place. When talking about the AKC ad, at least someone will bring up puppy mills, and that’s a good thing.

    Public opinion has changed since PETA began. That may or may not be related to PETA’s activism, but I bet it was.

    I mean, when most of us got involved in animal rights, wasn’t PETA one of the first places we turned to find out more? PETA is so great at publicity that EVERYONE knows about them. Only some people know about other organizations like Friends of Animals, Farm Sanctuary, ALF… So, I just don’t know.

    In a vacuum, PETA is fine. But they don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in the public sphere. And therein lies the trouble. I lean towards the side that wants to PETA to keep pushing buttons and making people think, but I can understand how I, as a white person, don’t fully understand what it must feel like to see the KKK likened to the AKC.

  2. vegansofcolor Says:

    I can definitely understand the power of having everyone know your name as an organization, & obviously PETA has done a great job w/that. And yeah, I know that PETA was the first point of contact a lot of folks had who eventually became vegans & animal rights activists. But I wonder (& obviously, there’s no way to quantify this!) if there was a net gain of people… or if PETA alienated more people than they recruited. I think that stimulating conversations about issues like puppy mills is a good thing, but I still wonder if PETA puts off more people despite all this than they gain.

    In that LJ link, someone said, “I should be a PETA member, I do feral cat work, blah blah, but I hate them.” And it really made me feel like that person felt that PETA was the face of animal rights, & b/c she found PETA disgusting, she was therefore not interested in involvement in AR generally. And that’s a shame. (& yeah, the onus is on other AR groups to claim their public space as a go-to group for AR issues, as well.)

    Also, I’m not convinced that any publicity (even if negative) is a good thing. I just read Lee Hall’s Capers in the Churchyard (which I loved), & part of what she talks about is how those AR activists who did the grave-robbing in England were really famous, but if you basically bully someone into stopping (in this case, guinea pig farmers who were selling to vivisectionists), is that really a victory? The animals were replaced immediately by another source, the farmers became dairy farmers instead, & locally & more widely, the AR activists & their cause were totally reviled. Was there a net gain for animals by using these sorts of publicity-grabbing tactics? I find it hard to imagine so.

    Another point — I wonder how diverse PETA’s staff is (I think there’s a website you can look this stuff up on but I’m blanking on it). I think that could definitely affect their stances on race (& gender, sexual orientation, etc. etc. etc.). & as a v. large nonprofit organization, I am skeptical of them immediately.

    Thanks for your comment, Elaine — I think this is totally the sort of stuff we all need to be discussing! I hope someday some other folks will comment on this post too. :)

  3. Gary Says:

    This is a tough one. I think that some of the negative reaction toward PETA is a result of PETA pointing out uncomfortable truths. The messenger is going to be attacked. People – especially if they have been the victims of oppression – don’t like being reminded that they themselves are oppressors.

    OTOH, I worry that the sensationalist nature of many PETA ads and exhibits will, in and of themselves, turn off or alienate people, and that with some revision of PETA’s materials, that could be avoided without losing the message.

    My understanding is that PETA’s controversial “Animal Liberation” exhibit was started by a descendent of Holocaust survivors or escapees, and had input from people of color. In fact, I met the person who headed the exhibit as of last year. Nonetheless, I do sense subtle white-perspective biases in some of their materials – and if I as a white person can detect them, than I can only imagine how someone of color might react. To their credit, the PETA person I met said that they did make many changes to the exhibit based on feedback.

    I certainly can understand how repeatedly presenting images in which African Americans are the victims – even if done with noble intentions – can have the effect of callously rubbing salt in wounds, and/or using one group as the convenient “victim group” when advocating for another victim group, the animals. That would get old fast were I a member of the non-animal victim group, and might interfere with my sympathy for the animals’ formidable and urgent plight,

    I also understand the power and benefit of showing the commonality between different forms of institutionalized oppression. Here are two thoughts that come to mind; whether they’re viable, I don’t know:

    1 – When showing the parallels between exploitation of humans and exploitation of nonhumans, show more diversity of human exploitation victims.

    2 – When designing materials of this nature, seek input from a diversity of people outside your organization, especially if they are skeptical of the technique but in solidarity with the long-range goals.

  4. vegansofcolor Says:

    Gary — I definitely agree that part of it is just that people don’t like being told that fur is cruel & so is meat & dairy & so is breeding pets. I could see that really clearly in that LJ discussion, where someone said, “Well, in order to even come @ this from where PETA is, we’d have to accept that a human life is worth the same as an animal life…” They seemed a little skeptical, sigh. I think a lot of people use their anger @ PETA in general as a way to avoid thinking about the issues PETA raises.

    I also didn’t know that about PETA getting input from POCs & Holocaust survivors. That’s a good sign (tho’ obviously, not all people of any group will agree w/each other, as we see w/the reactions to that exhibit).

    I’m curious, now, how many POCs PETA has in the public eye — I mean, appearing in ads, @ press conferences or as other spokespeople, etc. I think part of the resentment comes from a feeling that PETA (/AR in general, since so many people seem to see PETA as synonymous w/AR) ignores POCs until they want something from them. I say that not based on an analysis of POCs as the face of PETA or whatever (I have no idea, although my cynical belief is that it’s not going to be a huge number), but just as my experience as a POC w/other causes. Like how Asian Americans are still a fairly small minority, & oftentimes politicians won’t do anything for us until election time rolls around (sometimes not even then).

    I liked your two suggestions @ the end of your comment. I know there’s a certain amount of infighting w/animal protection groups like PETA (like there is w/any sort of issue-based movement), but I wonder how well PETA “plays w/others”? I mean, would they be willing to seek input from others in the movement? Or would they want to play their cards close to their vest or just not be that interested in collaborating? (or, for that matter, would other groups be willing to offer that input to PETA, & request it in turn?)

  5. [...] brought me to some really dark places, places I’m not really all that sure I wanted to be. I admit, it does make it really hard for me to talk to the many white vegans who insist on defendin… I’m very empathetic to the cause of veganism–but hearing the *defense* of that campaign [...]

  6. [...] I admit, it is really hard for me to talk/listen to the many white vegans who insist on defending PE… I’m very empathetic to the cause of veganism–but the defense of the PETA campaign is often not a defense of veganism so much as it is a defense of seeing nothing wrong with comparing black people to animals. Many white folks are perfectly happy to insist that *they* have no problems at *all* being compared to animals–but it is not white folks that are being killed on genocidal turkey shoots either. [...]

  7. [...] & Meadows find useful the comparison of nonhuman animal exploitation with slavery, something I am not comfortable with; Meadows did add an interesting comment on the issue: However, I am concerned about who is not [...]

  8. [...] I admit, it is really hard for me to talk/listen to the many white vegans who insist on defending PE…I’m very empathetic to the cause of veganism–but the defense of the PETA campaign is often not a defense of veganism so much as it is a defense of seeing nothing wrong with comparing black people to animals. Many white folks are perfectly happy to insist that *they* have no problems at *all* being compared to animals–but it is not white folks that are being killed on genocidal turkey shoots either. [...]

  9. warwak Says:

    Many people are deeply upset because animal rights activists use the term “holocaust” when referring to the torment and killing of millions of animals. And they seem to think the word has been irreverently taken from those who use it to describe the horror of what happened to millions of persons whose bodies were immolated in the ovens of Nazi concentration camps.

    But they are wrong. The word “holocaust” is taken from the biblical term used to describe the total immolation of sacrificed animals–they were known as whole-burnt offerings. The Greek word for such sacrifices is “holókaustos” and was used in the translation of the Hebrew scrolls as far back as 250 B.C. That translation (called the Septuagint) was completed for the Jews who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, and could no longer read or speak Hebrew.

    So referring to the death of millions of animals as a holocaust was used more than 2,000 years before people applied it to the torture and slaughter of human beings. It is not animal rights people who have linked the death of animals and the death of people. It is those who were appalled at the human carnage of Nazi Germany, who likened it to a holocaust–to the death of millions of animals.

  10. [...] radical antics and the whoring out of human devastation (think, tasteless Holocaust analogies) and race to the end of a good analogy. This all changed and I opened my heart to PETA’s polarizingly [...]

  11. hexalm Says:

    blog post necromancy here, but…

    @warwak: yes, the word has a history prior to Nazi extermination operations.

    That does not mean it can be used as though the Holocaust never happened!

    That would be like me proudly displaying swastikas because they were not an evil symbol before the nazis used it. Or even an SS stylized S-rune logo.

    The fact is, that Nazis fucked it up for everyone, but it’s still fucked up. When people think holocaust, regardless of the word’s history, they think WWII and Nazi atrocities. Not ancient sacrifices.

    BTW, I believe I’ve read that many survivors of the Holocaust don’t even tend to use that term.

  12. As someone who is interested in animal rights but hasn’t looked into it too far, I might bring a bit of a unique perspective. I am also Jewish by ethnicity, so that may also add a bit of bias to my post.

    I have always been turned off PETA. I can get behind the cause, but the ends never justify the means to me. A lot of really bad things can happen when the end is what’s being focused on, almost as bad or even worse than what’s being fought. Because of this, I refuse to participate in an organization that uses bullying tactics.

    While it does stimulate and provoke thought, you have to ask whose thought it’s actually stimulating. I can guarantee it’s not the general public, and the people offended by this sort of comparison. The people who already care about the issues are the ones who are discussing it, not the people who aren’t interested in it. Making people angry isn’t a good way to make them consider your points.

    I will continue to support animals’ rights, and I will continue to alienate myself from PETA much the same way it alienates me.

  13. April Says:

    Though I would get invovled don’t care for pets myself well in the home, but my kids to. hate to see them mistreated. But when people bring up face i dont want a thing to do with and I am white but my family no want a thing to do with this and God bless.


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