Vegans of Color

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

Keeping the Species Pure August 24, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Royce @ 9:39 am
Tags: , , ,


This post has very little to do with what is happening in the world of today, and perhaps I spend too much time thinking about the future, but this post is going to be a bit speculative. I’ve thought a bit about chimeras, specifically parahumans, for quite awhile. Basically since I heard about the rabbit/human embryo in China back in 2003. But I stumbled on stuff about it again this weekend, and the stuff freaked me out.
I’m not freaked out about the idea of human/non-human hybrids– I’ve accepted that they may very well one day share this planet with us. I’m more freaked out by the way people talk about them. I’m not the only one who takes this seriously– in 2005 the Brownback Bill, also known as the Human Chimera Prohibition Act of 2005, was in Congress. What the bill, and a lot of people are saying has a subtext of keeping the species pure. These hybrids are called subhuman (Why would we call them that?). There is a fear that if this happens we won’t be able to judge what is human and not. People really seem to hate the idea of a spectrum.
But why would people want to create chimeras— from what I’ve read it nowadays falls into medical research. The fact that animals aren’t great for vivisection cause some scientists to mix them with human DNA. And also there is the fact that in a speciesist world these chimeras if they ever come to exist as parahumans would be used for expendable tasks.
The thing is these chimeric beings could already exist, in a way. After all scientists have been putting human genes in animals for years– who knows what effects that has that we don’t know. There’s a scientist now that wants to replicate a human brain in mice. And people have been trying to make hybrids forever: there was ol’ Ivanov who spent his life trying to create human/ape hybrid soldiers for Stalin (using black and brown folks to mix with the apes). Thank god Ivanov didn’t have today’s knowledge of genetics.
So this fear of chimeras is based on speciesist claims that basically rely on a human supremacist view of the world, and animals. And the pro-chimera side is based on a speciesist, human supremacist claim to animals, and the ability to use them. As people who recognize the intersectionality of oppressions I feel we are in a unique place to think about the condition that these (for now) theoretical parahumans would be in. Besides the fact that the claims made now mirror (largely) outdated ideas about race, racial mixing, and using folks of color for medical research.


11 Responses to “Keeping the Species Pure”

  1. kiita Says:

    Given the Ivanov experiment and all the Tuskegees and sterilization experiments on people of color, it’s courageous and pretty cool to formulate a critique against speciesism. That such an ideology runs throughout both sides of the chimera debates reminds me 19c US abolition and anti-imperialist questions; both pro- and anti- factions were also racialist in their arguments. (And they were arguing about what was human and natural about being human.) So what’s the third space, and how can we as people of color define it?

    Fascinating post and stunning image!

  2. Royce Drake Says:

    That image used to haunt me when I first stumbled on it years ago, its a sculpture by Patricia Paccinini. Look her up, she has some cool, and intense stuff.

    Yeah the similarities of speciesism and racism become greater as we move towards a future where the lines between species becomes more and more blurred, and less and less science fictiony. (And just imagine throwing robots and cyborgs in the mix…craziness).

  3. This is soooo interesting! Thanks for sharing.

    I completely agree with you when you said “People really seem to hate the idea of a spectrum.” Seems like a lot of people really like a bright line difference: us versus them. A lot of people are uncomfortable when the lines are blurred, be they gender, race, species…

  4. Alex Says:

    Richard Dawkins successfully uses a very similar argument to challenge the human/nonhuman dichotomy myth. He mentions the very plausible possibility that there exists, has existed, or will exist a “middle-species” between the “lower” great apes and us. He essentially asks: When this species (or its remains, bones, etc.) is found, where will it fall on our moral spectrum? How will the ardent speciesist respond to an intrusion into our alleged natural, evolutionary supremacy?

  5. joshivore Says:

    we’re talking about bigfoot aren’t we?

  6. Alex Says:

    I’m not talking about bigfoot, but Dawkins may be 🙂

    I think “bigfoot” may make a caricature of the legitimacy of the point being made. Perhaps it would be better understood by considering future evolution and how this may affect the results of our moral reasoning. Dawkins would argued, I believe, that this hypothetical raises questions about the human-nonhuman spectrum (e.g., Is it constructed or “real”?) and what may be justified by appealing to it. (Clearly it’s constructed given Darwin’s insight into the quantitative – not qualitative – nature of this difference.)

  7. joshivore Says:

    re the bigfoot thing, just making a half joke. some friends of mine in georgia were telling me some dude claims to have the remains of bigfoot and that there are more out there. it made me think about what we would do if we captured ape like beings who were also like humans. it would raise ethical questions like the ones we’re talking about. but i was trying to mostly just make a little joke.

  8. Royce Drake Says:

    I like how everyone keeps calling this Georgia critter a Bigfoot. It’s obviously a fake because any cryptid enthusiast knows Bigfoot isn’t found in the South, we have the Skunk Ape down there.

  9. breezeharper Says:

    This topic reminds me of how fearful and ignorant people are when it comes to moving past rigid binaries of who is considered a sentient being.

    And though it’s not exactly the “same” thing, it reminds me of when one of my colleagues at work found out that my husband to be was a white man. This woman of African descent said, “Aren’t you worried about what your children will look like?” Amazing that most people I meet are so concerned with “looks” and “proper gender, sexual, religious, racial, etc conformity” of a newborn human baby. Rarely do I find people who simply desire that the spirit entering the body of a newborn will simply “be” who they want to be, without having to “look” or perform a certain way that reinforced the “us” vs “them” binary of “race”, “gender”, “sexual orientation”, etc.

    She was also weirded out that my children would not only be “too light”, but they’d be vegan and that they’d be “confused” of their identity because of being “mixed” (which I’m not really comfortable with as a term, as all of us are a “mixture” of our parent’s genes) and not eating animal products.

    Okay, I think I’m babbling off topic at this point….

  10. Royce Drake Says:

    Those sort of things were definitely on my mind when I wrote this– because of the way this special purity is talked about really reflects the ideas of racial purity was/is talked about.

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