Recently I picked up a magazine from UK animal welfare group Viva that featured an article titled, “Don’t Monkey Around, Go Veggie!” It discussed a campaign they’re running, which highlights the loss of biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest caused by the raising of cattle for meat and uses a monkey as the main visual (see this leaflet [PDF file]). A photograph shows campaigners on the streets of Bristol; one is in a monkey suit, & two others, who appear — as far as I can tell — white, have monkey masks on their faces. Behind them, on a table, is a stack of monkey masks, presumably to give to interested passers-by along with leaflets.
My first reaction was that I could never dress up as a monkey: as a person of color I’ve been compared to animals & specifically to monkeys, gorillas, or other primates way too many times for that to be something I’d feel comfortable with (for more on this from an Asian American perspective, check out the anthology Screaming Monkeys). I know a lot of people of color who would feel the same way; historically the very humanity of many of us has been questioned, & comparing us to animals used to degrade us & justify mistreatment.
If I were handed a monkey mask on the street & exhorted to wear it on behalf of the animals, I would refuse for this reason. It seems pretty clear that this association of certain types of people with primates — and not in an empowering, “we’re all animals!” way — was not considered in planning this campaign. Color me surprised (pun intentional).