The title of this post is a reference to the recent post at Womanist Musing. The post details her feelings about the ways animals have been used by a white supremacist society to metaphorize people of color. From the Black apes to the Latino chihuahuas and everything else in between. I know those feelings all to well. The post ended with a powerful few lines:
They may scream biology until the end of time but we remember when such comparisons were used to justify slavery, rape, and segregation. For as long as my skin is Black I will be a devoted speciesist. My dignity and humanity demand no less.
Her words are haunting and powerful for me. And She’s right. Those memories run deep. People of color still get their babies snatched away, still are shot and hunted, and until (maybe) recently experimented on. People of color are treated like animals, are called animals, and are dehumanized all the time.
In the US (and the world) Blackness positions people at the bottom of a very real racial hierarchy. Solidarity between different people of color is sometimes hard as we all scramble to get ourselves away from the bottom. Some of us do this by distancing ourselves from the bottom, from Blackness. I have heard people of color who aren’t Black distance themselves by how different they are from Black people. Black people distance ourselves from each other through colorism and regionalism/xenophobia. I’ve heard American Black folks distance themselves from African Black folks through primitivist, xenophobic rants. And Black Africans distancing themselves because Black Americans are portrayed as violent and animalistic.
I can’t ask a cow about her feelings on her systematic and mechanical rape, separation from her child, and eventual slaughter. But to assume because of differences between us that she doesn’t care, or is incapable of care uses the same logic as white supremacy has used for people of color.
Koko, the famous gorilla, could sign 6,000 signs. She could create new words by combining signs. She scored between 70 and 95 on IQ tests. She makes me think of Red Peter. Red Peter is the only Kafka character to have really, truly touched me. A Report to An Academy resonates with my diasporic identity. To be snatched from home, shipped to somewhere else, and lose one’s connection to home, but to be able to speak back to the one who took you in their own tongue. Is it such a stretch to think that animals could not also be upset by being shipped in cages across oceans but be unable to tell us such in a language we can understand.
Red Peter was a link for me. He is literally a gorilla, metaphorically a diasporic person. He’s the missing link between Koko and animal and me a human. If I can empathize with a literary gorilla who tells the same story as Koko might tell, than I can also empathize with Koko, and by extension all animals.
In my soul I know it would be just as wrong for me to withdraw my solidarity to those who are seen as less than me, because of a species barrier. To construct the worth of a being by their humanness is an embrace of a world where white patriarchy is the standard. Humanness is so connected to able-bodiedness, whiteness, maleness, cisness, straightness, because these were the people who got to decide who got to count, and when they got to count as human.
For me to use biology to explain why it isn’t ok to kill or cage me, but it is to kill or cage someone else is a replication of power dynamics. It is shitting on those lower than me on a hierarchy of power, so that I can keep my perch away from the bottom.
For me to refuse compassion to other beings, simply because I have been compared to them, is to center whiteness. I say “Fuck you!” to those white folks who think they have the authority to use my history to humanize animals. But when it is just me and the caged bird I know what’s up, I don’t need to compare. My histories let me empathize in a way I doubt those in the center ever could.
I’ve reached a different conclusion from Womanist Musings: a history of my people being kidnapped, enslaved, caged, experimented on, hunted, sacrificed, killed, and displayed has left a bad taste in my mouth, and empathy in my heart.
For as long as my skin is Black I will be a devoted anti-speciesist.
Royce, this was so powerful. Especially this:
Just gets right to the heart of things. Beautiful.
Thank you for this.
“People of color still get … until (maybe) recently experimented on”
Sadly, those days aren’t over either, see: EPA Sludge Tests a “Modern-Day Tuskegee Experiment”. Also, new drug and medical treatment are tested in “human trials.” If you ride the bus in any metro-area you’ve probably seen posters soliciting test subjects. Now consider that Whites about three times more likely to drive cars than Blacks, and it’s not hard to figure out who’s being targeted for these human experiments.
Not only that, a lot of medical testing has moved overseas to run tests more cheaply and to avoid restrictions that do troublesome things like ensure “informed consent.”
See, for ex, “Trovan” tested in Nigeria, which killed a bunch of children when Pfizer took advantage of an epidemic to push its drug tests:
So yes, POC are still being experimented on… There is more on the subject in the Washington Post’s series “The Body Hunters”:
one of the most powerful posts I’ve ever read.
Brilliant post, Royce.
This is a really great post.
I really needed to hear this. So often am I alone in these sentiments, especially in the black community, and I just needed to feel some connection with another black person somewhere. So thank you for posting this.
Anastasia, you’ll find quite a few black identified contributors with the same sentiments (being devoted to anti-speciesism ) in the Sistah Vegan book this fall.
Thanks for writing this. It is hard for me to know how to create dialogues around such issues. I tried on my own blog, (feel free to check out my post http://criticalanimal.blogspot.com/2009/08/people-of-color-and-humananimal-divide.html ) but I remain unsatisfied with my own post.
I find that it is easier for me to express myself and create dialogue by trying to write a space that is creative and analytic. I think society (and definitely academia) tries to avoid emotion and rely heavily on logic. Maybe it’s because my theoretical foundations rely a lot on Barthes and Sontag and Fanon. (I also love the writings of my thesis adviser Amitava Kumar). Any-ways, I find it easier to write what I feel more than what I think, because they usually overlap, and people aren’t logical creatures.
I understand what you are saying. I certainly agree that the academy seems terrified of people who express actual emotions. And the philosophical classics of animal rights share that same horror (e.g. Singer’s and Regan’s rejections of sentimentality).
If I may slightly extend this subthread… I also am disappointed by some academics’ devalution of emotions. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but I hear echoes of sexism in those dismissals. Perhaps some people are afraid of some of their emotions and demean them as a superficial excuse to ignore them?
I don’t consider emotions to be random, or barriers to divining right and wrong and purpose. In fact, I think they sort of have their own – for lack of a better word – logic. They may reveal or lead us toward useful if not profound truths, and motivate us to perform acts of compassion.
The emotion/reason duality, like most others (e.g. woman/man, self/other), is the product of traditional Western ontologies and the resulting epistemologies. Knowledge production then is laden with assumptions: universalism, essentialism, abstraction. So I think Gary is certainly onto something with his identification of the latent sexism. The ontologies naturalize the experience of men within the dominant classes and races. The epistemological approaches then devalue the knowledge production and methodological approaches of these subjugated people. The sexism, and racism, and classism, and heterosexism is apparent from the outset.
Thank you for this. It was very moving.
Excellent response to the Womanist Musing post! Eloquent and powerful – I think you balanced logic and emotion beautifully. This post is going to stay with me for awhile.
“I say “Fuck you!” to those white folks who think they have the authority to use my history to humanize animals.”
Hi Royce, thanks for this entry. Now I’m hoping you can clarify the statement above for me. You acknowledge that there are parallels between the oppression of people of color and the oppression of non-human animals, right? Are you also saying that white people have no right to point out these parallels? Should we just leave the work of comparing racism and speciesism to people of color? What role do you envision white people having in this discussion?
Well I can see no need to compare the treatment of animals to the historical and present treatment of folks of color, except as a rhetorical tool to get folks of color to care. As if people of color can’t and haven’t been making these connections for a long time.
Beautifully expressed, honest post. Thank you for writing it.
Very well put. Congratulations on this article.
Beautifully written, it was insightful and moving to read.
A truly touching and insightful response. I particularly like your proud statement about the sympathy that oppression has allowed you to feel. That is, I believe, the way towards a critique of humanism – sympathy. I have also responded to this issue on my blog and I have quoted some of your post.
Royce, this was so well-put. Much better and more succinct than I have seen written elsewhere….thank you for sharing!
[…] Vegans of Color: For as long as my skin is Black I will be a devoted anti-speciesist […]
[…] and Animals the Same?” at Womanist Musings (cross-posted to Feministe); responses by Royce at Vegans of Color, Scu at Critical Animal, Peter Gratton at Philosophy in a Time of Terror, and J. Rodolfo at […]
this piece is absolutely powerful!! i read it about 15 minutes ago and i’m still crying. thank you so much for sharing this w/us all.
[…] The original quote inspiring this post, caught my eye in relation to a discussion that came up last month over at Womanist Musings and Vegans of Color. […]
Thank you so much for writing this. In response to the Womanist Musing blog – this needed to be said and could not have been said better.
[…] access to vegan food (this has come up in numerous posts & comments); etc. Royce also wrote an eloquent response to an earlier post on WM about these […]
Royce! I just realized that you wrote this post. It’s great!
[…] Pois enquanto minha pele for Negra eu serei uma devotada anti-especista.  Royce é autora do blog vegans of color, e o texto em inglês está disponível aqui: https://vegansofcolor.wordpress.com/2009/08/29/for-as-long-as-my-skin-is-black-i-will-be-a-devoted-an… […]
i’ve posted a brazilian portuguese translation to your text on my blog, zami.onira.org: http://zami.onira.org/2011/01/14/pois-enquanto-minha-pele-for-negra-eu-vou-ser-uma-devotada-anti-especista-de-royce/
i’d like to thank you for such a nice work!
Amazing post, the comparison you draw between between slavery and animal rights is very strong in these days of cloning and genetic engineering of animals and food crops.