It is not racist to want to end harm to animals. And yet that is the accusation being leveled against those who do if the person causing the harm is not white. That is what Professor Katja Guenther argued in defending dogfighting and dog chaining. She wrote that treating dogs like family are “white” values, while treating animals “as resources, whether protective (as in guarding) or financial (as in breeding or possibly fighting)” are part of the culture of people of color. She argued that those who wanted dogs to be treated with love and kindness and provided needed veterinary care were using dogs “as instruments for reproducing whiteness.”
That is what Professor Andrew Rowan argued in defending those who do not feed their dogs daily because otherwise the dogs knock over the food, eating ravenously while chained. That is what the University of Denver’s Kevin Morris argued in calling for eliminating the enforcement of animal protection laws that ban continuous chaining of dogs in backyards because “regulations for adequate care of animals” criminalize “people of color who have pets.” And yesterday, that is what someone argued on my Facebook page when I posted about a Federal Court upholding the ban on the sale of fur in San Francisco.
In response to the factually (and ethically) correct comment made by a reader that “I don’t need to wear fur and neither does anyone else,” another reader responded that “Natives in Canada [and elsewhere] need it for ceremonies… This is a white liberal telling people there before the white man not to practice culture.” Doubling down, the commenter called it “racist!” It is not.
Culture is just another word for “tradition” and, as I argued in the original post,
A history of oppression does not justify it going forward. Indeed, the last two centuries of American history have witnessed widespread rejection of many abusive practices in terms of our relationships with each other. Likewise, when it comes to animals, neither people nor animals need be prisoners to an unjust and misguided past.
It does not matter what the race, ethnicity, or historical antecedents are of the person harming animals. Some ways of relating to animals are objectively better than others. Killing is killing, abuse is abuse, and fur-bearing animals should not pay the price for a flimsy argument that rests on nothing more than “that is the way we have always done it.”
Moreover, humans are not “native” to anywhere but the African continent. So calling them “native” or “indigenous” is not only factually inaccurate, it is also laden with a morality that is undeserved. It wrongly suggests that anything they do is, by definition, the moral high ground because they are the ones doing it, even when animals are skinned. This view threatens to turn back the clock on animal protection by excusing harm based on the interests of those causing it. For all the claims and professed concerns regarding hierarchies of privilege, this prescription for human-animal relations could not be more inequitable, uncharitable, and unkind. And if we are going to argue that what matters is not what is right but who got there first, there were animals living in what is now Canada before people arrived. The animals would have the better claim.
I am not suggesting that cultural rituals are not important, but the balance of equities is not even close: the animal’s life vs. a ritual that, no matter how important, is made-up and can be changed. As someone else pointed out in response,
Culture and tradition exist in every society, not just ‘indigenous’ ones. All our societies evolve as a matter of necessity and this means customs that are cruel and unacceptable may be among those to go. This may be characterised as racist by some but we have all been obliged to adapt…
That includes the animals killed and skinned for their fur. It includes chaining dogs in the backyard. It even includes the 118,000,000 pigs slaughtered every year for more familiar rituals like Easter.
We must adapt, so that our fellow earthlings don’t die.
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