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Of Racism and Speciesism

Dave and I were given what his family calls the "Martin Luther King" china. His grandfather was a bishop in the Methodist Church, as well as the President of the Council of Bishops, and a powerful man in his day. One of his colleagues, whom he sort of mentored, was a promising young man named Martin Luther King, Jr. They would have breakfast together on platinum-ringed china that has a pale slate-blue stripe and a rose-ish colored flower in the middle. That’s our china.

Early on Monday morning (and I mean like 3 am), Dave couldn’t sleep (Emily the cat kept smacking him in the face to get him to play with her), so he went into the great room to watch TV. Because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, several stations had special programming to reflect the day. I watched footage of what turned into a riot and cringed as the police beat what were peaceful demonstrators. I listened as the white men spoke of Negroes and the rights they wanted.

I had two visceral reactions:

  1. I was embarrassed that my team–Caucasians–was once so horrifyingly ignorant and hateful.
  2. I then realized that there has been progress, but there is still horrifying ignorance and hate. Just because someone has a different skin color. Or worships a different way.

When I looked at how the white people were treating the black people, I immediately saw animals. No, not because I think black people are animals, but because I see animals as the next black people. Now that–at least on paper–we acknowledge the personhood of, well, people, we can acknowledge the right to a natural life for animals.

My Gray Matter is: Do we need to obliterate racism in order to proceed to conquer speciesism? We have a long, long way to go with racism. If we’re still treating people hideously, why would we move beyond people to the earth and its nonhuman inhabitants, and suddenly want to afford them respect?

It’s been said that I don’t give people enough credit for intelligence. They say I don’t trust that people will do the right thing, particularly if no one is looking or they’ll benefit from not doing the right thing. To that criticism I say: I’m merely following the trail of evidence. After all, every person I know says cruelty to animals is wrong, knows at least something about how their food is produced (beyond that someone died for it), and 90% of those people eat meat. Even more would go to the zoo. And some bask in the glow of what they think is status when they speak of going to polo matches or how far their children are coming in their equestrian classes.

My observation is that it’s not really intelligence that I don’t give credit for. I’m not sure intelligence has anything to do with it. The crux of the issue is: Will you do the right thing, even if it’s easier/more convenient/more socially-acceptable not to? Will you act as an individual, when the path of least resistance is to move with the masses?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. You are right to focus on the situation that most people are in — it reminds us that we do need to be cognizant of the social conditioning and barriers that people face that might preclude them from acting on their compassion. Most Animal People were/are in the position of the people at the polo match at one time. MLK has some inspiring thoughts on loving our enemies:

    "In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system."

    You ask: do we need to obliterate racism in order to proceed to conquer speciesism? Racism and speciesism are intimately linked (as are other systems like sexism and classism). Approaching them sequentially will only serve to perpetuate some oppressions over others. Thankfully, nothing stops us from taking them all on at once.

    January 29, 2007

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