Animal Protection >
Arguments against PETA dismiss message, attack the messenger
By Alka Chandna
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
January 13, 2006
In the weeks since People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched its Animal Liberation Project display in which pictures of once exploited groups are juxtaposed with photos of animals abused today, we have been called racist, insensitive and extreme. An National Association for the Advancement of Colored People representative accused us of exploiting blacks to make our point that animals suffer as people do.
While the photos of poor immigrants, children used in forced labor, Native Americans and African slaves are extremely upsetting, it should not be shocking to suggest that the mindset that condoned exploitation of people in the past is the same as the mindset that enables today's abuse of animals in laboratories and in factories and fur farms.
Why is it assumed that this display, and the entire animal rights movement, was generated by insensitive white people? As a person of color, I am pained and perplexed that my two decades of work for animal rights and the efforts of my many colleagues who are people of color are discounted.
My family immigrated to Canada from India when I was three. My teen years coincided with the height of "Paki-bashing" in Canada and I spent most weekend mornings cleaning egg from our doors and windows or examining, with my very hurt parents, racist comments that had been spray-painted onto our driveway.
In the mid-80s, while I was enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, I helped organize protests calling on the university to divest from South Africa, and other protests opposing the racist ideas being trumpeted by the eugenics theorist, Jean-Philippe Rushton.
During this time, I visited a slaughterhouse outside Toronto and I knew that the violence I witnessed in the slaughterhouse stemmed from the same oppressive mind-set that permitted the vandalism at my parents' house, that allowed Rushton to espouse hateful ideas justifying racist policies and that gave whites in South Africa carte blanche to oppress blacks. It's the mindset that discounts others' interests and props up one's somewhat minor interests relative to the interests of other beings.
For five years, I was a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, where I again became involved in animal and environmental activism. People who opposed these issues openly declared that these movements were brought in from "the mainland." My friends from Newfoundland who were involved in these issues were painted either as invisible or as dupes of the mainlanders.
I wondered why the naysayers from Newfoundland would sell short their own brothers and sisters and why it was so difficult to conceive that Newfoundlanders might feel some compassion for animals. This myopic view that would dismiss the efforts of a group because they're not like us is not limited to an isolated and financially stressed island in the north Atlantic.
In the United States, the NAACP and others are now painting animal rights activists as white racists in order to marginalize and dismiss us. I can't help but think that sort of analysis that insists on painting a movement in a monochrome is the same paring down of the world that people engage in when the truth makes them uncomfortable. Colonists dismissed Gandhi as a short, brown man in a loin cloth. Sexists often dismiss feminists as ugly, angry women.
Many people of color work every day to change attitudes toward animals. My own beliefs and those of many of my colleagues sprang from an understanding of right versus wrong. It is not racism that inspires us, but justice.
I ask other people of color who have experienced forms of racism to stop condemning animal rights groups for a moment and to consider that what they are saying now about animals being lesser beings whose suffering can be dismissed was once said about people too.