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August 15, 2005

PETA wrong, but not racist

Steve Gilliard accuses People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) of racism. The animal rights organization is running a publicity campaign called "Are Animals the New Slaves?" As part of the campaign, PETA is sponsoring an exhibition that includes photos of African American lynching victims. The campaign is attracting criticism from civil rights activists, including Dr. James Cameron, curator of America's Black Holocaust Museum. Dr. Cameron is quoted as saying:

"They may have treated us like animals back then, but there is no way we should be compared to animals today," he said. "You cannot compare the suffering of human beings or the suffering that I experienced to the suffering of an animal."

Dr. Cameron has a legitimate point. American racists have a long history of depicting blacks as animals. However, these depictions were designed to denigrate their subjects and diminish their moral status. PETA is trying to do exactly the opposite--they consider the suffering of slaves and lynching victims to be a moral travesty on the level of the Holocaust. The ads are pointing to the worst travesty we can imagine and saying "the exploitation of animals is like that." PETA has not handled itself well. You can read the correspondence between Dr. Cameron and a PETA spokesperson. PETA's defense of the campaign is insensitive and intellectually sloppy. However, I don't think there's anything racist about the campaign or PETA's defense of it. Steve writes:

It's the same kind of ignorant cruelty Cindy Sheehan is facing. Newkirk is simply incapable, like most fanatics, of seeing any side but her own. And she is blind to the outrage this will cause. She has no idea of how her response is not going to go over with black people. Even her explaination is as tone deaf as George Bush. That may go over well with her donors and allies when she makes a mistake, but it will fall on deaf ears with black people. I dare her to defend this on any black radio show, or even Air America.

Now, not only is PETA refusing to apologize, as they did with the Holocaust ad, they intend to continue the tour, well until they're denounced on Tom Joyner and from church pulpits. To compare black people to animals is the gravest insult a white person can do, and no matter how "liberal" PETA says it is, this will dog it until their tour is cancelled. Because she is fucking with something she does not understand in any way, shape or form. Angry isn't the word. I'd be surprised if Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aren't outside PETA HQ at the end of the week.

So, given that this is the mentality of PETA's leadership, do you think it's fair to call them racist, now?

PETA's point of view also deserves consideration. If you believe, as they do, that animals have the same moral status as human beings, then it follows that our society's treatment of animals is directly analogous to slavery. We own them, we use them, we kill them for food and sport. Like most people, I reject PETA's initial premise. Most animals don't deserve nearly the same moral status as human beings. I agree that it's wrong to torture a chicken for sport or mutilate it to pad a profit margin, but I see nothing wrong with raising chickens humanely and killing them for the table. Steve's right that the ad and the response are short-sighted. It's callous to think that you can use racially charged images without opening wounds, even if you're using them to make a non-racist argument. Perhaps PETA is being racist for pulling the earlier Holocaust campaign but refusing to pull the Slavery campaign. If PETA cares less about the feelings of lynching survivors like Dr. Cameron than it does about those of Holocaust survivors, that's racist. However, it may be that PETA pulled the first ad because its opponents raised a bigger backlash. PETA deserves to be criticized for being insensitive, and inept, but not for being racist.

Update: Julia suggests even more reasons to loathe PETA.

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Comments

Steve has previously attacked PETA, with what struck me as some virulence; not sure what his original beef is.

Lindsay, you reject PETA's initial premise. Fine. But "Most animals don't deserve nearly the same moral status as human beings"? I guess the use of "most" and "deserve" worry me. Which ones deserve it, and what constitutes "deserving"?

Under most of the lame excuses I've heard for the way we treat other animals, I've usually detected a not-so-subtle "we do it because we can". I suspect the same kind of arbitrariness often applies to whichever species (or groups of people) we endow with moral status.

This smacks more of white cluelessness than actualy racism. These people cleary had no idea that this was going to be offensive. You can't blame blacks for being offended though. There are too many people who, over the last two decades, have made ambigiously racist remarks and then hid behind that ambiguity to claim that they aren't really racist. That you're just being too sensative. You stop giving people the benefit of the doubt after a while.

This is crossposted at Steve's blog, but I add some stuff below.

There is a distinct difference between how many whites, especially middle-class or rich whites, define racism and how blacks do. It’s not a universal, because most academics (white or otherwise) define it like blacks do (you’ll see why in a moment). The latter parties have it right.

Racism is not a motivation. It is not a feeling. It is not an emotion. It is a _reflection_ of contempt, but contempt can be a mere intellectual stance, coldly felt if at all. It need not be reflected by an emotion.

I am in a law field. If I file a race discrimination claim against you I DO NOT:
• have to prove that you hate me.
• have to prove that it felt good to discriminate against me.
• have to prove that you gained a significant advantage from your discrimination.

I merely have to prove that you discriminated against me due to my race, e.g., treated me differently than others due to my ethnicity.

Racism is a characteristic of an entity, not a feeling, not a motivation.

If I hate mimes, that’s not racism. (Insert old joke here.) It may be wrong, but it’s not racism. If I direct my hatred at mimes only because whites are generally mimes, that’s racism.

Take hate out of the picture. If the school system in a state – say, NY – fails to educate blacks as well as whites, consistently, then one can fairly characterize the school system as racist even though no one in the administration actually hates blacks. (Which isn’t necessarily the case, but that’s besides the point.)

Similarly, a politician who doesn’t hate any minority who nevertheless uses the Southern Strategy employs a racist strategy and may be characterized as racist, even though he has no particular ill-will towards minorities. (He may be an ass, but he’s not a bigoted ass. . . but because he’s an ass, he’s willing to be racist.)

This is why I mentioned academics, above. Many white sociologist document the effects of economic racism in our society. They don’t claim that whites hate blacks en mass, but that our society has economic policies that are, de facto, racist, even if they are not racist de jure (that is, in comparison with policies designed to be deliberately racist, such as Jim Crow). Blacks, when complaining of racism, often complain of _institutional_ racism – difficulties in buying houses (I literally had problems staying someplace because of my race just this last month – it was almost funny), schooling disparities, etc. Middle-class whites often – not as a universal, but often in my experience – regard only the hate-filled racism of the neo-nazis as “real” racism, or attribute it to rednecks for whom they already hold in contempt. But as I pointed out, racism is defined by the effect, not the motivation alone.

The more observant in the audience will note that this actually make a charge of racism less offensive. It doesn’t carry its usual hate-filled connotation. Still incredibly offensive, for all that, though.

PETA’s behavior was racist.

It doesn’t matter how they felt.

It doesn’t matter if they think humans are animals and are equal to the platypus. Or the amoeba. (They’re killing amoebas and other protists in their guts right now. Doesn’t that concern them?)

It doesn’t matter if they hate.

It doesn’t matter if they thought about it beforehand.

It doesn’t matter if they were wearing kumquats on their heads.

Did they single out minorities in order to exploit their suffering and meet their own agenda? Yes. Then racist.

I think humans are allowed to do things to animals that we should never do to people. Let's set aside controversial stuff like eating them. We're allowed to own other animals as pets. Obviously, pet ownership is in a totally different moral league than slavery.

As I've written before, I'm torn about the moral status of great apes. They seem to have so many of the capacities that I think confer moral status. I don't think they have the same moral status as humans, but that's primarily because there are unsettled scientific questions about their mental capacities. Scientists might discover that chimps have even more cognitive capacity than we thought. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that these creatures might have the same moral status as people. Certainly, I wouldn't rule it out simply on the grounds that chimps aren't Homo sapiens.

PETA is arguing that animals should be treated as if they had moral status analogous to human beings. In general, I don't think animals deserve that level of deference. Why not? Because they don't have that status. Why not? This is a very abbreviated answer, but...

Basically because farm animals don't have the cognitive capacity to understand themselves as agents over time. They can suffer and therefore we have some moral obligations to limit the pain we cause them. However, it's not wrong to give a cow or a chicken a good life, kill it painlessly, and replace it with the next beast. The total amount of cow or chicken consciousness stays the same, it's just distributed across different individuals.

Farm animals - are you sure about pigs?

If you use mental capacity to gauge worthiness of moral status, would this not also apply to humans of differing mental capacity?

Why do we so often conflate mental capacity with emotional capacity (the "ability" to suffer, say)? At what point in our evolution did our emotional "abilities" advance as our intellectual ones did? When we found words for them? Does the ability to love only exist in species which have a word for it? Handy if true...

There are so many questions here, I don't think this is the forum to hash them all out, but it is one of the fields of discussion which always seems to have a substrate of chauvinism.

Did they single out minorities in order to exploit their suffering and meet their own agenda? Yes. Then racist.

I disagree. The whole point of the ad was to depict the oppression of blacks as the epitome of immoral behavior. PETA is clueless as all hell, exploitative, but not racist.

I realize this is hairsplitting, but strictly speaking, PETA isn't singling out this group because they're black. Slavery singled out black people, but highlighting the phenomenon of slavery isn't necessarily racially motivated. In fact, PETA's whole schtick is that race doesn't matter--I mean if species differences don't matter, then ephemeral racial differences are obviously completely irrelevant in their moral calculus.

PETA thinks that our society's treatment of animals is the moral equivalent of the worst travesties in human history. They've done a holocaust campaign, too. They'll probably do a Bosnia themepark or something one of these days. I'm not excusing their insensitivity, but I don't think that they're making a point about race. They're interested in the fact that the powerful are exploiting the powerless.


Actually, it is racist.

Why?

Well, because you see what images they use? Of dead black people. Not executed felons, not war dead, but lynched black men.

They also compared the holocaust to factory farms.

But it is racist because they minimize the suffering of black Americans to make a point. They would never, ever use images of oh, Ted Bundy's victims in such a callous way.

It's cheapening black life, pure and simple. Like they cheapened the Holocaust.

Oddly, it's blacks and Jews who's lives are minimized by PETA. Coincidence? I think not.

What, exactly, would PETA have to do to be considered racist? Attack black people on the street.

Even skinheads don't use these images in their racist literature.

Oddly, the only people who think this isn't racist are white. Black people are deply and profoundly offended by this.

But then, on matters of race, black opinion is usually discounted.

Steve, who's discounting your opinion? I just disagree with you.

If you accept PETA's central premise that animals are morally equal to humans, then the ads don't cheapen anyone's life. Obviously, you can't just go around putting up lynching pictures in today's society. Anyone with an ounce of common sense or compassion would realize that those images send a lot of other messages too, regardless of whether PETA meant them.

However, consider the structure of the ad. The argument needs an unequivocal example of human beings whose rights were dismissed for some incredibly vile and arbitrary reason. Slavery and the holocaust are examples of one group systematically reclassifying people as lesser beings. PETA's trying to argue that the whole human race is doing that to animals. (I don't buy that argument, but that's what they're trying to say.)

So, PETA couldn't have used pictures of executed felons because they couldn't expect everyone to believe that the death penalty is wrong. Likewise for war dead--dead soldiers aren't obvious examples of life deemed unworthy of life.

The ad only works if you show an image that's an icon of evil that everybody recognizes as an absolute travesty.

I agree that the ad is offensive and that PETA shouldn't have run it. It's not right to give people flashbacks for the sake of an advertising campaign. All I'm saying is that if you look at the argument PETA is making, it's not a racist one.

'... the only people who think this isn't racist are white. Black people are deeply and profoundly offended by this.' That was a hell of a fast survey you did, there.

I think it was racist. Am I black or white, Steve?

I respect Steve's opinion on this a great deal. I'm in no way a fan of PETA's. And were I in charge of PETA's PR campaigns, I'd have - as a friend of mine might have put it - stayed away from this one with a ten foot pole.

Incidentally, Black folks are far from monolithic on this issue.

"The animals of the world exist
for their own reasons. They were
not made for humans any more
than black people were made for
whites or women for men."
- Alice Walker

Walker has written in some detail on the issue, and supplied the foreword for Marjorie Spiegel's The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery.

A parallel issue is the support for creationism among some Black churches, which stems in part from the historic and abhorrent comparisons of Black folks to apes. Of course all of us are apes, and there's nothing wrong with being an ape. The issue was in setting up a false hierarchy with whites at the top, and blacks on a sort of gray border between humans and apes.

Same goes for the issue of animal rights. There's got to be a way to point out that 1) our treatment of animals has been largely abhorrent for millennia; 2) white folks treated Black folks for centuries the way they would have treated animals; 3) both of those constitute immense moral problems without one contradicting or mitigating the other.

********
I disagree. The whole point of the ad was to depict the oppression of blacks as the epitome of immoral behavior. PETA is clueless as all hell, exploitative, but not racist.
I realize this is hairsplitting, but strictly speaking, PETA isn't singling out this group because they're black.
________
Um, Lindsay, yes they did. And do. As has been pointed out at Steve’s blog, PETA _never_ exploits white males this way. Ever.


********
Slavery singled out black people, but highlighting the phenomenon of slavery isn't necessarily racially motivated.
________

Um, as my post stated, the motivation is completely irrelevant. It’s a long post, so I won’t reprint it. If you have a problem with that definition, challenge it. But please don’t simply ignore it and speak on like I didn’t say anything. It took a long time to type and I want it to be useful. :-)

And, it should be noted, singling out the lynching photos singles out black people. You’re back to square one.

********
In fact, PETA's whole schtick is that race doesn't matter--I mean if species differences don't matter, then ephemeral racial differences are obviously completely irrelevant in their moral calculus.
________

And, as has been pointed out elsewhere, that shtick isn’t actually an accurate description of PETA’s beliefs as they DO think race differences matter. They are being disengenous. They are lying. That’s why they don’t exploit white men this way. Dead white people don’t get used.

********
PETA thinks that our society's treatment of animals is the moral equivalent of the worst travesties in human history. They've done a holocaust campaign, too. They'll probably do a Bosnia themepark or something one of these days. I'm not excusing their insensitivity, but I don't think that they're making a point about race. They're interested in the fact that the powerful are exploiting the powerless.
________

They are more concerned that their self-importance is diminshing than anything else. They don’t have a moral argument to support them. Their goal is to become well-known – they’ve succeeded. They haven’t done anything to make the world, hell even a streetcorner, more humane, and have even been caught being cruel to animals (much like this ad campaign is cruel to animals – namely, me and all black people), and they don’t care because their goal is NOT to stop animal cruelty as much as it is to revel in self-aggradizement. Like the freedom fighter who oppresses his civilian peers, they’ll happily burn villages to save them as long as they get their name in the papers. Note that, if PETA was consistently fanatic, they’d use dead white people, especially dead white males, because a) white males are animals so there’s no difference between them and dead giraffes and b) that’s most of their target audience.

But, of course, they aren’t that fanatical. That would be a _redeeming_ feature. How sick do you have to be such that greater fanaticism is a step up? They are very concious of their choices to pick on minorities.

Again, it’s racist if it has a racist effect. Motivation is irrelevant. Of course, I find PETA is morally bankrupt, but that wouldn’t make them racist in and of itself.

Chris, why would you need to COMBINE race relations and animal rights (or animal cruelty issues or whatever)? Shall I make a forum that addresses a) illiteracy of poor whites in MN and b) colon cancer? Both are problems, but what the hell do they have to do with one another, and how could you use them simultaneously without insult?

Why would you even *try*, unless you wanted unecessary controversy?

Insult was part of the point.

And, btw, if you want to stop animal cruelty, stopping the factory farms would require funding reform, e.g., no private money in elections whatsoever. Clean up the cash, the public will pick leaders that push those farms into illegality. So long as ConAgra can buy citizens, you'll get chickens packed in like sardines.

There's one way to combine two issues that doesn't cause insult, unless you're part of the political elite, but we want to insult those people.

PETA are insensitive to the feelings of black people on this issue. One is not insensitive to the feelings of those one respects. Therefore...

Typo

"So long as ConAgra can buy citizens. . ."

*senators*, not citizens. Dammit!

NOC, you've offered at least two conflicting stipulative definitions of racism.

Racism is not a motivation. It is not a feeling. It is not an emotion. It is a _reflection_ of contempt, but contempt can be a mere intellectual stance, coldly felt if at all. It need not be reflected by an emotion.

You're saying that PETA used pictures of lynching victims because they had contempt for black people. How do you know that their behavior has any connection to some preexisting contempt? Well, because if they didn't have contempt they wouldn't have used those images. That's circular.

Later you define racism as anything that has a differential effect on one race. According to that definition, the PETA ads are racist because they are especially hurtful and offensive to black people. If anything that offends some members of a particular group is racist, the definition becomes too broad to be useful.

PETA probably didn't realize that people would respond more to the historical connotations of the images than to their meaning in the context of the ad.

Maybe their cluelessness is symptomatic of an underlying contempt, but maybe it's just cluelessness.

What do you mean PETA never uses images of white males in this way? Look at http://tinyurl.com/8k3ns>this ad from the Holocaust campaign. The guy in the picture looks very white indeed.

Chris, why would you need to COMBINE race relations and animal rights

Who said anything about combining them? It's a question of learning from parallels, examining commonalities. The way we treat one another is related to the way we treat animals. I'm not talking just race relations and animal rights, but oppression of all kinds.

And I agree with you that PETA used the images and the comparison in order to make waves and for no other reason, and though I recognize the finer points of the argument against calling them racist, I stopped splitting hairs between "racist" and "racially insensitive" a while back.

I'm going to kill this thread right now, if you don't mind:

Doesn't anyone else find it interesting that PETA is constantly pulling this kind of shit against minority groups (Jews and blacks) when one of the Nazis' biggest positions was against vivisection? There are cartoons from the period of grateful animals cheering Himmler because he made sure vivisection was outlawed.

Of course, the same right not to be vivisected wasn't extended to humans, as we all well know.

*****
You're saying that PETA used pictures of lynching victims because they had contempt for black people. How do you know that their behavior has any connection to some preexisting contempt?
_____

Res Ipsa Loquitor, the thing speaks for itself. It was a contemptuous thing to do. They acted despite the fact that the action would cause blacks disquiet. They either didn’t know well enough or knew and didn’t care. Actually, based on their response, it was the former.

*****
Well, because if they didn't have contempt they wouldn't have used those images. That's circular.
_____

Um, yes, it is, because racism is contemptuous. Can’t have racism without some contempt. You can have contempt without racism. I hold those who enjoy American Idol in contempt, but that includes all ethnicities.

*****
Later you define racism as anything that has a differential effect on one race. According to that definition, the PETA ads are racist because they are especially hurtful and offensive to black people. If anything that offends some members of a particular group is racist, the definition becomes too broad to be useful.
_____

It has to be a malign differential effect, and it’s essentially the same thing as the definition given above. If I distinguished white American Idol lovers from Innuit American Idol lovers, sparing the former my contempt, my contempt would then gain a racist element.

And the PETA ads are racist because they specifically single out blacks AND – and, and, and, as we’ve said before, PETA does not use non-minorities in this manner. (Changed my language; see below.)

And, what would you do with, say, disparities in housing and education that result from economic policies that favor whites over blacks? Would you call those racist? Academics do. Even rightwingers do, which is why they tend to attack the fact that the disparities exist! (I had an anti-affirmative action guy try to explain to me that things would be more fair if he had his way, and the only way he could make the argument work is if everything was fair right now. My childhood neighborhoods would have to not exist for his argument to work. Pointing that out led to painful circumambulations. But I digress.)

*****
PETA probably didn't realize that people would respond more to the historical connotations of the images than to their meaning in the context of the ad.
_____

Yes they did. See right here:
"’How dare you compare my ancestors' subjugation to the subjugation of cows prodded down the slaughter line to their deaths?!’ I can, because it is right to do so and wrong to reject the concept. Please open your heart and your mind and do not take such offense.”

That’s Newkirk. He knew what he was doing. Wouldn’t matter if he didn’t so much, as that would still be racist in effect, but thought I’d point it out.

*****
Maybe their cluelessness is symptomatic of an underlying contempt, but maybe it's just cluelessness.
_____

Cluelessness is contempt if that cluelessness causes one to disrespect another when one should have known better. If you’re utterly ignorant of any potential wrongdoing, you’re ignorant – no shame in that. If centuries of history and familiarity of local customs and culture should inform you and you block that knowledge out to carry out your own merry agenda, your cluelessness graduates to contempt.

*****
What do you mean PETA never uses images of white males in this way? Look at this ad from the Holocaust campaign. The guy in the picture looks very white indeed.
_____

Mea culpa. Jewishness runs in and out of “whiteness” in my mind. Where I came from, Jews weren’t necessarily white, still. (Confused the hell out of me as a kid.) They certainly weren’t in the U.S. for a long period of time. (Complete digression: the Irish weren’t originally considered white in the states – I wonder how hard people worked to sort that sort of crap out before deciding whether or not to act intolerantly.) I should say they won’t use non-minorities to dispel confusion.

What do you mean PETA never uses images of white males in this way? Look at this ad from the Holocaust campaign. The guy in the picture looks very white indeed.

Yes, Lindsey. Most Jews do look white. And yet that didn't stop them from being persecuted by the Nazis.

Again, I find it highly ironic that PETA tried to use the Holocaust, perpetrated by the anti-vivisection Nazis, to protest against vivisection. That's probably why they pulled the ad so quickly -- no one at PETA wanted to highlight the similarities.

There's a good blog - Animal Crackers - (http://brianoconnor.typepad.com/animal_crackers/) that keeps track of PETA and the Animal Rights/Animal Welfare biz. He had this PETA trial information for a month or two (at least). He also documents the PETA killings of thousands of animals entrusted to their care in one of their shelters. Really exposes the hypocrisy of the group.

. . . oh, and thanks for addressing the defition of racism as I requested -- that's the bit that I think that's really important. The above poster is right to imply that the PETA racist/racially insensitive is hair-splitting, but the definition of racism is extremely important. Like I said, blacks use it differently than many better-off whites, and that's a big problem, especially due to the need for political unity against the rightwingers.

My current view -- it may change in five minutes -- is that there's no need to compare the cruelty of the holocaust, or slavery, or the 30-years War, or the Great Leap Forward to the cruelty of, say, factory farming. I think all that needs to be done is compare the cruelty of factory farming to factory farming. I think that there is actually not all that much moral disagreement about the treatment of animals: there's mostly factual disagreement ("animals don't have subjective experiences," "they live good lives on pastoral family farms before a painless slaughter"), akrasia/indifference ("All things being equal, I'd rather wear an equally priced perfect substitute to real leather shoes, but I since I can't find them, I'll buy them anyway."), or simply never having thought about the issue ("Animal cruelty? Huh? Never thought about it. Tell me more."). I think the people who actually think "animals have subjective experiences of suffering, they are treated horribly in factory farms, I care a lot about moral issues, and I've thought deeply about this, and I've come to the conclusion that this is not an issue of moral concern" are pretty rare. In short, I don't see a need for Benthamite/Singerite utilitarianism or concepts like "speciesism." I think moral common sense plus better factual information, and people just having enough ordinary moral concern.

I won't say whether I find the "lynching" campaign to be racist, because I'm not sure I'm qualified. As a 3/4 ethnic Jew, though, I will say that I did not find the "holocaust on your plate" campaign to be anti-Semitic.

NOC, you're welcome. Thanks for your thoughtful and challenging posts. This is a really interesting discussion.

Here's a hypothetical question: Do you think that people who display the Abu Ghraib photos are ipso facto racist? I would say no, even though those images may be disproportionately offensive and embarassing for Iraqis, Arabs, and/or Muslims.

I know plenty of progressive bloggers who displayed these images and who ran ads featuring iconic images of the Abu Ghraib abuse. I know I did. These images were frequently used to make a larger political points about the Bush administraton.

Most people understood how disproportionately offensive these images were, as evidenced by endless discussions of how this might play in "the Arab world."

I don't think it was racist of us to do so. We made a tradeoff. PETA did the same thing. I don't like PETA and I don't like their ads, but accusations of racism should mean something. If it's true by definition that PETA is racist for running those ads whether they were contemptuous or not, "racism" has become an empty accusation.

Consider: what was the alternative to showing Muslims/Arabs being abused at Abu Gharib? Not showing it? No other races/persuasions were abused. (Actually, they probably abused Christians, too, but rightwingers don’t count brown Christians. Actually, their definition of Christian doesn’t actually cover things Christ would – eh, I digress. Anyone pictured would be assumed to be Muslim, by any event.) There wasn’t really a way around it. We had to be shown “THIS IS WHAT THE UNITED STATES DID” as blatantly as possible.

My point is that PETA had a wealth of alternatives, in the past and now. Pretending for a second it wasn’t run by self-effacing jackasses, they could have met their ostensible goals with different ads, perhaps even effective ads. They chose to use minorities in torture, specifically, without regard to how those minorities would feel about it. A white ostensibly-christian male can be beat up by police or tortured by a madman and made a victim, but they did not, and will not, use such images.

Bloggers et. al. didn’t have a choice about Abu Gharib, but PETA did. Worse, keep in mind that racism is tied up in why our troops (God I hate using “our troops” in this context but what can you do – my tax dollars at work) tortured and raped innocent people. Media peeps like yourself were displaying that racism precisely because it was racism. So the example you gave isn’t exactly spot-on, though I understand it.

(I guess I can take comfort in the fact that people tend to mistreat prisoners even when the races are all the same. Damn. I need to watch some cartoons, something with some goddamn rainbows or something.)

I still think that to defend PETA’s acts as non-racist you have to challenge the “cold” definition of racism I’m using. When a zoning board fails to consider how families in low-income apartments live when setting up a city plan that benefits the suburbs and, as a result, makes life harder for hispanics in the city, is that racism? I was taught in formal education that it was, though that schoolboard may have no conscious malicious intent.

This definition of racism could, I believe, help some whites that adapt it understand problems blacks and latinos/hispanics face and complain about. It’s not the “redneck racism” that hits you in the face every day. It’s the education problem, job mobility issues, housing – institutional racism.

A supposition (I know I make too many but it’s fun): I think that the mixed reaction that people are having to the PETA ads are linked to insensitivity to institutional racism. That’s not a big charge by the way. Insensitivity to institutional racism won’t send you to hell, in all likelihood (unlike American Idol appreciation). I don’t mean to put anyone down. But, like with institutional racism, the impact could be subtle for those who aren’t hit by it.

But I digress. Anywho, there’s still the use of “racist” to describe institutions where malice/hate/ill-will aren’t at issue. So what of this use by sociologists/economists/me?

Doesn't anyone else find it interesting that PETA is constantly pulling this kind of shit against minority groups (Jews and blacks) when one of the Nazis' biggest positions was against vivisection?

Interesting but not surprising. I've been a left publisher for years, and by far the majority of serious threats of violence made against my person have come from animal rights activists. This was in response to my publishing an article encouraging people to keep their cats indoors.

I'm not trying to cast aspersions on all animal rights activists. For one thing, I've been one, and I work closely on a daily basis with a number of them, many of them people I adore. There is a definite sense in which animal rights activism can be merely an extension of the notion of universal human rights and social justice into the non-human realm.

But there are incipient Nazis in the AR movement as well, though at this point they're way in the minority. Mostly they're few and far between. A couple women in the late 1980s attracted attention in Berkeley for protesting a proposed research facility with signs saying "Experiment on Prisoners, not Animals." (One need not point out who those prisoners were likely to be, right?)

A group of white supremacists in the Pacific Northwest actually went so far as to form a "wolf defenders" group not long ago. AR is an arena where emotions are high and resentment higher, and as such it's a prime recruiting ground for fascists.

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