In an op-ed for Knight Ridder, Alka Chandna argues that simply because People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals compares animal agriculture to slavery does not mean that the group is racist. Then why do so many activists and groups, including PETA, support the tactics used by racists?
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 this sort of “analysis” that insists on painting a movement in a monochrome is the same pairing down of the world that people engage in when the truth makes them uncomfortable. Racists dismissed Martin Luther King as a womanizer. Colonists dismissed Gandhi as a short, brown main in a loin cloth. Sexists dismiss feminists as ugly, angry women.
Chandna’s invocation of King’s legacy is a bit odd. After all, King was famously arrested in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1960 when he joined other activists across the country in a sit-in at a restaurant that was whites. The example set by King and student activists who started the lunch counter sit-ins quickly led to the end of this racist, demeaning practice.
But I’m surprised Chandna would champion this, because if PETA is correct all King accomplished here was to allow blacks to oppress animals alongside whites. If we are to believe PETA, if King had actually been served at that restaurant in 1960, he would have been guilty of treating animals as slave holders treated his ancestors. King, who pushed racial equality in this country further than anyone since the Civil War, was himself apparently possessed of the same sort of mindset that led slaveholders to treat blacks as simply objects. (Many animal rights web sites note that King’s widow and one of his sons are currently vegans, but conveniently omit that King himself was not a vegetarian).
But Chandna’s main hypocrisy is decrying tactics that PETA and other activists regularly endorse. She writes of racist persecution of minorities,
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 Saturday and Sunday mornings cleaning egg from our doors and windows or examining, with my very hurt parents, racist “jokes” that had been spray painted onto our driveway.
. . .
I ask other people of color who have had their windows egged or experienced other forms of racism to stop condemning for a moment and to consider that what they are now saying about animals — that animals are lesser beings whose suffering can be dismissed — was once said about them and was used as an excuse to keep them in bondage.
The racist incidents that occurred in Chandna’s youth obviously pained her greatly, and she is right to condemn this sort of mindless violence. But, why does she work for an organization that endorses just such tactics.
How can she work along side Dan Mathews, who praised serial killer Andrew Cunanan for murdering Versace? How can she work for an organization that employs people like Gary Yourofsky who says he “unequivocally support” murder if it advanced the animal rights cause? Knowing how much the eggs thrown at her house traumatized her, how can she support PETA activists who encourage others to douse targets in fake blood or throw pies in the faces of their opponents?
Chandna asks minorities to consider how arguments that non-whites were lesser beings were used to oppress them, and then consider whether or not such arguments are at work in depicting animals as lesser beings. But how does she expect anyone to take her seriously when she complains about the horrors of violent acts carried out against her family while simultaneously representing an organization that advocates and encourages exactly those sorts of acts and much worse?
Are animal rights activists racist? Alka Chandna, Knight Ridder, October 2, 2005.
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