Growing up in the little American town of Lebanon, it was difficult for me to argue with peers and teachers about the importance of addressing racism and whiteness. Simultaneously, I felt isolated and frustrated by speciesism that was also accepted as the norm, and which surrounded me daily. Neither peers nor teachers understood why I refused to participate in dissection, and why I did not “appreciate” deer hunting (a huge “sport” in my town). After I told my fifth-grade teacher that I didn’t want to drop a live worm into alcohol to kill it, and then dissect it, he told me repeatedly that worms do not have central nervous systems; hence, they “do not feel pain.” Only through repeated stories, in my household, which exposed how our people were treated, did I become fully aware that pro-slavery whites deeply believed that Africans could not feel pain; that we were believed to be “just animals” who had no feelings, spirits, souls; we were just machines available to serve the purposes of white America. Perhaps my fifth-grade teacher did not know this.
There are many facets to critical animal studies and animal rights activism. It is important to note that, as an activist, I simply cannot ignore the very clear connections among racism, racialization, and whiteness on the one hand, and people’s treatment and attitudes toward nonhuman animals (regardless of whether they are vegan, supporters of “humane” meat and dairy, omnivorous, or “big game” hunters) on the other. For me, navigating a country in which speciesism, racism, and whiteness are an accepted reality, and to stay silent about these acts of indifference and overt cruelty, would precipitate miserable lives for all beings and would continue to create communication gaps and animosity among racial and ethnic communities with differing perspectives on the treatment of certain humans and nonhuman animals.
So, here I am, asking these questions. If you’re sincerely interested in ending racism, you must recognize racism’s roots in our relationships with, and constructions of, “the place of the animal.” And if you’re sincerely interested in ending nonhuman animal exploitation, you must educate yourself on the connections between the social constructions of whiteness, racialization, and racisms (as well as sexism, nationalisms, etc.) and animal abuse.
a breeze harper, “connections: Speciesism, Racism, and Whiteness as Norm” Published in Sister Species page 76