this is an ongoing series of short rants on the commonalities of oppressions. this one here is about racism (systems of power and privilege to dominate, discriminate and stereotype by race and color) and speciesism (systems of power and privilege to to dominate, discriminate and stereotype by species). specifically, it is about a parallel between them, a commonality in how these two interact.
it’s called “privilege guilt”.
so, a lot of people – predominantly white people – are taught to think of racism only as individualized actions, where you need to say or do something really malicious against a person of color to be considered a “racist”. even worse, (white) folks consistently respond to any conversation about racism, racist behaviour or white privilege with reactions of guilt and shame. this is not the kind of guilt that makes people act accountable for actions (or inaction), oh no. instead, it is the kind of guilt that serves to hijack original conversations and steer them to be instead about “whiteness”, about those so-called non-privileged privileged, and those “burdens” of white humans. seriously, fuck that.
“I think the problem is that many people in America think that racism is an attitude. And this is encouraged by the capitalist system. So they think that what people think is what makes them a racist. Racism is not an attitude. If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.”
what these (white) people fail to grasp is that racism is in fact much more than themselves (which says more about their ego really, if someone thinks an oppression begins & ends with their behaviour). racism is power. it is institutionalized power. meaning it’s the kind you don’t need to see to experience (in fact, it’s often what you don’t see). yes, we have blatant examples of cops killing black people with total abandon and impunity. but we also have social and political institutions that produce white privileges, which in a collection result in our cultures of white supremacy. it manifests in our political policies and practices; constant media stereotypes; what our education systems teaches and doesn’t teach our children; cultural colonization; distribution of wealth and resources; the legal system’s version of ‘justice’.
basically, racism is a ubiquitous system promoting domination by white people at the expense and subjugation of non-white people. you’re not born into some morally-neutral status that prevents you from being racist if only you don’t stereotype folks. no. no, that is not how it works. in fact, it is racist to be ignoring these realities, or refusing to learn about the ways in which this oppression can be recognized, challenged and undone.
“Not being racist is not some default starting position. You don’t simply get to say you’re not a racist; not being racist — or ableist or a homophobe — it is a constant, arduous process of unlearning, of being uncomfortable, of eating crow and being humbled and re-evaluating.”
so similarly, a lot of humans regard speciesism with the same kind of ignorance. lots of humans think to be speciesist you need to act out some overt hatred of another species, or that you need to be independently abusing an individual animal. and likewise, when conversations arise about it, humans will respond with reactions that dominate and re-direct the subject towards guilt-laden complaints, to aggressively defending identities like “humanity”, and bragging about “progress” that has been made by humans for animals. yawn.
of course, speciesism too is power. it too is institutionalized power. basically, speciesism is another ubiquitous system (to the extent that most humans don’t event see themselves as a species or an animal) that makes it nearly impossible for people to function in our societies without witnessing, benefiting from, being complicit in, and perpetuating this cycle of violence against animals. yes, we have blatant examples of speciesies-based violence, such as undercover videos capturing when an animal dies in a particularly gruesome way at a slaughterhouse or farm. but we also have cultural and economical institutions that have affirmed our unquestioning beliefs that animals can be slaughtered if they meet our own terms of guilt-free murder.
so the same goes, it’s speciesist to ignore and deny these truths that our society is built to make it really fucking hard for people to find resources and communities that do not center around the exploitation of animals. our human-made systems of politics, economies, food system, religions, science, media & art, and more are all situated upon foundations of anthropocentric, species privileges. and these collectively result in human supremacy.
um, rarely (Sistah Vegan does). there are lots of animal rights campaigns & organizations (PeTA; Thug Kitchen) that attempt to resolve their species guilt, by “going vegan”, by reinforcing the dominant white-supremacist culture & philosophy of mainstream animal rights, relying on white privileges and racism to do it. how? they appropriate black culture in ways that white-washes their vegan-solutions to speciesism, talks over or outright steals wisdom and histories from black, indigenous and peoples of color. otherwise they talk about converting everyone to veganism like it is the white (hu)man’s burden. how often do you see folks paraphrasing great black community organizers of history, but then consistently ignore every opportunity to show some black-solidarity? isn’t that fucked up?
so while oppressions like racism and speciesism may exist separately, and so should be addressed independently too, don’t ever doubt that they depend upon one another. don’t think that the privileged strategies of “guilt”, of dominating conversations to be about them and not the oppressed, is a well-developed system to excuse privilege, even if these folks don’t know it yet.
PeTA impersonating the KKK.
if you want more insights on how to call people in better, so that they don’t start aggressively defending their racism and/or specieism, read this.