Monday, February 9, 2009
[partially cross-posted at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish]
I have a lot of sympathy for the general point that PETA is trying to make in its intentionally "controversial" campaigns. Their acronym stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and I generally agree that human animals should stop habitually and heartlessly abusing other animals.
However, PETA's penchant for stunts that are shockingly sexist, and often shockingly stupid, has often made me wonder if they're secretly funded by the beef industry.
Their latest stunt has me wondering again. Here's a photo of PETA supporters Caleb Wheeldon and Andrea McIntyre handing out leaflets outside a dog show in Madison Square Garden today. Notice what they're wearing.
That outfit is what it looks like--a Ku Klux Klan robe. No, undoubtedly not the real thing, since PETA members never get anywhere near Klan members. These animal-rights advocates are dressed this way because they're accusing members of the Westminster Kennel Club of abusing show dogs, by trying to breed them into a "master race."
As the Associated Press reports,
Crowds gawked at a table set up outside Madison Square Garden on Monday afternoon, where People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was protesting the start of the Westminster Kennel Club show. PETA contends that the American Kennel Club promotes pure-breeding of dogs that is harmful to their health.
“Welcome AKC Members,” read a banner hanging from the table — with AKC crossed out and KKK written above it. Two PETA protesters dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, while other volunteers handed out brochures that read: “The KKK and the AKC: BFF?”
“Obviously it’s an uncomfortable comparison,” PETA spokesman Michael McGraw said.
But the AKC is trying to create a “master race,” he added. “It’s a very apt comparison.”
No, actually, it's not a very apt comparison. As I said, I have some sympathy for PETA's cause, and there's even some cleverness to this attention-getting stunt. However, any points in PETA's favor are grossly outweighed by the stupidity of trivializing the threat that the KKK has represented to non-white people, and black people especially, by comparing that threat to animal abuse.
While the point about show dogs is that they're being abused in order to create a favored, but congenitally unhealthy and in some cases freakish "master race," the parallel abuse alluded to by the mock Klan robes is that suffered at the hands (and rifles and ropes) of the KKK by its victims. Thus the implicit, boneheaded comparison that PETA makes here is that of KKK victims, primarily black people, to dogs.
You'd think PETA's event planners would've learned from the outrage provoked by some of their earlier, similarly racist campaigns. In 2005, disgusted civil rights groups and other protesters forced PETA to cancel one entitled "Are Animals the New Slaves?" According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this campaign featured a "12-panel display juxtaposing such images as noosed black men hanging from trees with photos of slaughtered cows . . . "
Then there was their "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign, which juxtaposed photos of penned and slaughtered Holocaust victims with animals processed in the corporate meat industry. For that one, PETA pulled the "Whipping Out Your Best Friends" maneuver, by claiming that the campaign was "funded by a Jewish philanthropist." This supporter supposedly agreed that "the victimization of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others characterized as 'life unworthy of life' during the Holocaust parallels the way that modern society justifies the abuse and slaughter of animals." If one of those victims says our questionable methods are justified, why then, they are! Right? Right?!
PETA surely know ahead of time that these specious parallels are going to piss off a lot of people. Indeed, that's clearly their purpose, as they repeatedly hail their own campaigns as "controversial," and thus attention-getting. There's no publicity like bad publicity, their thinking seems to go.
But I wonder--aside from these racist campaigns being wrong because they're racist, aren't they also counterproductive? Don't they turn off as any many or more people to PETA's cause as they attract to it?
If so, PETA people must be oblivious to how they keep shooting their organization in its foot. Another source of their oblivion is, undoubtedly, their overwhelming whiteness (unnamed Jewish donors notwithstanding). Indeed, as Tim Wise writes, these sorts of animal-loving extremists could be labeled "animal whites," not only in terms of their race, but also in terms of their habitual racial insularity:
That PETA can't understand what it means for a black person to be compared to an animal, given a history of having been thought of in exactly those terms, isn't the least bit shocking. After all, the movement is perhaps the whitest of all progressive or radical movements on the planet, for reasons owing to the privilege one must possess in order to focus on animal rights as opposed to, say, surviving oneself from institutional oppression.
Perhaps if animal liberationists weren't so thoroughly white and middle-class, and so removed from the harsh realities of both the class system and white supremacy, they would be able to find more sympathy from the folks of color who rightly castigate them . . .
Here's the rest of the brief AP story on this latest PETA farce. What do you think of PETA's appropriation of racially charged, white supremacist imagery?
David Frei, spokesman for Westminster and TV host of coverage on USA Network, said: “I can’t speak for everyone, but the vast majority of the people exhibiting and handling and showing at Westminster are more interested in the health of dogs than anything else.”
“We want to produce the next generation of healthy and happy dogs,” he said, “not just for the show ring but for the couches at home.”
Most passers-by seemed more puzzled than offended, though those who didn’t stop walked away thinking they really had seen the KKK. The most common reaction was to pull out a cell phone and start snapping photos.
Police monitored the situation from nearby, but the scene was mostly calm. One shouting match broke out during the hour-long protest.
Earlier, a man strode away yelling, “That’s disgusting! I’m going to buy more fur!”
Fatima Walden, who spotted the protest during a shopping trip, called the KKK imagery inappropriate no matter what the message.
“They could have used something else as an example,” she said. “You should be considerate to everybody.”
Posted by macon d at 4:00 PM