Wayne Hsiung
Published on
December 19, 2014

Why Race Matters (especially for Animal Rights Activists)

Why Race Matters (especially for animal activists)

Working against racism is not just the right thing to do. As a world-renowned scholar points out, it's the only way our movement will grow, both at home and abroad. 

By Wayne Hsiung

 Will Kymlicka
Will Kymlicka

Will Kymlicka is one of the most influential philosophers of our time. His work on multiculturalism and human rights has spawned dozens of books by distinguished scholars in the field, and it has influenced an entire generation of human rights practitioners. A professor at one of Canada's most prestigious universities, he is also far from being a "radical anti-racism activist."

And yet Kymlicka, along with his co-author Sue Donaldson, has an important critique of our movement. We are, in both our shocking lack of diversity and our demonization of non-white/Western peoples and practices, shooting ourselves in the foot. 

In both of these ways – the broader public’s targeting of ‘cruel’ minority practices and the AR movement’s promoting of a vegan lifestyle – contemporary animal politics is often seen not just as presupposing a privileged white perspective, but also as reaffirming or relegitimating those racial privileges, treating white perspectives as normative while ignoring the extent to which those perspectives are made possible by the oppression of others. Animal advocacy, in short, is seen as performing whiteness....

There is arguably no greater sin on the Left in North America today than performing whiteness, and progressive organizations will avoid associating with any cause that they suspect will be accused of doing so. Mainstream feminist, gay, disability or anti-poverty groups have faced their own accusations of performing whiteness, and have undergone wrenching internal debates to include racial minorities in their work. Having created what are often still fragile alliances with racial minorities, they are reluctant to embrace any cause that might jeopardize those links.

I share his words because my appeal to PETA yesterday was not a critique of one organization or campaign. It was a call for us to rethink basic assumptions about our movement. Should we be targeting "others" in distant communities or cultures, or pushing harder to change the practices of our own friends, families, and communities? Should we be glorifying rich Western celebrities, or empowering marginalized voices -- voices from communities who, like animals, have also suffered from violence -- to be ambassadors for trans-species justice? Should we frame our movement as a Western consumer lifestyle movement (in a world where billions still struggle in extreme poverty), or as a global movement to stop violence against the most oppressed beings on this planet? Should we be performing whiteness -- privileging white, Western perspectives over those of oppressed peoples (and animals) all over the world -- or should we be fighting for justice -- showing the ties between all forms of discriminatory violence and, by doing so, connecting the cause of animals to historic movements for human rights?

These are all big picture questions that extend far beyond a single campaign. And we must answer them well because, as Kymlicka powerfully argues, not only do these questions determine our attempts to build global solidarity... they build a foundation (or, if answered poorly, a non-foundation) for our movement's growth here at home. 

Check out the full article here. It's a must-read. 

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