Racist Ideology and Practice Rooted in Speciesism
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM David Cantor, RPA Responsible Policies for Animals
September 2019

The Animal-Abuse Revolution, animal-abuse culture, and speciesist ideologies generated to rationalize them preceded and laid the mental groundwork for racism.

When perceived authorities like President Trump designate immigrants "animals," they authorize abuse of those officially disparaged people. Conscience-challenged people predictably seek to enhance their status by carrying out apparent or explicit wishes of adored "leaders." Trump probably has not personally killed or rounded up anyone. Neither have many other authoritarian despots whose policies and rhetoric destroy others' lives.

It is undeniably urgent and important to repair harm done to people of color under the white boot through the centuries and to ensure equal treatment now and in the future. But collectively we have known that for a very long time. Every time victories over racism are achieved, they are declared to be greater than they are, and their intended fruits are not permitted to ripen. White-supremacist factions of the counterrevolution mobilize to undermine whatever progress has been made, and today the Internet intensifies and accelerates their power and influence.

From thirty years as a full-time animal advocate and long study of connections between abuse of nonhuman animals and human misery, I think there is a root cause of racism that must be addressed, and it isn't just inveterate racists perpetuating hatred and invidious distinctions. Rather, the Animal-Abuse Revolution1, animal-abuse culture, and speciesist ideologies generated to rationalize them preceded and laid the mental groundwork for racism.

All human eliminationist campaigns I have explored - Armenia, Cambodia, Germany, Rwanda, and others - use words like "animals," "cockroaches," "swine," "vermin," "rats," "snakes," and "insects" to rally the populace against targeted human beings. It's easier to get people to attack fellow humans if you can get them to perceive them as less than human, inherently despised, better dead than alive. In 1963, Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Paul Johnson (he won) repeatedly joked that NAACP stood for "Niggers, Alligators, Apes, Coons, and Possums."2 Are we supposed to think he was not complicit in attacks on civil-rights activists or murdered, raped, and lynched black people in all walks of life?

Since Trump's defamatory rhetoric appeals to people who hear Trump as broadly agreeing with their white-supremacist views, we should hear Trump as triggering attacks on Jews and others perceived as "mud people" by some of his most ardent followers. It is not surprising that hate crimes are way up under Trump3 despite Trump's not telling anyone to attack - though he did promise to cover legal fees of anyone who might beat up hecklers at his campaign rallies.

In addition to citizen attacks, we should expect Trump's invoking nonhuman animals to lower human groups' status in popular perception to result in extremes of inhumane abuse by government employees with custody of demonized people, and complacency about abuses in the general public. Intensive confinement in harsh conditions, minimizing health care, and separating children from parents, for example, are routine in industries that practice eugenics and enslavement of nonhuman animals - cattle, chickens, dogs, pigs, turkeys, and others. I'm not the only one who considers government treatment of many immigrants today crimes against humanity. And although some protest is taking place, the news industry by and large is not saturating its pages, airwaves, and screens so that we respond collectively to the kind of thing that undermines the American Revolution, our democratic principles, and our innate human morality.

The solution is not merely to target racism, racist rhetoric, right-wing hate groups, or guns. Those must be done, of course. But it won't be enough, as it has not been enough in the past - because it addresses symptoms, ignoring their root causes.

Words matter, as the expression goes. And no defamation is more dangerous to humans than equating them with nonhuman animals, the targets of by far the longest and largest holocaust. Speciesism doesn't just perpetuate abuse of nonhuman animals; it is the foundation of racism and all ideologies that hold some humans less than others.

The Animal-Abuse Revolution dates back many tens of thousands of years to when humans started organizing to kill their natural predators with manufactured weapons. Since that time, ever more kinds of animal have been victimized for instigators' and perpetrators' status, power, and wealth. Animal abuse continues increasing under persistent speciesist ideology. It has never diminished. Consumer-capitalism's most familiar adage advises that if you invent a better mouse trap, the [human] world will beat a path to your door.

What few people grasp, since civilization and its institutions indoctrinate all of us into speciesism and human supremacy from birth, is that no being is inherently unworthy of life. Nature doesn't generate inferior and superior beings, just an infinitely vast and complex web of life. All beings are genetically interrelated, so when we defame, disparage, target, kill, and persecute other animals, we do those things to our relatives, however distant. The most distantly related humans share 99.5 percent of each other's genes, but mosquitos share 50 percent of our genes, bonobos and chimpanzees more than 98 percent, and all of the amazing fish, birds, mammals, and cephalopods a portion in between.

Treating nonhuman animals as evil, dispensable, not entitled to their natural homes, ecosystems, or fulfillment, subject to eugenics, enslavement, confinement, slaughter, mass killing, and cruelty hasn't benefited human beings, as widely believed: It's given us nearly all of our infectious and noncommunicable disease epidemics, pollution, climate breakdown, intensifying droughts, floods, and hurricanes, devastated landscapes, ocean dead zones, and other disasters. A paradoxical consequence is ever more rationalization of animal abuse. We must make it all appear good so the harm to ourselves, each other, and quadrillions of nonhuman victims is obscured. How could we live with ourselves otherwise?

So all of us who would like to hold President Trump accountable for his violence-promoting rhetoric and eliminate racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and other invidious distinctions among humans must undermine speciesism. FDR said that after World War II, "Third Reich" would have to be eradicated from the German mind. To fulfill the promise of the American Revolution and our Constitution, restore the living world, and establish peace and justice, we must eradicate animal-abuse policy and culture and the rhetoric and ideology that sustain them.

  1. I coined the term "Animal-Abuse Revolution" in my December 2014 Dissident Voice article "Let's Use the Brains Our Species Was Born With."
  2. Bruce Watson, Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy. New York: Viking, 2010.
  3. Yanqi Xu, "Explaining the Numbers Behind the Rise in Reported Hate Crimes," Politifact, April 3, 2019.

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