White Supremacy and Human Supremacy

As readers may have become aware, I am very keen on illuminating connections and parallels in different oppressive forces. For example, I’ve posted before about how the habit of being in vague terms ‘against’ someone’s suffering and death, without actually suggesting that causing that suffering and death is a wrong and impermissible action – i.e. that someone has ‘welfare’ but not ‘rights’ – can be found both in racially-tinged rhetoric and in the ideology of animal abuse.

So this post is an extension of that idea, based particularly on a text I like a lot: ‘The Three Pillars of White Supremacy‘ by Andrea Smith. The basic point is to distinguish three forms of white racism that differ not in degree but in type. They are, briefly:

1) Slavery/capitalism. The non-white (typically African) worker is a commodity to be owned and used.

2) Genocide/colonialism: The non-white (typically American of Astralasian native) inhabitant  must disappear, leaving their land for whites.

3) Orientalism/war: The non-white (typically Asian, from Arabic to Japanese) foreigner is a threat, an exotic but inferior enemy that must be organised against and fought.

The point is both theoretical – to begin an ‘anatomy’ of racism, to break up the single category into distinct manifestations – and practical – to indicate how the different problems facing different communities of colour may interact. For example, black Americans may seek escape from economic marginalisation through joining the army, thus participating in aggressive wars against other peoples.

What I wanted to point out was how a very similar anatomy can be seen in ‘human supremacy’.

1) First, corresponding to the construction of the non-white as productive property, we have the animal as productive property – for meat, for milk, for eggs. As an ancient Roman writer on agriculture said, there are three types of farming equipment – that which doesn’t move, that which moves but doesn’t talk, and that which talks. Ploughs, cows, and slaves.

Further, in both cases the commodity-person may find themselves unfortunate enough to be the object of the scientific rationality that strokes its ego by distinguishing itself from the ‘mindless’ and ‘childlike’ animals and blacks. Experiments on animals continue apace – overt experiments on slaves and the descendents of slaves only died out around the mid 20th century (as far as we know?).

2) Secondly, corresponding to the construction of the non-white as vanished and vanishing native, giving up their land to its rightful conquerors, we have the animal as ‘vermin’, as displaced. Of course elephants and rabbits and songbirds and frogs live here – but we want to build a shopping centre. They will have to ‘go’. That this ‘go’ means, typically, ‘death’, is not usually admitted, except when the regretful discourse of ‘habitat destruction’ switches into the hateful discourse of ‘vermin’. Pigeons, rats, foxes – how dare they inhabit “our” settlements? The obvious rightness with which we drive away other animals to take their land is mirrored by the disgusted outrage that they remain (or rather, “invade our land”).

3) Thirdly, corresponding to the construction of the non-white as threatening but tantalising exotic other, we have the animal as ‘beast‘. The tiger, the wolf, the terrifying creature ‘out there’ onto whom we project all of our rage and savagery (i.e. our ‘beastliness’) while we seek it out and destroy it.

Slave, native, and oriental; meat, vermin, and beast – perhaps the parallel is simply me reading it in. I do love structure after all. But hopefully the attempt to sketch it has been thought-provoking.

As a final note, I thought I’d point out how there are also some parallels in the constitutive sexualisation of these different roles (because patriarchy gets everywhere). Of course, bestiality is taboo, so the sexualisation of animals is much less overt or simple than the sexualisation of racial categories.

For example, a key part of the stereotype of the black man is his hyper-masculinity: his threatening but also stupid virility and aggression. And one of the ways that we suggest virility is by saying something is hung like a donkey – or speaking of them as a stallion or a ‘stud’, i.e. linking them to the male versions of commodity (“slave”) animals.

Another parallel is that the third category (war against the exotic other/struggle against the wild ‘beast’) is a crucial affirmation of masculinity. Hunting tigers, shooting japs. Through conquest, the ‘phallic’ power of the man (that is, his fusion of sexual and aggressive skill) is shown. In racial logic this often involves the positing of the oriental woman as a desirable ‘prize’, beautiful and sexually submissive, just waiting to be ‘liberated’ by the white man.

As I said, these parallels are only partials, because animals are not in general openly sexualised, but there are still ways in which they fit into a very gendered dynamic.

Anyway, this post has gone on long enough, and is more a pile of points than a coherent structure, so I’ll wrap up now.

15 Responses to “White Supremacy and Human Supremacy”

  1. Francois Tremblay Says:

    Yes, okay, you’ve made your point. We treat other species as an Other just like we used to do with other “races.” So what?

  2. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    So it’s useful to understand and recognise the patterns of thought we use to justify mass murder? So it’s interesting?

    “used to do”
    Racism has not gone away.

  3. Francois Tremblay Says:

    You’re assuming that killing animals for food is “murder.” That remains to be demonstrated.

  4. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    Right, because any post about animal rights should include the original argument for why killing them is wrong. Just like every post about feminism should include the arguments about its rightness and necessity, and every post about anarchism should include a proof of the wrongness of authority from first principles.

    If you want ‘animal rights 101’, it’s right up there at the top of the page on the right.

    I notice you don’t tell me that I’m “assuming” that non-white people are the equals of whites – that doesn’t “remain to be demonstrated”. Presumably it’s “obvious”. Maybe animal rights isn’t obvious to you but that it’s not obvious in general, i.e. clearly true, “remains to be demonstrated”.

  5. Francois Tremblay Says:

    “Right, because any post about animal rights should include the original argument for why killing them is wrong. ”

    Ummm… no. You are the one who said “mass murder,” not me. That is an assumption that is not demonstrated. Your initial post did not need any such argument because it did not talk about “mass murder.”

    “If you want ‘animal rights 101′, it’s right up there at the top of the page on the right.”

    The concept of “animal rights” is bankrupt. It’s purely an attempt to control others.

    “I notice you don’t tell me that I’m “assuming” that non-white people are the equals of whites – that doesn’t “remain to be demonstrated”. Presumably it’s “obvious”. Maybe animal rights isn’t obvious to you but that it’s not obvious in general, i.e. clearly true, “remains to be demonstrated”.”

    If you’re talking about society as a whole, I’m pretty sure the fact that slavery was abolished almost everywhere, versus the fact that most of us still eat meat, is a pretty good indicator that one is “obvious in general” and the other is not.

  6. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    “You are the one who said “mass murder,” not me.”
    Look, this is an animal rights blog. I am an animal rights supporter and a vegan. I use language that reflects this, and strangely enough I don’t feel a need to be constantly prefacing every statement with two paragraphs of argumentation. Nor should I have to. If you are unclear about something, say so. But don’t come here to tell me that I must use sanitised mainstream language when talking about the issue.

    “The concept of “animal rights” is bankrupt. It’s purely an attempt to control others.”
    Strange that you see no need to back this up. And presumably “others” doesn’t include animals, right? Because otherwise, this statement would make as much sense as “anarchism is purely an attempt by rulers to control other rulers”.

    “If you’re talking about society as a whole”
    I’m not. I’m talking about what is clearly true. I hold the moral importance of animals to be self-evident – but just like the impossibility of expressing the square root of two as a rational number is self-evident but still often unrecognised, this self-evident truth is largely very little recognised. But this is a tangent.

    Look, clearly you want to get into a basic argument over animal rights. So here goes: please tell me the relevant difference between a cat and a human that means that one cannot be treated as a thing and violated at will, and the other can. Construct this difference in such a way that small children and any human with severe mental disabilities of any kind short of brain-death with be on the ‘safe’ side.

  7. Francois Tremblay Says:

    Once again you seem to be under the delusion that I am attacking your animal rights position as a whole. I did no such thing. I attacked your use of the term “mass murder” specifically as you used it on your comments. Since I already pointed this fact to you, so why are you still ignoring it? If this is just a posturing game for you, then tell me so I will stop try to talk to you.

    Once again, I have no intention of debating “animal rights.” My position differs from yours, and it’s an issue of values, not facts, as I’m pretty sure we are both aware of all the relevant facts (I’ve watched the movies of animals get slaughtered in factory farms, and I’m sure you’ve read at least one article about the hypocrisy of the veg*an ideology). Therefore there is no point in debating the issue.

    My sole purpose in posting a comment (my original comment) is to ask: so what? You’ve derailed this into an “Franc is saying I should prove animal rights rhetoric on every post, but that’s stupid” argument. Yet that is clearly not my implication, and you are being disingenuous.

  8. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    “I attacked your use of the term “mass murder”…there is no point in debating the issue…My sole purpose…is to ask: so what?”

    So you don’t want to argue over animal rights. What do you want? Do you want to know why I posted this post? I answered that both in the post itself and in comments. You have some kind of problem with my use of the term “mass murder”. What is that problem?

    I’ll be honest. I have no idea what you are after.

  9. Francois Tremblay Says:

    “Yes, okay, you’ve made your point. We treat other species as an Other just like we used to do with other “races.” So what?”

  10. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    Ok, and I don’t really understand that comment. Yes, I’ve made my point. I had a point, I wanted to make it, I made it. I considered it worth making. Yet you seem to have a problem with this.

  11. Francois Tremblay Says:

    All right, fair enough.

  12. freethinker Says:

    “Through conquest, the ‘phallic’ power of the man (that is, his fusion of sexual and aggressive skill) is shown. In racial logic this often involves the positing of the oriental woman as a desirable ‘prize’, beautiful and sexually submissive, just waiting to be ‘liberated’ by the white man.”

    And in the logic of animal oppression, ‘nature’ is the desirable prize, ‘bountiful’ and waiting to be ‘harvested’, waiting for the phallic power of man to release nature’s full potential.

  13. freethinker Says:

    Franc, I think the point of this post was to show that that it’s possible to theorize animal oppression just like racism and patriarchy have been theorized.

  14. Francois Tremblay Says:

    And I agree with that.

  15. liz Says:

    brilliant. similar arguments can be made for male supremacy


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