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.