Content warning: This article contains my personal take on topics like Slavery, Genocide, the Holocaust and brief mentions of sexual assault.
Yes, I mean this.
It’s not a rare analogy, and it’s not new. It goes back to even 1988.
I have to say; as a person of color, this used to make me extremely uncomfortable. Not just because the topic was being brought up (which alone would be enough for any person of any color to become a little upset)- but because I felt like not only was my ancestors suffering being derailed, it was being compared to that of animals. I mean, humans are above animals. Right?
As a vegan of colour, I would have to strongly disagree. I won’t get into why I think human suffering and non human suffering is the same. That isn’t really the point. Honestly, I dont think they need to be or that the animal rights movement even benefits from them being compared, but they are. Lots of comparisons are made besides black slavery. I’ve seen parallels between the Holocaust, and the Trail of Tears being made. Farm Animal Rights Movement founder Alex Hershaft was a Holocaust survivor who saw the parallels between Auschwitz and the slaughterhouse.
PETA’s “Holocaust on your Plate” exhibition consisted of eight 60-square-foot (5.6 m2) panels, each juxtaposing images of the Holocaust with images of factory-farmed animals. Photographs of concentration camp inmates were displayed next to photographs of battery chickens, and piled bodies of Holocaust victims next to a pile of pig carcasses. Captions alleged that “like the Jews murdered in concentration camps, animals are terrorized when they are housed in huge filthy warehouses and rounded up for shipment to slaughter. The leather sofa and handbag are the moral equivalent of the lampshades made from the skins of people killed in the death camps.”
The exhibition was funded by an anonymous Jewish philanthropist, and created by Matt Prescott, who lost several relatives in the Holocaust. Prescott said: “The very same mindset that made the Holocaust possible – that we can do anything we want to those we decide are ‘different or inferior’ – is what allows us to commit atrocities against animals every single day. … The fact is, all animals feel pain, fear and loneliness. We’re asking people to recognize that what Jews and others went through in the Holocaust is what animals go through every day in factory farms.”
– Animal Rights and the Holocaust, Wiki
A lot of black activists have also made some comparison between the suffering of their ancestors and that of animals. Sistah Vegan added the following to PETAs campaign:
Because of my background in having read literature about the connections human rights has to non-human animal right (Dreaded Comparison by Marjorie Spiegel, Eternal Treblinka, by Charles Patterson), I understood that PETA’s intention was not to equate black slavery to non-human animals in a derogatory manner. Within the context of Spiegel and Patterson‚s work, I analyzed PETA as implying that the exploitation and torture of non-human animals comes from the same master/oppressor ideology that has created atrocities like African Slavery, Native American genocide and the Jewish Holocaust. Marjorie Spiegel, author of The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, notes:
“Comparing the suffering of animals to that of blacks (or any other oppressed group) is offensive only to the speciesist: one who has embraced the false notions of what animals are like. Those who are offended by comparison to a fellow sufferer have unquestioningly accepted the biased worldview presented by the masters. To deny our similarities to animals is to deny and undermine out own power. It is to continue actively struggling to prove to our masters, past or present, that we are similar to those who have abused us, rather than to our fellow victims, those whom our masters have also victimized.
This is not intended to oversimplify matters and to imply that the oppressions experienced by blacks and animals have taken identical forms- but, as divergent as the cruelties and the supporting systems of oppression may be, there are commonalities between them. They share the same basic relationship- that between oppressor and oppressed.”
Even Russel Simmons has been known to make such a comparison, notably when he this time likens carriage drawn horses to Slavery and the Holocaust:
“There were people for slavery, remember? Slavery was fine. There were people who put people in ovens. There are all kinds of ethnic cleansing, people for it. The horses matter, the promises you made matter. [Referring to Mayor De Blasio] You got in office because we put you there. We put you in and we can take you out.”
Again, I am not white. My family is Black, Native, and Chinese. So I can understand why people get upset- I just personally don’t find it offensive anymore.
First- because I don’t see anything wrong with being compared to animals. In order for me to take offense in having my suffering compared to an animals, I would first have to think I’m above them. This is not the case. I know every soul on planet earth is just as beautiful and meaningful as well as important as any other. So when someone says “Animal agriculture is the slavery of the 21st century” that doesn’t bother me. Do others have the right to be offended by such comparisons? Absolutely! But the two situations are mutually horrific, and I can’t pretend that one tragedy isn’t a bad as the other because one of the victims can’t express themselves the same as the other. Forceful artificial insemination isnt rape, because they’re cows. Factory farming isnt slavery, because they’re animals. You can take any tragedy happening to humans today, and if you replace the human victim with that of an animal- the situation becomes normal and okay.
Second- because I also believe (bear with me) that slavery and animal agriculture aren’t the same, but that the same ideology that fueled racism fuel’s specieism.
Here in the United States, the NAACP and others are now painting animal rights activists as white racists in order to marginalize and dismiss us. I can’t help but think that this sort of “analysis” that persists in painting our movement with a broad brush is the same disparagement that people engage in when the truth makes them uncomfortable. Racists dismissed Martin Luther King as a womanizer. Colonists dismissed Gandhi as a short brown man in a loincloth. Sexists dismiss feminists as ugly, angry women.
Yet many people of color work every day to change attitudes toward animals. My own beliefs, and those of many of my colleagues, sprang from an understanding of right versus wrong. It is not racism that inspires us, but justice. I ask other people of color who have had eggs thrown at their windows or experienced other forms of racism to stop condemning for a moment and to consider that what they are now saying about animals- that animals are lesser beings whose suffering can be dismissed- was once said about them and was used as an excuse to keep them in bondage
– Alka Chandna, PETA. (A vegan of colour)
But that’s not really the point either. In the end, all of this is for animals. Veganism is a selfless movement. Everything we fight for is for animals and the planet. Don’t get me wrong, humans will benefit from worldwide veganism. But we would do it even if it didn’t! Again, don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely important to consider other social justice movements when promoting veganism or even just as we live our day to day lives. Not just because we don’t want to hurt the image of the movement- but because it’s the right thing to do. But since we are talking about the image of the vegan movement, this begs the question; does this comparison help animal rights?
The answer is probably no.
When people make these comparisons, they’re looking to open peoples eyes. Make other people see what they see in hopes that they’ll realize that their lifestyle is harmful. What they actually get, though, is this:
Is this a rightful response? I don’t think so, because the animals didn’t do anything. They didn’t make the comparison they don’t know why they’re being abused and they are the only beings in the animal rights movement anyone should be focusing on. Not the vegans who somehow make you want to abuse them.