PETA, the KKK and the AKC

February 10th, 2009 11:04 pm by Kelly Garbato

Just for the record – and because it’s starting to feel like all-PETA, all the time around here, Dog help us all – this shit is so unbelievably uncool:

NEW YORK – “Is this really the KKK?” somebody asked the woman in the white robe and the pointy hat.

Crowds gawked at a table set up outside Madison Square Garden on Monday afternoon, where People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was protesting the start of the Westminster Kennel Club show. PETA contends that the American Kennel Club promotes pure-breeding of dogs that is harmful to their health.

“Welcome AKC Members,” read a banner hanging from the table — with AKC crossed out and KKK written above it. Two PETA protesters dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, while other volunteers handed out brochures that read: “The KKK and the AKC: BFF?” […]

Most passers-by seemed more puzzled than offended, though those who didn’t stop walked away thinking they really had seen the KKK. The most common reaction was to pull out a cell phone and start snapping photos.

I wasn’t going to mention this latest offense – I’m so, so sick of talking about PETA – but it landed on one of the larger feminist blogs today, so meh. Lest I be branded a shill for PETA (zomg, I defend them on occasion!), perhaps I’d better weigh in.

While I think the comparison that PETA’s making is a valid one – namely, that the AKC is akin to the KKK inasmuch as the two fetishize a “pure,” “master,” genetically superior strain of beings (be it “race” or “breed”), going to unconscionable lengths to achieve this racist/breedist dream – certainly they can do so without parading around NYC in sheets and hoods, no?

Not only is the Klan gear unnecessary for their analogy (the comparison works quite well without it, methinks), it’s also distracting from the message – the controversy lands on NBC, yes, but the discussion becomes more about PETA’s racism than the AKC’s destructive policies.

Most importantly, by donning a potent, contemporary symbol of racism, PETA (yet again) demonstrates their complete lack of sensitivity and concern for marginalized groups other than non-human animals. While I don’t expect them to join in marches for the Jena 6 or crusade for better public housing for the urban poor – after all, they are an animal rights group – I do expect them to refrain from engaging in other “isms,” including racism. Gleefully foisting such an infamous, lasting symbol of hatred upon the public, some of whom may be traumatized by the experience (because of both the collective, ancestral and individual, first-hand experience with this hatred) is inexcusable. It’s racist, plain and simple. And any attempts to justify this behavior with appeals to the “oppression Olympics” (e.g., “but animals have it worse!”) or by claiming that the ends somehow justify the means (“at least they got us talking about it”) are privileged at best.

Over at Vegan Soapbox, I said:

To add the what Elaine said, PETA can also make the comparison between the KKK and the AKC (and in terms of each party’s insistence on “race” or “breed” purity, I think it’s a valid comparison) without donning white hoods, which are a very real, very visceral, and (still) very contemporary symbol of racism and hatred. As a heterosexual, middle-class white woman, it’s difficult for me to comprehend what someone of African American heritage must feel upon seeing a crowd of (no doubt, mostly Caucasian) people roaming the streets in white robes and hoods, but I imagine it’s pretty fucking terrifying. PETA *could* have made their point without unleashing such a symbol and the psychological trauma it inspires – and they *should* have, out of respect for marginalized human groups and an unwillingness to engage in other “isms.” Racism is no more and no less tolerable than speciesism.

In fact, I think PETA’s demonstration would have made more sense if they had left the Klan gear at home. Here, PETA members are dressed like the KKK; attention is drawn not towards the AKC and their reprehensible practices, but to PETA. And, as Cara at Feministe noted, who’s gonna accept a flyer from a (seeming) KKK member, anyway?

So yeah, this is fucked. While there are some great people working at PETA, these are the kind of stunts that make me wish they’d just slip into oblivion already. We need a new animal rights movement – something more inclusive, more integrative, more radical. PETA ain’t it.

Since I mention Cara at Feministe in my comment at Vegan Soapbox (and this isn’t to pick on her specifically, rather this is a sentiment I regularly encounter), I would like to clarify that I don’t agree with her that comparing factory farming to the Holocaust, or American slavery to the slavery of non-human animals, is necessarily racist. PETA’s handling of either of these campaigns may have left a lot to be desired in the sensitivity department, to be sure (and I say “may” because I don’t recall all the specifics; I was just a wee vegetarian back then); but comparing oppressions, whether it’s the oppression of African Americans and homosexuals or of women and non-human animals, isn’t by definition “ist.” I can see how those who embrace speciesism may make such a mistake; to them, non-human animals are “less than,” and so any attempts at comparisons are insulting. But, um, veg*ns don’t think that way.

Again, as a heterosexual, white, middle-class woman, I’m ambivalent about comparing sufferings which are not mine (the Holocaust, slavery) to those of non-human animals. Certainly, I think that individual analyses are valid in some ways, not so much in others. And again, I don’t consider such analogies de facto insults because I don’t hold the life of a human – thin, thick, black, white, XX, XY – in higher regard than that of a non-human animal. This isn’t to suggest that I devalue human life, but as a veg*n, that I value non-human animal life.

As a woman, I feel perfectly comfortable making and defending comparisons between the oppression of women and that of non-human animals – and calling out comparisons when they’re executed in a sexist manner. As someone of Caucasian descent, I’m uncomfortable drawing similar parallels between the suffering of people of color and non-human animals, or the Holocaust and factory farming. Not because I don’t think it’s my place (Am I told to butt out when comparing the battle for same-sex marriage to that of “interracial” marriage, even though I am neither gay nor of “color”?); but rather, I feel as though I’m not informed enough – either in academic theory or life experiences – to see the full picture. Until then, I’d rather err on the side of caution.

This doesn’t mean that such parallels don’t exist, however, or that others – including members of the oppressed “comparison group” – haven’t already drawn them out. On the contrary.

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