Drawing analogies, don’t we all love to do that. I did. A lot. I would try to create sympathy for opposing anti-blackness by drawing analogies to the Holocaust. Although I oppose antisemitism (or at least I would utter the words “ I oppose antisemitsm”, which I thought was enough to truly oppose antisemitism….), it was not something I spoke about a lot. But when it could benefit me and my personal struggle I did not hesitate and used Jewish suffering to make my point. I would try to convince Dutch people (who pretend to really oppose antisemitism but actually only do in order to be Islamophobic mostly) that the suffering of Black people during slavery was just as bad as that of Jewish people during the 2nd World War. It took me some time to realise that I was actually using the suffering of a people to make people see my suffering. And that if people would only ‘get it’ if I used such analogies, they did not really get it. They just centred it around themselves. There was no concern for me, my cause or anti-blackness in general at all at play here. The mere fact that I thought I could ‘just’ use Jewish people to make a point was quite telling about how my politics were and if I was really opposing antisemitism at that point in my life (the answer is no, I was not. I was actually complicit).
For the 1000th time, yet again, I found myself today in a vegan space where people drew the analogy between slavery during the transatlantic slavery period and the violence that animals endure in the animal industry. As a vegan of colour this is something I encounter quite often. Let me start by saying that obviously humans are a species of animals, and usage of the word animals in that sense is quite speciesist (since it kind of suggests that you have animals and you have humans, as if the two are not all part of the same group, called animals). There is much that can be said about this, and why in our language we use animals for all animals but humans and how the speciesism is ingrained in our language itself. So deep, that I also, while being aware of the concept of speciesism , am thinking in this mindset and need to work on this in order to be truly active and consistent in the animal rights movement. I am writing this while thinking so I will opt for a better use of words, human animals and non-human animals.
Regarding the dreadful analogy, why is it racist? When delving into what makes this analogy ‘work’, why you can understand what people mean when they draw this analogy, is that most people have this sense of ‘ we used to treat black people horrible because they were seen as animals” *
This leaves us with the following premises
A. Black people are seen as non human animals
B. Non human animals can be treated awful
C. Thus Black people can be treated awful.
This thinking is based on this idea that B is actually an assumption that is perfectly fine and dandy. It is not, it is speciesist. Just because an animal is non human does not make it suddenly OK to use them as we human animals want to. I want to clarify that I am speaking from a Dutch context here, because obviously there are contexts in this world where being vegan would mean death and we still have survival instinct and I don’t know, because people dying should be seen as a bad thing. I do not condone the mentality of some vegans to order for example Inuit to become vegan and basically starve to death.This is highly unlogical, we must be aware of how food access in general works, and that in order to be vegan you need to have some basics in order to survive, which are not accessible to all in this world due to, amongst other things, White Supremacy.
To come back on the reasoning of how Black people could be used as slaves since they were the same as non human animals, we can see that the speciesist point of view makes it work to oppress Black people. Since A only applies to Black people and not to, for example, White people, and the ultimate result of A is C, it is racist. The analogy made, was made to harm Black people and while doing that being speciesist to non human animals. In order to find some reasoning for bigotry, analogies can be quite helpful. What you basically do is use the suffering of others to either condone or object other sufferings. You can use other oppressed when you are opposing something but also when you totally agree with it, it is quite mutifunctional in that sense.
Let me emphasise that drawing such analogies are using other oppressed groups.
If we then turn to the analogy that I hear a lot in mainstream veganism, where things are stated as “ we abolished black slavery, so now we need to abolish animal slavery” the same thing applies. The suffering of Black people is used to make a point on how non human animals are treated in the “western’ animal industry. Isn’t it odd that most people who use this analogy are white and never speak out against racism (yes I am talking to you white Black Pete loving vegans who also never open up their mouths about the conditions of the workers in the animal industry that are mainly immigrants and PoC ) but when you want to make a point about veganism you do not hesitate one bit to use Black people. Furthermore, when I point this out, I am called a speciesist. Wait, so you think that the suffering of non human animals only ‘counts’ when you refer to it by using human animals in the hope to get some sympathy from human animals (because you are making it into something about them instead of about the non human animals), but I am the speciesist? Furthermore, who exactly put an end to the slavery of Black people? We do all know that Black people fought hard for this right, or have we suddenly forgotten this and do we truly believe that it was some moral conviction of whiteness that ended slavery. I have important information to share: No, it was not because of moral reasons that the slavery of Black people was abolished. If you want to find out more on this stunning revelation I suggest you Google it ( by the way, what is that with people being really angry when I suggest to Google some keywords?). And talking about ‘ well at least Black people are not slaves anymore so there is progress’ is just ridiculous and insulting. The whole ‘progress’ debate is utterly offensive and suggest that things as ‘a little bit of racism’ exist. No, either it’s there or it is not. That’s it.
We then come to a point where there is something crucially different when looking at non human animal oppression opposed to human animal oppression. The likelihood of slaughterhouse animals, milk cows and chickens used for eggs to revolt in a way that we would view as a ‘true revolt’ is not that big. The battle for non human animals will probably be fought by human animals. There is something problematic and supercilious about this, the oppressors freeing their oppressed. The fact that we do not view animals who are screaming in pain, are self harming and showing problematic behaviours that are not seen when they live in the wild as a ‘true revolt’ or a ‘true sign’ is quite telling.
To end this rant post, I think we need to think more about why we draw analogies and how the usage of the suffering of others is seen as something justifiable in order to point out an oppression. If we truly want to engage in social justice policies, shouldn’t we see that every oppression has its own unique ways (and obviously there are overlaps in axes, so one needs to think about this in an intersectional way) and that using other oppressed to make ‘points’ is actually quite oppressive in itself.
* Let me clarify this : Black people are still treated horribly. White supremacy is still working its ass off to fuck up the lives of Black people all over the world.
PS I will later add some quite disturbing Tweets from Roos Vonk who first wrote a piece in the NRC using the Holocaust to make her non human animal oppression point, and then on Twitter went even further and compared an orphanage where children had not much food to a concentration camp. She deleted her tweets, but thank God for screenshots y’all.
Edit: I intentionally left out a discussion about what speciesism exactly entails. This discussion should be held more thorough, in a safe space, in order to be more aware of what and how humans oppress non human animals