By Ingrid Newkirk
A BBC announcer recently got into trouble for using the phrase “nitty-gritty,” which some people believe harkens back to the detritus found on the floor of slave ships. Other linguistic scholars dismiss that as nonsense. Nevertheless, these days one has to tread carefully, as it’s not good enough to condemn racists: People who inadvertently cause offense must be called out, too. Fair enough.
Tracey Ullman’s “too woke to function” video pokes fun at this hypersensitivity. “Is water racist?” a horrified young man in a “woke” support group asks, only to be told that that kind of worrying can ruin any chance he has of relaxing and enjoying life.
I’m all for trying to make positive changes, but here’s something I don’t agree with. Some have said it is insensitive for PETA to mention the importance of the struggle for animal rights in the same breath as praising Martin Luther King Jr. To me, that’s as misplaced a concern as asking if water is racist.
Struggles for justice take many forms and King himself recognized that. He was even criticized by his own followers then, as PETA has been now, for involving himself in issues outside the Black civil rights movement. That doesn’t stop this animal rights group from serving vegan food at marches against racial injustice or passing the hat when a mosque or Black church is burned or its congregation attacked out of hatred. I believe, as did King, that injustice isn’t a single issue, and it is to King’s immense credit that he recognized the power of uniting the struggles against the many forms of injustice. Never being silent was his life’s work, and it is PETA’s obligation.
No one who knows PETA doubts that we oppose all exploitation, discrimination, needless violence, abuse and slaughter — all of it. Our job is to wake people up, shake people up and find creative ways to call for an overarching view, not slink into a corner and pretend that our movements are unrelated. Perhaps particularly when people are already upset with one form of injustice, that’s the time to convince, even challenge, them not to abandon those who are always on the margins.
Who you are may be important to you but should not exempt you from your role in the larger community of life. You don’t have to be Japanese to know internment camps were wrong, you don’t have to be a captive orca to protest captivity, men must fight sexism and racial injustice must be decried by people of every race. Each one of us is needed in the struggle for animal liberation, and we will not be whole human beings until we reject supremacism in all its ugly forms.
Atrocities are atrocities no matter the victim’s age, religion, identity, nationality, ethnicity, gender — or species. It is human supremacism to think that there is something sacrosanct about a woman’s experience of rape and that it’s not the same for a cow imprisoned on a dairy farm if a man shoves his hand deep inside her and inserts a long syringe. Aren’t her pain and fear just as real as a woman’s? If we turn a blind eye to heinous acts of abuse and killing that happen to those who don’t happen to be human, that is human supremacism.
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke up not just for racial equality but also for women. And he also spoke up for white pacifists. Should he have shut up? If William Wilberforce, a privileged member of the landed gentry in England, had not fought to free slaves, to provide sanitation and alms for the poor of London and to stop the whipping of horses on public streets, immense suffering would have continued. Was it white savior complex, wealthy savior complex and human savior complex? No. It was because he recognized that it was all one struggle — for all the disenfranchised. Bless his big heart.
White, black, brown, yellow. Gay, straight, transgender. Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, Jew. Rat, pig, dog, human. In the end, the only relevant divide should be between those who want liberty and justice for all and those who want it only for the few they narrowly identify with.
Perhaps this year we will look deep inside ourselves and realize that what animals have, including their very lives, is theirs alone, not ours for the taking.