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Thought-Provoking PETA Exhibit

I was down in Battery Park earlier today and saw this very cool exhibit by PETA.

Human-size banner after banner lines the walkway on the Battery Place side of the inside of the park (across from the National Museum of the American Indian), and the content is top-notch: Analogous human and animal suffering is shown in each panel, from slavery to experimentation to mutilation to slaughter and more. There’s also an interesting collection of quotes demonstrating that the way we once justified mistreating humans sounds eerily similar to the way people justify animal use and abuse today.

Whatever you think of PETA, this is a standout exhibit. In the little time that I was there, lots of people stopped to read the panels, and you could see that they were really having an impact. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s in Columbus Circle on Monday, Union Square Tuesday and Wednesday, and Battery Park Thursday and Friday, usually from 10am to 4:30pm, depending on the weather.

It’s so nice to see all of this open-air activism going on around the city!

17 Comments

  1. Comment by

    neishababee

    on #

    I am vegan and I am black and I am ABSOLUTELY OFFENDED every time PETA (or anyone else) compares what happens to animals to what happened in slavery. Comparing animals to black people is already sketchy enough but on top of it, to look at the systematic rape, destruction and colonisation of a people, a continent and a history is an ABSOLUTE INJUSTICE.

    I am ashamed of PETA for displays of this kind and Supervegan for supporting it.

  2. Comment by

    Roseann Marulli

    on #

    neishababee, I’m so sorry I offended you. I know that slavery, like the Holocaust, is a delicate subject and that many people find comparisons between it and animal abuse demeaning. I meant no insult.

    Just by way of explanation, to me, the oppression, exploitation, abuse and murder of any being, human or nonhuman, is inhumane and without justification. And I think the display shows three things that people might not otherwise see:

    (1) It answers the challenge that many people make when they learn that someone works toward animal liberation: Why do you care about animals and not people? We all know that caring about one does not indicate a lack of empathy for the other, and the exhibit responds well to that query.

    (2) It also shows that abuse is abuse, no matter who the victim. “Otherness” is often what motivates people to oppress, exploit and abuse, whether it’s because the other person is black or gay or a woman or in some other way different. Animals are simply just another “other.”

    (3) The exhibit bridges the gap between what was once socially acceptable to do to humans (child labor, medical experimentation, etc.) and what is still universally acceptable to do to nonhumans. Hopefully the end result is that people will make the connection and understand that animal abuse is also reprehensible and unfathomable and should not be allowed to continue.

  3. Comment by

    Livin Veg

    on #

    “The Dreaded Comparison.” It’s def a book worth reading on the topic of comparing human and animal suffering. You can find it on amazon. It’s by Marjorie Spiegel.

    Also for anyone interested in learning more activism skills from PETA, I’m giving away one of their books on my blog.

  4. Comment by

    Sam C

    on #

    What is sketchy about comparing a species or group of nonhuman animals to a group of humans, torture to torture, destruction to destruction, exploitation to exploitation?

  5. Comment by

    sriram

    on #

    “abuse is abuse, no matter who the victim”-well said!

  6. Comment by

    piximouse

    on #

    it’s sketchy because we need to remember who, historically, has been compared to animals and what that has done to their socio-economic status. it’s unfortunate that this sort of hierarchy exists, with white/wealthy/able-bodied/straight/male-bodied humans at the top and all the rest vying for survival below, but as long as it does, i find it really important to be respectful of people’s individual and collective experiences.

    vegans of color has a great post on this: http://vegansofcolor.wordpress.com/2008/12/14/whos-monkeying-around-for-veganism/

    check it out, and don’t forget to check your privilege.

  7. Comment by

    Roseann Marulli

    on #

    Thanks for the link, piximouse!

  8. Comment by

    bhakti

    on #

    Neishababee I commend you for being the first one to comment and speak out against this (yet another) loud and offensive PETA display.

    To say to someone, “animals are treated like enslaved people once were,” or “for animals, every day is the Holocaust,” is feasible, and totally different than to display life-size images of human suffering out for the public to see, so that you and others may remember the suffering of your ancestors and this will in some way convince you to go veg! DOESN’T WORK! The problem with this display is that PETA is putting up a front as though they also care about human rights; PETA does not care a thing about human rights. They are constantly exploiting particular groups of people in all of their ads and campaigns (i.e., Fur Is A DRAG, Got AUTISM?, NAKED, The Lettuce LadieS, exploiting the homeless by expressing that it is only okay for them to wear fur and marking it with a red letter X–the scarlet letter).

    Roseann, you are right, slavery and the Holocaust are two delicate subjects. Let’s remember PETA’s display, “Holocaust on your plate,” which was discontinued because it was so offensive. So offensive that PETA co-founder and president, Ingrid Newkirk, publicly apologized for the display. Now, lets go back to the display you mention in the post Roseann. This display was originally called, “Are Animals the New Slaves?” and it focused solely on civil rights/African American issues. It was so offensive that it discontinued after making it to 10 of the 42 cities it was scheduled to tour. There was a big uproar at UC Berkely (youtube: UC Berkely and PETA). Not to mention the demeaning images: one was of two black men being lynched next to two cows being hung by their hind legs. In fact, the founder of America’s Black Holocaust museum wrote to Ingrid because, lo and behold, he was supposed to be the third man in that lynching image! He knew those two men and escaped that situation. Well, Ingrid Newkirk had no apology for this man (read here: http://stevegilliard.blogspot.com/2005/08/so-you-were-almost-lynched-big-deal.html).

    So she chose to apologize to one group of people but not another, which explains why a dumbed-down version of the “Are Animals the New Slaves?” exhibit is what you see today, while the Holocaust exhibit has been completely done away with. But this makes sense because the group of people that Ingrid Newkirk wants to reach out to are middle to upper class whites, not African Americans. There are never any silly PETA demonstrations being enacted in Harlem or other highly minority-populated areas.

    If “we are all animals” then why must we exploit human animals to save non-human animals? We musn’t and the tactic doesn’t work anyway, but PETA cares about being in the media more than they care about human beings, and perhaps more than they care about animals.

  9. Comment by

    Roseann Marulli

    on #

    Thanks to all of you for your comments. In hindsight my perception of the display seems naive.

    Being bisexual and a woman (and having grown up during a time when Italians were not considered white), I didn’t see myself as coming from a place of privilege that could blind me to such issues. But ultimately I do walk through the world as a white person, so I thank you for making your points.

    Sometimes when people ask me why veg*ns are so angry, I say that if the questioner saw someone beating a child or if someone sat across from them and ate the equivalent of a child’s leg for dinner, they would become enraged, and possibly they would intervene (or at least speak up about it). The analogy seems to work, since people have such blind spots for things that don’t come from their own point of view. That’s why the PETA display seemed effective to me, because it shows the horror of what we’ve done, and in some cases continue to do, to others, from slavery on down (which has also been perpetrated on whites and women and children and…), making it easier for people to understand how horrific animal exploitation is and why it must end. I didn’t see it as being deliberately exploitive of blacks or other minorities, but again, maybe I’m just being naive.

    I also didn’t know the back story behind the PETA display, so thank you for that, bhakti.

    So ultimately, is there no way to reference past atrocities in order to open people’s eyes without being exploitive? Is talking about something that could be seen as reminiscent of current abuses ever okay?

  10. Comment by

    bhakti

    on #

    Hi Roseann. That is a very great and difficult question and I don’t know if I have the answer. What I would say is this: when working with the general public, these comparisons should not be made. Most people are speciesists and these comparisons do more harm than good. I think the horrendous conditions that animals are kept in, their suffering and the way that they are ultimately, violently murdered speaks for itself; the human comparisons are extra, they are confusing to some and upsetting to others, and they are just unnecessary.

    Perhaps the presence of exploitation is dependent on the audience. If you are talking to a fellow AR person and this person is not a speciesist, then making this comparison may or may not be seen as exploitation. But if you are working with the general public, this will almost always be seen as exploitation. It’s shaky ground and not worth the risk; an offended and defensive person is not likely to join the cause. Maybe someone else would like to add their opinions as well…

  11. Comment by

    neishababee

    on #

    I was so upset about this that I had planned to never come back to SuperVegan.

    However, I am glad to see that we have been able to facilitate a discussion that many people would never really be exposed to.

    For instance, the people reading PETA’s blog. I also posted my comment there and while I got a reply from someone at PETA trying to explain their POV, they did not post my comment, which to me, further solidifies my dislike/distrust of them.

    I also posted this article and my thoughts on my Facebook and Twitter and had many comments that mirrored mine. But preaching to the choir doesn’t get anyone saved. So I’m really impressed at the discussion of the topic going on here right now.

    Roseann, I know you didn’t mean to offend/ insult. I realise that people don’t necessarily grasp the severity of situations distant to them – whether culturally, chronologically or geographically. (Take Iran or Darfur for example, all we can really say is “man, that sucks” but we don’t know truly know or understand to what level)

    My two main issues with this, and similar expressions are

    1. The habit of comparing oppression.
    This way people have of pinning the suffering of one group against another ? slaves vs Jews vs American Indians vs homosexuals vs women vs immigrants vs animals vs Republicans in a Democratic senate? Whenever you do that, you are completely discounting someone’s experience.

    As the direct descendent of a slave, when it comes to this topic, it hurts my heart to hear it neatly catagorised as “cruelty” or “abuse” or ?torture?. It is totally ignoring the physical and psychological effects of slavery and the present day experience of the people whose ancestors lived through it.

    2. This exhibit also bothers me because of the fact that throughout slavery, Black people *were* actually treated as animals – they were listed in plantation owner?s possessions along with the horses and cattle. They were bred like animals. They were packaged and sold as commodities and even sometimes with the livestock at auctions.

    Add that to the fact, that to this day, some people still see Black people as savage, uncivilised and as monkeys (even the President and celebrities are not exempt: http://tinyurl.com/kqfclo and http://tinyurl.com/5retuz )

    So to juxtapose animals and Black people, yet again, is rubbing salt in an open wound and rekindling a part of history we would all like to step away from.

    I agree that animal abuse is wrong. And I understand that there was a point in time where the treatment of Jews and Blacks etc was acceptable but is now seen as reprehensible. So there is complete validation in the logic that we as a people have silently allowed wrong to go on for so long in several situations and here is a situation that is also wrong that we should speak up about.

    However, PETA and other animal rights activists need to find a way to bring the situation with animals to light without bringing down another person?s heritage/ suffering.

    The real issue isn?t about what?s being done to animals, or what has been done to other people ? it?s that so few people know about it and even fewer are doing anything about it. We should be focused on raising awareness in ways that make people passionate, not provoked. To open minds, not offend. We should focus on the story of the animals and making their lives matter more.

    Remember, you catch more flies with honey *well, for vegans, agave nectar =)

  12. Comment by

    neishababee

    on #

    Thank you also bhakti for your input and references. I will also share those with my FB and twitter community.

  13. Comment by

    vegan_matt

    on #

    The argument in these situations is rarely about larger truths; too often it hinges on visceral fears about future oppression to match the past.

    I’m a white male, half-Jewish by heritage. This shouldn’t bear whatsoever on the merits of comparing many aspects of the Holocaust to modern factory farming. Whatever painful memories are out there of being labeled “sub-human” and then oppressed, the two situations are quite comparable based on the facts, and that’s what should matter. A wise response to one’s own oppression — or that of one’s ancestors — is to work towards true justice for all feeling beings, and not just human animals. Doing this does not diminish the history or experiences of those who have been similarly oppressed in other contexts.

    But the opposite usually happens. Human groups have emerged from oppression by identifying with their oppressors, often by explicitly distancing themselves from others who are even more categorically oppressed. To employ one often-cited example, Irish immigrants to America were once heavily prejudiced against, and they escaped that context in part by distancing themselves from blacks in the white establishment’s collective consciousness. They were “whitening” themselves into the privileged order rather than trying to disrupt the hierarchy altogether. It was the easier way out, and in a way understandable, but wrong nonetheless for ignoring the plights of blacks. At this moment, the “universal human rights” framework categorically ignores other animals, and oppressed human groups “apply” for membership in explicit and tacit claims to essential difference with non-human animals.

    Imagine the difference if the NAACP or SPLC or Anti-Defamation League actually came out in identification with oppressed non-humans where appropriate rather than seeking categorically to distance themselves out of fear and bias (and often ignorance) as they usually do in response to PETA. It would be a huge step forward for non-human animal rights, and could be done in a way that minimizes risk of a backlash. The caging, torture, and slaughter of tens of billions of non-human animals each year, not to mention all the other abuse humans dole out to other animals, demands all of our solidarity.

    I understand that the pain of oppression-by-”animal”-label lingers, but understanding that cultural reality doesn’t condone myopia of the oppressed or formerly-oppressed. These groups are wrong to ignore the massive suffering of non-human animals, and when declaring themselves to be “human beings”-as-opposed-to-”animals” in outrage to a PETA exhibit, they are sadly assenting to the same kind of oppression that they have rightly decried as unjust and insidious in human cases.

    The bigger reality is that false cultural and institutional significances of the categories “human” and “animal” are the problem here for both human and non-human alike; the fact that oppress-able categories of “sub-human” or “non-human” exist at all is what allows any animals to be oppressed. These categories should be undermined, not short-sightedly reinforced out of fear. And I think many, many people would look at PETA’s images and come away with a greater consciousness about the plight of non-human animals without harboring any extra prejudice against certain humans.

  14. Comment by

    Roseann Marulli

    on #

    Thank you again to everyone for weighing in on this issue. I agree, neishababee, this is an important discussion, and I’m glad it’s taking place.

    By the way, the statements of any one blogger don’t necessarily reflect those of the other SuperVegans; that’s why we have bylines on our posts. If one of us blogs something that doesn’t sit well with someone, I hope he or she won’t dismiss the site entirely. There are myriad voices and content here to suit everyone at some point.

    neishababee, piximouse, bhakti: Thank you so much for your comments. I definitely have a new perspective on this issue and will be more sensitive about it going forward. I hadn’t considered the comparison of blacks with monkeys, and once piximouse brought it to my attention, I felt pretty sheepish. I also appreciate your perspectives on the use of slavery and other atrocities. I would never dismiss someone else’s experiences, and I thank you for bringing yours to my attention. I feel like I really learned something here.

    At the same time (and I’m not playing devil’s advocate here; I’m asking in earnest and would really like to know what people think), it seems that not comparing abuses of people with abuses of nonhuman animals is just another incidence of speciesism, more separation from the other. I understand that having been literally compared with animals makes this more of an emotional issue for African-Americans than it might be for other groups, and you’re right, sensitivity is an absolute necessity when it comes to such a topic, and I will be mindful of that from now on. But can you see where my confusion comes in? When I wrote this post it was this place I was coming from: We are all sentient beings deserving of health, happiness, safety and the opportunity to live out our lives, no matter what our species. I really would like to know what you think about this.

    I also wonder, if the exhibit had not been sponsored by PETA, would people be any less offended by it?

    Thanks, everyone!

  15. Comment by

    alan

    on #

    So, therefore, this display by PETA has raised consciousness.
    Isn’t that the goal of every vegan and PETA member?

  16. Comment by

    Kristen

    on #

    Please don’t hate – but I agree with vegan_matt – as long as people feel offended when they or their race is compared to animal suffering they are practicing specieism. I find it particularly offensive when people compare humans to animals in a derogatory fashion – because as of right now humans in my eyes are the lesser species (me included) I feel downright ashamed of what I have done in the past and what my species is currently doing now to others – so if someone calls me a “b*tch” I’ll say thank you – because a female dog is far more compassionate than the human that called me one. I mean really ? think about ? what other species on this planet commits such atrocities, not only to each other, but everything else around us. We might be more ?intelligent? but when we waste it on war, terror and oppression it?s useless. While I don?t condone most of PETA?s campaigns, and while this one won?t particularly work with most people considering most people think of themselves as higher than mighty ? I wouldn?t knock the thought process behind it ? the campaign is truly pointing out how awful humans are and can be, and until we are knocked off of our high horse we will continue to oppress something whether it be women, African Americans, native Americans, or other animals.

  17. Comment by

    Allen

    on #

    I come from a mixed racial background (black father, white mother) and I understand the point that PETA is trying to make. I think the people who find human to non-human abuse comparisons offensive are completely missing the point and are speaking from a place of severe prejudice. It is not the victims who are being compared (i.e. black people to cattle), it is the oppressors. In each of these acts, the mindset of the oppressors is the same: that those who are different are inferior and therefore don?t matter.

    I think that refusing to accept the obvious parallels between the ways humans and animals are abused not only misses the point, but it minimizes the very real suffering that non-human animals experience. Sure there are differences between humans and non-human animals and the human experience of slavery, for example, is different than a cows? experience of a factory farm. Yet to deny the obvious similarities is to dismiss the experience of the cow as inconsequential. I think that only prejudice allows a person to say that their suffering is more significant that the suffering of an animal. But it isn?t even that. The prejudice we are discussing is one that allows people to say that their suffering, or the suffering of their ancestors, is so much more significant than the suffering of any animal, or any number of animals, that even analogies are offensive. Wow! Now that is truly shocking bigotry. And it flies in the face of what the social justice movement is all about.

    Neishababee, if you can say, ?Black people *were* actually treated as animals? then why is it offensive when someone else says, ?Animals *are* treated like slaves?”

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