Would society have been more forgiving of Michael Vick if he'd been white? Would they have cared so much about his actions if he had hurt coyotes instead of dogs? And where, how, and why do we draw the lines that encompass our concern for life and justice? Interesting questions! - DG
Michael Vick, Racial History and Animal Rights
Last night I had one of those awful television moments that sometimes afflict those of us who spend part of our life in classroom where we have 90 minutes to discuss a topic and the other part of our life on television where we are constrained to four-minute analyses. On Wednesday evening I joined The Rachel Maddow Show to discuss the current flap surrounding Michael Vick and President Obama.
My goal was to offer some historical context for understanding the vastly different responses to Vick’s crime, to the severity of his punishment, and to the sense that he should be given a second chance to earn a living as a professional football player. I believe that to understand these different public responses we need to know how the Vick case evokes often unspoken, but nonetheless powerful, and deeply emotional interconnections between the rights of black Americans and of animals. Instead, having vastly underestimated the allotted time for the segment I instead seemed to argue that Vick’s acts were justified by the history of American racism. This touched off quite a flood of hate mail to my email inbox last night. So I’ve decided to make one more effort to discuss this complicated issue.
Last year I was teaching an introductory politics course at Princeton University when a campus animal rights group brought to campus a fascinating and provocative exhibit that linked animal cruelty to human degradation, imprisonment and slavery. The images in the exhibit were part of a larger international PETA effort. They were disturbing, but also very powerful.
Read the rest on TheNation.com.
Dallas, the essay that you linked to was a great read, really thoughtful. My own comments don't add much to it, but here goes -
If the animals were pigs instead of dogs, would the outrage have been the same?
Why prosecute someone for cruelty to dogs but not to other animals?
Have white people been arrested for similar crimes? If not, then do we think that's because white people have not committed those crimes? I suspect I know the answer.
One line in the essay struck me as possibly true, but I wanted to edit it anyway. "many African Americans feel that the suffering of animals evokes more empathy and concern among whites than does the suffering of black people." I want to add "many" or "most" before the word "whites". Although this is a quote of what many people feel, so probably a valid description of those feelings. I also think there is more empathy of many (any race) people for animals than for (any race) humans. As to whether that is whites feeling more for animals than for blacks, we can probably put any racial category in both places. But I do get what was said.
There is so much going on here with this issue, and to be honest, I'm not sure I know how to fully put my thoughts into words.
These concerns -- about where, when, and how we draw the lines that encompass our concern for life and justice -- are nothing new. In fact, it is often asked specifically in regards to animals: Why do we eat cows and love dogs?, and in comparing the civil rights and experiences of blacks and gays.
If we are honest, there are many similarities (and differences, too) between the experiences of blacks and gays. And if we are honest again, there are also many similarities in the way we mistreat animals and the way we mistreat humans we see as less than ourselves. I don't personally feel that pointing out those distinctions in any way diminishes the suffering of humans or any other party.
Also, I can say with certainty that my feelings towards Vick are in no way shaped by the color of his skin.
Lastly, it is not uncommon for people to extend their empathy ONLY to their ingroup. History shows that. But it seems more and more to me that people are expanding their empathy in so many ways -- to outgroups and to other species. Caring for animals (like during Katrina) does not mean that one doesn't care for humans. I just think that "animal people" tend to see animals are less able to help themselves than people are. Also, that bit about the air conditioned van going to NOLA to get animals, the fact that it had AC was just indicental. Almost every auto has AC. It's not like someone SPECIFICALLY decided to send an non-AC van for people and an AC van for dogs.
I too have often wondered how some can feel more empathy for animls than other human beingz. From the slave owners who loved yheir horses and pets more than their slaves to the Nazis wo cared more for animals than jews. Its amazing how we as people can do this.
People compartmentalize a lot, but I think that there are some important distinctions to be made here between people who do bad and people who do good. I did animal rescue for years, but I didn't volunteer at any people-based charities. Why? I guess because I was more interested in dogs and cats. But that doesn't mean that I am indifferent to illiteracy, or poverty, or whatever. People can only do so much, and they have different interests. There's nothing wrong with that.
Forgive me for my sloppy writing, there was something wrong with my spell check. I too care deeply for animals as well as humans. I have donated to animal rescues as well as coach inner kids in numerous sports programs.
I agree that people are different and have different value systems. However there is something sinister that makes someone go out of their way to place misery upon another living being for the sake of profit or just for the fun of it. Also i find it interesting that humanity can turn a blind eye the misery to some e.g. slavery and Africans, Jews and the holocaust, Haiti, Katrina, while at the same time loving their pets and treating better than their neighbors. Its the human mind that interests me.
However there is something sinister that makes someone go out of their way to place misery upon another living being for the sake of profit or just for the fun of it.
I agree. Hunting for survival is one thing. Hunting to place a head on your wall is completely different.
Also i find it interesting that humanity can turn a blind eye the misery to some e.g. slavery and Africans, Jews and the holocaust, Haiti, Katrina, while at the same time loving their pets and treating better than their neighbors.
I don't think people, in general, turn a blind eye. A lot of money was donated to Haiti relief and to the victims of that tsunami many years back. Some people are disengaged, to be sure though.
Could it be, now, that Vick is an examption of "redemption" - not in a religious sense, but in a humane sense and in the sense that there should be a chance for people with a criminal record to prove themselves and move forward? By concentrating on a "star", there is much more exposure of the concept of redemption, than there would be for a "regular person". Paying attention to his story, and that he has (I hope) learned the unacceptability of his actions and is now trying to make good, might mean there is a chance for society to forgive someone who has done something heinous, and a chance for the ex-con, on release from prison, to turn their life around.
This is pure speculation on my part.
1.) People love to engage in hero worship, and 2.) People love to kick a man when he's down. Vick avoids number 2 because of number 1. Joe Blow will get a full dose of number 2.