At a San Francisco protest against the use of animals in medical research, John George, Alameda County supervisor, states, “My people were the first laboratory animals in America.”
Turning Humans Into Beasts
Proponents of racism advance their agenda by likening different racial groups to nonhuman animals. In doing so, the racial group is portrayed as evolutionarily inferior and less intelligent than white westerners. Once branded as animals, the racial group can be treated like animals.2
In an attempt to maintain dominance and control over people of colour, pro-slavery writers degraded African Americans by describing them as nonhuman animals. Works such as The Negro as a Beast (1900) helped create the stereotype of the ‘Brute Negro’, which likened African Americans to apes and promiscuous beasts. Blacks were portrayed as sub-human, vicious, criminal, and irrational, furthering the notion that blacks were ‘beasts’ that needed to be controlled and subdued by white men.3
Such dehumanizing labels continue today. For example, a white supremacist described how racist philosophy affected his worldview by stating that, "It was a whole different world... I'd see blacks and they all looked like monkeys."14
This technique was also used to vilify the Jewish peoples during the Nazi regime. Jews were commonly called ‘swine’, ‘dogs’, ‘vermin’, ‘rats’ and ‘parasites’ in an effort to set the Jewish people below the Aryan race. Native Americans also suffered dehumanizing language, described by colonists as ‘wild animals’ that needed to be ‘tamed like sheep’. Once considered more animal than human, mass killing was rationalized.1
Animalizing language has also been used at wartime in an attempt to vilify the enemy. The Japanese were called names such as ‘yellow monkeys’ or ‘mad dogs’ during World War II and, during the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese were described as ‘termites’ that ‘infested the land’. By turning racial groups into animals at wartime, the guilt of inflicting suffering and torment upon the enemy is absolved.1
Whips, Chains, and Isolation
Many of the methods used to exploit animals today were also used to control human slaves. In a historical comparison, Jacoby convincingly argues that the domestication of animals served as a model for human slavery.4
The novel The Dreaded Comparison demonstrates that many of the horrors inflicted upon African American slaves in North America are today inflicted upon non-human animals.3 When European colonizers stole Africans from their homeland, they chained their prisoners and transported them across the ocean in ships so crammed that less than half of the passengers made it alive. These boats, now fittingly known as ‘cattle ships’, mimic the conditions of modern day transportation of nonhuman animals. Pigs, chickens, cows, and other food animals travel in crowded trucks in extreme weather conditions for 12, 36, or even 72 hours without food or water, many suffering extreme weight loss from the stress of the transport.
Other horrors experienced by both human and animal slaves include branding of the skin with a hot iron blade to mark the individual as property, social isolation, and exploiting individual bodies for profit. Slaves were attacked violently when they did not act in perfect obedience, just as nonhuman animals today are often beaten when they do not fulfill their owner’s desires. And when slaves ran away from their masters, they were hunted down with methods mimicking modern day sport hunting, often with dogs trained to hate Negroes at their feet.3 Considered inferior beings, African American slaves endured unspeakable horrors now considered atrocities. But these same horrors are still experienced today by nonhuman animals across the world.
Eugenics is defined as the science of improving stock, whether human or animal.5 Animal breeding programs involve determining specific mating systems to select for desirable traits. These breeding programs, originally developed for domesticated animals, served as a guide to the racist breeding programs developed by Eugenicists in the 19th and 20th centuries.1
The 18th and 19th century saw an increased desired to improve the heredity of human populations. Immigration laws, such as the Immigration Act of 1924, limited the number of immigrants from ‘inferior’ racial groups6 and additional laws prevented persons that were ‘mentally unfit’ or had sexually transmitted diseases/infections from marrying.7 Mass sterilization campaigns were also developed, in which laws were created to ensure that “confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles, and rapist” could not bear children. Interracial marriage was illegal in some areas of the United States until 1967, and white supremacist groups continue to promote racial purity through increased immigration laws, sterilization, and limitations in marriage.
The eugenics movement inspired Hitler’s obsession with racial purity. Hitler’s fascination with the eugenics programs in the United States motivated the Nazi ‘euthanasia’ of the mentally ill and ultimately the final solution, which killed millions of Jews, blacks, and other individuals deemed ‘inferior’, ‘unfit’, and ‘undesirable’.1
Today, forced mating, as well as developing technologies of gene transfer, cloning, and in-vitro production are used to breed ‘world-class’ animals. Such breeding has increased the breast tissue of an eight-week old chicken to seven times that of a chicken 25 years ago and boiler chickens are bred to put on so much weight that 90% can no longer walk at six weeks of age.8 Dog shows rate dogs for how well their appearance conforms to a standard, deeming some animals ‘superior’ to others.
The notion that breeding can be used to improve the stock of nonhuman animals leads directly to the idea that human animals can and should be controlled in similar ways. Terms such as ‘mutt’ and ‘mulato’, used to describe multiracial persons, directly demonstrate the ease with which eugenics moves from non=human animals to humans. As noted on the vegans of color website, “Using animal names … to refer to mixed-“race” people just becomes another example of the ways in which white supremacy functions to perpetuate a white-washed notion of worth and value. It’s you’re not human, you’re not valuable. If you’re not white, you’re not quite as human.”
Human and Animal Slaughterhouses
Pattersons’ novel Eternal Treblinka outlines the many connections between the exploitation of animals in modern society and the Jewish Holocaust. Of great importance, he describes how the Holocaust’s killing centres were modeled after the mass mechanized slaughter of the Chicago slaughterhouses.1
Unknown to most, the inspiration for Henry Ford’s assembly line came from the slaughterhouses in the stockyards of Chicago. To handle increase meat demand, the conveyor belt and division of labour were developed to increase the speed and efficiency of the slaughter.1 Such methods are continued to be used at slaughterhouses today, in which workers are forced to work at ever increasing speeds to meet the population’s desire for meat.9 Henry Ford, an anti-Semite, helped transfer this assembly line to the German Nazis.1
Just as in modern slaughterhouses, Nazis transported individuals to their death in crammed ‘cattle cars’, removing the sick and injured from the rest of the group upon arrival. The prisoners were temporarily kept in pens until they were undressed and taken through a ‘kill alley’ to their death, just as nonhuman animals travel down a ‘kill chute’ to slaughter, removing any attempt for escape. In both Nazi Germany and modern day slaughterhouses, using routine, mechanical, and repetitive acts removes any need for decision-making or thinking during the process, helping the workers ignore the immorality of their acts.1
As stated by sociologist and philosopher Theodor Adorno, “Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals."
Lab Rats and Guinea Pigs
Racist ideologies support the belief that certain (white) races have the natural, God-given right to sacrifice the lives of the ‘lower races’ if substantial benefits can be gained. One such ‘benefit’ is experimentation upon the ‘lower races’ in the name of medical progress. Importantly, the argument that some (lower) individuals can be sacrificed so that other (superior) individuals will benefit is the same argument used to justify animal experimentation.
Multiple research experiments have been performed on racial minorities without their consent. The best known incident of medical experimentation performed on African Americans is the Tuskegee syphilis study. Funded by the U.S. Public Health Service and conducted from 1932 to 1972, white scientists recruited approximately 400 black men with syphilis for a medical study. The men were intentionally misled into believing they were in a treatment program, and were given only aspirin as pain relief (though penicillin was a recognized cure at the time) as scientists collected tissue and blood samples to document how the disease progressed.10 In a similar vein, Dr. Albert M. Kligman, credited with great advances in the study of dermatology, conducted numerous cosmetic tests on many black men in the Holmesburg Prison.11
During the Nazi regime, a series of medical experiments were performed on Jews and other individuals held at the concentration camps. Prisoners were forced to participate in experiments testing the ability of humans to adapt and live in harsh conditions, medical experiments testing various vaccinations and treatments, and mass sterilization.12
The San Antonio Contraception Study additionally tested the effectiveness of a contraceptive pill on poor Mexican-American women whom did not give informed consent. Half of the women received the oral contraceptive and half received a placebo, leading to many unplanned pregnancies in the ‘placebo’ group.13
Millions of animals are subjected to research experiments each year under the belief that some ‘inferior’ lives can be sacrificed for those ‘superior’ to them. Such hierarchical thinking perpetuates the notion that some individuals live for the benefit of others, justifying the exploitation and oppression of both nonhuman animals and humans.
1Patterson, C. (2002). Eternal Treblinka: Our treatment of animals and the holocaust. New York: Lantern Books.
2Best, S. (2007). Eternal Treblinka: Our treatment of animals and the holocaust by Charles Patterson. Journal for Critical Animal Studies, 5 (2).
3Spiegel, M. (1988). The dreaded comparison: Human and animal slavery. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers.
4Jacoby, Karl (1994). Slaves by nature? Domestic animals and human slaves. Slavery and Abolition, 15, 89-97.
5eugenics. (n.d.). Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. Retrieved May 02, 2009, from Dictionary.com Web site: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/eugenics
6Friedlander, Henry (1995). Origins of the Nazi genocide: From euthanasia to the final solution. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press
7Kevles, David (1998). In the name of eugenics: Genetics and the uses of human heredity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
8Robbins, J., Ornish, D. (2001). The food revolution: How your diet can help save your life and our world. Berkley: Red Wheel.
9Human Rights Watch. Blood, sweat, and fear: Worker’s rights in the U.S. mean and poultry plants. New York: Human Rights Watch.
10Washington, H. A. (2006). Medical apartheid: The dark history of medical experiments on black Americans from colonial times to the present. New York: Doubleday.
11Hornblum, A. (1998). Acres of skin: Human experiments at Holmberg Prison. London: Routledge
12Spitz, V. (2005). Doctors from hell: The horrific account of Nazi experiments on humans. Boulder: Sentient Publications.
13Amdur, R. J., & Bankert, E. A. Institutional review board: Member handbook. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
14Feagin, J. R., & Vera, H. (1995). White racism: The basics. New York: Routledge.
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