Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Who Decides What Is Racist, Sexist, etc.?

Lately, I've given Lindsay, nee Majikthise, a hard time on a couple of points -- whether effectively is not really the point. I always preface my criticisms by mentioning my regard for her writing and her intellect, but qualified criticisms are still criticisms. Of course, criticism is what makes the blogosphere go round. If, in fact, the blogosphere goes round. And of course reasonable minds may differ as to the revolutions or rotations of the blogosphere. It's subjective. I'm just saying.

But this is one of those credit-is-due moments that I can't pass up.

A couple of days ago Lindsay posted a detailed discussion defending against widespread charges of racism a recent insensitive PETA advert that asks "Are animals the new slaves?" In sum, she wrote, in response to Steve Gilliard's indictment of the ads as racist:

PETA's point of view also deserves consideration. If you believe, as they do, that animals have the same moral status as human beings, then it follows that our society's treatment of animals is directly analogous to slavery. We own them, we use them, we kill them for food and sport. * * * * Perhaps PETA is being racist for pulling the earlier Holocaust campaign but refusing to pull the Slavery campaign. If PETA cares less about the feelings of lynching survivors like Dr. Cameron than it does about those of Holocaust survivors, that's racist. However, it may be that PETA pulled the first ad because its opponents raised a bigger backlash. PETA deserves to be criticized for being insensitive, and inept, but not for being racist.

Gilliard evidently didn't take too well to those who disagreed with his imputation of racism to PETA.*** His follow-up post contained this exemplum of reasoned argumentation:

First, let me say that I find it incredibly condescending to be told that images are used in a way I know are racist are not. I don't need anyone to define racism for me. I especially don't need to be told that I have a problem in defining it..

My reaction to that is quite simple and direct: go fuck yourself.

Ah, the sweet smell of civil discourse.

Lindsay's response, her refutation of Gilliard's conclusory, vulgar, and vaguely derogatory riposte to his critics (which, to be fair, precedes a rather long-winded possibly well-sourced counterargument, such counterarguments being the stuff of productive dialog, although it appears principally to focus on his premise that blacks have historically been equated with "lower" animals, a premise no one seems to contest; it's the soundness of his argument at issue, not the accuracy of any of its premises), is simply brilliant.

She doesn't sink to his level. She very patiently deconstructs and eventually decimates his argument, principally by discussing the implications of converting the hermeneutic and fundamentally social inquiries concerning racism (e.g.) into principally subjective exercises, or ones in which only those who are of the disadvantaged group are permitted to weigh in on the larger issues. Lindsay continues to elucidate her argument extraordinarily well in responding to various people in comments.

From my peculiarly law-centric point of view, I can't help but observe that among the consequences of Gilliard's view, something Lindsay appears implicitly to recognize, is the incipient collapse of Title VII anti-discrimination law. Congress is white; Title VII seeks to provide objective rubrics for assessing whether a claimant has been discriminated against and whether a given workplace is hostile. This ever-so-important remedial context would be rendered either farce or dead letter by any government level accession to Gilliard's view about who gets to decide, assess, indict.

The point here isn't really whether PETA's advert is insensitive. No one seems to question that it was in poor taste. But as Lindsay points out, PETA's whole propaganda M.O. is shock value (or communications if you prefer -- I'm a vegetarian, and I abhor many aspects of how we treat animals in the U.S. and around the world, but I have very little use for PETA, which is about as good for the pro-animal lobby as Michael Moore is for the left). I was vaguely appalled, albeit rather tickled, when the other night I saw their spot relying on graphic cat porn to push the virtues of neutering cats.

Anyway, as long as Lindsay won't find my use of the feminine form offensive (and who am I, en-penised and estrogen-deficient, to decide?), I offer a much deserved Brava! from the third balcony for an eloquent and incisive pair of posts.

*** Actually, if PETA's guilty of any -ism, it's almost certainly misanthropy, or human-ism, or whatever it is you would call the privileging of animals' rights higher than those of all those dirty, murderous, horrible people.


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