Yesterday, PETA tweeted out a chart that listed self-proclaimed “anti-animal” phrases commonly found in our vocabulary and people on Twitter are not having it.
But even worse than the chart was their follow-up tweet, which compared these phrases to racists rhetoric. They wrote,
“Just as it became unacceptable to use racist, homophobic, or ableist language, phrases that trivialize cruelty to animals will vanish as more people begin to appreciate animals for who they are and start ‘bringing home the bagels’ instead of the bacon.”
These recent tweets about the matter are both troubling and misguided. Their argument that relatively harmless animal-associated phrases are along the same lines as the painful racist language that people of color have had to endure for hundreds of years is absolutely ridiculous. Equating the two is incredibly insulting to the plight that they continue to face every day. It also trivializes all the work that people of color have done to reframe and reclaim the words that have long relegated them to the margins of society.
The same goes for their mention of homophobic and ableist language. Does my cat feel the same pain when I say “curiosity killed the cat” as an autistic kid might feel if a bully called him the r-word? It’s an absolutely ludicrous comparison.
These series of tweets are PETA’s latest plight to “remove speciesism from our daily conversations” in an attempt to reframe how we think about the treatment of animals.
The idea of speciesism — the notion that humans are the superior species — has started gaining traction over the last few years. August 26 has been declared the World Day for the End of Speciesism, and according to end-of-speciesism.org, demonstrations have been held across the globe in solidarity with this movement.
I first encountered protests against speciesism three years ago, when I was on vacation wandering the streets of Prague. I was browsing my street food options when I heard chants coming from behind me. Intrigued, I found a nearby bench and sat down for some lunch and people-watching. It was a protest unlike any I had ever seen: dozens of people had come together to demand an end to speciesism.
The idea that protesting for what you believe in is great — it’s your constitutional right to peacefully stand up for a cause close to your heart (even if your primary cause is ending speciesism, which I personally find to be very low on our priority list given the current state of the world). I am all for ending animal cruelty, though I definitely don’t believe it stems from innocuous turns of phrase, as PETA is claiming.
PETA, maybe it’s time to take the bull by the… oh, sorry, “flower by the thorns” here, and reconsider the way you approach animal advocacy. Being a supporter of animal rights is a noble cause to uphold, but let’s not act like this latest ploy is doing anything but trivializing the way language has been used to demean humans for centuries.
When you pick apart the semantics of harmless idioms and imply that they’re on the same level as phrases that come armed with malicious historical context, you begin to nullify your own argument of why language matters. So how about you refocus your priorities to include actions that would actually benefit animals? When it comes to improving the state of animal welfare, I think you’ve got some bigger fish to fry.
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