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‘Critical Race Theory’ Wants to Upend a Century of Progress in Animal Protection
Race and gender professors have called for the neglect, abuse, rape, and killing of animals. And some ‘animal protection’ groups are promoting their books and modifying policies accordingly.
I’ve written eight articles about the emergence of Critical Race Theory in the humane movement and the threat it poses to animals. Along with critical gender theory, critical animal theory, and the prison abolition/defund the police movement (collectively, “CRT”), I’ve argued that it threatens to upend more than a century of progress.
In recent books and journal articles, for example, CRT professors:
Defend dogfighters like Michael Vick, arguing that they should avoid prosecution because they are “victims” of “white cis heteropatriarchy” that enables “toxic masculinities”;
Criticize placing dogs who survive dog fighting in caring, family homes because “they were effectively segregated from Blackness”;
Call for permitting dogs to be left on chains 24/7 so as not to “criminalize people of color who have pets”;
Argue that shelters should kill animals or leave them on the streets instead of rescuing and placing them in family homes so as not to promote “settler-colonial and racist dynamics of land allocation”;
Defend backyard breeding as promoting “queer affiliations”;
Criticize the use of technology, like wheelchairs, to give disabled animals mobility, claiming it “erases” disabled people;
Promote defunding the police and releasing all prisoners convicted of animal neglect and abuse from incarceration, even in cases of torture and killing, because anti-cruelty laws are “racist” and support the “carceral” state;
Legitimize the harpooning of whales and clubbing of seals because of “native cosmologies”; and,
Advocate for “pansexual” relations with animals — the rape of dogs, horses, and others — in the name of “queering the human-animal bond.”
Before the emergence of CRT, I would have never imagined in my 30-plus years fighting for the rights of animals that I would be writing articles opposing the normalization of bestiality, animal abuse, dog fighting, and other crimes because it would have been inconceivable that:
Professors and legal scholars would make those arguments; and,
Shelter directors and those running “animal protection” organizations would take them seriously.
But they are being published, and they are finding fertile ground.
Creating a privileged class of animal abusers
Specifically, in The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals (Stanford University Press), University of California at Riverside, Professor of Race & Gender Katja Guenther perpetuates prejudicial and unsubstantiated views about people of color and their inability to provide appropriate care. She argues that treating animals as family, showing them affection, and providing them medical care are white values; in contrast to treating animals “as resources, whether protective (as in guarding) or financial (as in breeding or possibly fighting)” which she inaccurately claims is inherent to black and Latino culture. She further argues that rescuers who want dogs to be adopted to “those who will treat their dog as a family member” and will “care for their dog at a high level for the duration of the dog’s life” are using dogs “as instruments for reproducing whiteness.”
And yet, dogs in American inner cities are neither disproportionately dangerous nor treated poorly. People in inner cities live with dogs for the same reason as wealthy people in the suburbs: companionship and social connection.
In addition, some ways of relating to animals are better than others. Making the determination starts with objective norms rooted in the animal’s biology and Enlightenment values, including the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For example, feeding them nutritious food regularly, allowing them to sleep in the house, and showing tenderness and love are ways of relating to animals that increase the well-being of dogs and cats and should be afforded to all of them, irrespective of the ethnicity or race of the human with whom they live. Arguing otherwise isn’t animal advocacy; it is the antithesis.
In the early 19th century, the courts did not recognize cruelty to dogs because they were considered property. Killing one’s dog was legal because a person was allowed to destroy their own “property.” Likewise, harming a homeless dog was legal because no property interest was impacted. The animal did not matter in either scenario. Guenther again suggests a standard that excuses harm based on the interests of those causing it, creating a privileged class of animal abusers and turning back the clock on animal protection.
In Underdogs (The University of Georgia Press), Tufts University Adjunct Professor-Emeritus of Environmental Studies Andrew Rowan likewise argues that people of color are fundamentally different than white people, and the animal protection movement should develop “ethnoracial cultural sensitivity” when it comes to judging how people of color treat their animal companions. This includes perpetually chaining dogs, not feeding them, and failing to provide them with prompt and necessary veterinary care. Shelter workers, he argues, should lower their standards in deference to these “indigenous” relations, even when doing so is “at odds with the humane society’s own core beliefs about how animals should be cared for.” He even argues that shelters should turn a blind eye to dog fighting.
This argument has also been embraced by Kevin Morris, a professor of social work at the University of Denver. In Punishment to Support: The Need to Align Animal Control Enforcement with the Human Social Justice Movement (Animals), He calls for “removing adoption requirements,” which he views as part of “the White dominant culture,” ignoring that rescuers and shelters have a moral and institutional obligation to the vulnerable animals they serve to ensure those animals are not placed in harm’s way. Of course, this can and should be done using standards that don’t focus on a potential adopter’s skin color or size of their bank account but on their ability to provide for an animal’s physical and mental health. Instead, Morris suggests that rescuers and shelters are obligated to place animals into knowingly unstable situations (which he incorrectly equates with skin color) or engage in racist behavior.
Seeking to reverse decades of hard-won progress, Morris also calls for reducing, and in some cases eliminating, enforcement of laws aimed at preventing animal mistreatment by arguing that such laws, including laws meant to ban continuous chaining of dogs in backyards and “regulations for adequate care of animals” to prevent abuse and neglect, criminalize “people of color who have pets” and are “largely unobtainable for anyone in the US other than white, middle and upper-class individuals.”
Like Guenther and Rowan, Morris cites skin color as a reason to condone differential levels of care, even though people of color have the same views about companion animal care and treat them the same as everyone else. Even in “the most poverty-stricken” neighborhoods where most residents are black, “attachment to pets” was “as profound and lasting as among pet-owning residents in any neighborhood” and 80-90% of pets were vaccinated, sterilized, and provided needed veterinary care when subsidized services were made available.
For those who reject this care and fight dogs, serially breed dogs, chain dogs 24/7, or don’t feed them, prosecuting abusers (and rescuing the pets) is necessary and proper, regardless of skin color. But in What Comes After Defund? Lessons from Police and Prison Abolition for the Animal Movement (Lewis & Clark College of Law’s Animal Law Review), The George Washington University Law School’s Michael Swistara says we should not do so. He argues that if someone intentionally starves an animal, uses a dog for fighting or bait, or beats an animal to death, the person is a “victim,” too. He says they should not be arrested, incarcerated, banned from acquiring more animals, required to register as animal abusers, or be subjected to search by police and seizure of any animals they find because doing so is motivated by “racism,” lacks “compassion” for abusers, and increases the power of the “carceral state.”
“Justice,” Swistara writes, “can never truly be achieved if it comes at the expense of another’s liberty.” “If an individual inflicts intentional harm on an animal and is locked away for a few years, all this accomplishes is further suffering.”
The notion that incarceration subverts justice is demonstrably false. Protecting victims may require it. It is also inconsistently applied. There is no concern in CRT circles about the alleged mismatch between “justice” and lack of “liberty” regarding the arrest, prosecution, and punishment of George Floyd’s and Ahmaud Arbery’s killers, and there shouldn’t be. They deserve to be in prison. For anti-prison CRT proponents, such claims selectively apply when someone kills a dog or cat.
Moreover, the need for stronger animal protection laws is acute. Before Connecticut passed “Desmond’s Law” to provide animals with a court-appointed guardian/advocate in cruelty cases, 80% of those cases were dismissed or not prosecuted. The rate of actual conviction was even worse. Of the 3,723 reported cruelty cases before passage, only 19 resulted in a conviction — ½ of 1%. That means 99.5% of people charged with cruelty faced little to no legal consequences.
Indeed, Desmond’s Law is named after a dog killed by someone with a history of violence. Brutally beaten, strangled, and starved, Desmond’s abuser was convicted but spent no time in jail. After four months on a diversion program, his conviction was expunged. He’s not alone. “Cats and dogs in Connecticut have been scalded with hot liquid, kicked to death, left shivering outside in the bitter cold, and killed as revenge following romantic break-ups.” The perpetrators remained unpunished. Not anymore. In addition to more appropriate penalties and protections, the law has led to “voluntary forfeiture of animals, restitution for rescue organizations, agreements to avoid future contact with animals, and agreements to seek counseling.”
Swistara, however, is unmoved. Instead, he argues that we should cut police budgets by half and release half the prison population (including, ostensibly, all animal abusers). In addition, he calls for a blanket policy not to prosecute any animal neglect cases and to engage in roleplaying for felony-level abuse, where someone pretends to be the animal and explains to the perpetrator why being covered in gasoline and lit on fire hurts.
Swistara is not so delusional that he doesn’t admit that his proposed methods “are not panaceas and will not work in every circumstance.” Still, he asks us to suspend disbelief when he claims they “can lead to safer outcomes for animals.”
In Bad Dog (University of Washington Press), Kansas State University Professor of Gender Studies Harlan Weaver goes even further. Weaver:
Calls for animal shelters to kill more dogs, denouncing the No Kill movement as “bullshit” even though it is responsible for a 90% decline in pound killing;
Blames racism for the prosecution of Michael Vick and considers him and other animal abusers “victims”;
Criticizes the kind, caring, stable types of homes the surviving Vick dogs were placed in because he claims they promoted “a white-supremacist ideal of family formations”;
Opposes the use of wheelchairs for disabled animals because he says it does “violence to nonnormative bodies”;
Argues that rescuing dogs and finding them homes is worse than leaving them on the street because family homes with “picket fences” are “rather terrible” and promote “settler-colonial and racist dynamics of land allocation”;
Defends backyard breeders, including those who sell puppies to supplement drug dealing income, claiming opposition to it is not driven by a concern for the welfare of dogs or their deaths in pounds but by an anti-LGBT agenda because backyard breeding represents “queer affiliations”;
Condemns holiday adoption campaigns that help find 1.2 million animals a year homes because they promote a “narrative centered on the family,” rather than “queer as in fuck you”;
Says people care about dogs because they are suffering “alienation resulting from modern forms of capitalism” and calls for abolishing capitalism;
Argues that compassion is zero-sum and those who rescue dogs do so at the expense of people of color; and,
Promotes the killing of other animals, including the harpooning of whales and clubbing of seals, to accommodate “native cosmologies.”
Such extraordinary claims — such extraordinary calls for violence against animals — demand extraordinary supporting evidence, but Weaver’s book falls spectacularly short. The book is based on a relatively brief stint walking dogs as a volunteer at an animal shelter; past discussions “that were not recorded and are reconstructed to the best of my ability,” and “reflections — musings on my own actions, relatings, and thinkings.”
Where there is no evidence — even “evidence” as questionable as self-“musings” — Weaver posits what is termed an “imagining.” Anticipating criticism of an “academic treatise” based on imaginary scenarios, Weaver insists that verifiable, objective evidence is “racist” and that such evidence isn’t necessary as there are — channeling Kellyanne Conway — “alternative modes of building understanding.”
There are not. Belief in the absence of evidence — in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary — is not “theory.” It is not even a hypothesis. It is supernatural piety, akin to alchemy or astrology — received wisdom where evidence, analysis, rigor, and falsification have no place.
In When a Name Gives You Pause: Racialized Names and Time to Adoption in a County Dog Shelter (Social Psychology Quarterly), UCLA Professor of Sociology Natasha Quadlin also suggests killing dogs on the altar of CRT. She claims that shelter dogs with “white”-sounding names get adopted more quickly than dogs with “black” or “Hispanic” names. She blames racist adopters. She then argues that we should not change the names, even if failure to do so results in their deaths:
Given our results, this might seem like a “quick fix” that allows shelters to guard against any latent prejudices that clients bring with them onto the adoption floor. But in the long run, this would do nothing to combat the beliefs that allow these inequalities to persist, both in the context of the dog shelter and in the wider world. We therefore advise against this practice because this would be akin to leaning into bias. We cannot alter our behavior as a society to accommodate those with racist inclinations, even when those inclinations manifest in unlikely places.
If it is true that dogs and cats are at risk of becoming collateral damage because of the troubled race relations between human beings, she claims that the cost of “justice” must be paid in the body count of innocent bystanders. Commit a thoughtcrime about a shelter dog’s name, and the dog dies.
But did white adopters consistently pick dogs with white-sounding names — or, at least, pick them more quickly? And, if so, why? We don’t know, as Quadlin did not collect this information or conduct the necessary interviews. We do know, however, that there was no statistically significant relationship between the perception of a name being black or Hispanic and the number of days a dog spent in the shelter. Dogs with names 90% of people would consider Hispanic-sounding could be adopted twice as fast as dogs with a name they think sounds white. We also know that the dogs with the longest stay in the shelter did not have black or Hispanic names. In other words, Quadlin’s own data appears to contradict her.
Finally, in LGBTQ...Z? (Cambridge University Press) — where the “Z” stands for zoophile (a person who is sexually attracted to animals) — Duke University Professor of Women’s Studies Kathy Rudy makes the staggering claim that having sex with animals should be legal, even celebrated. She argues that,
The widespread social ban on bestiality rests on a solid notion of what sex is, and queer theory persuasively argues we simply don’t have such a thing. The interdict against bestiality can only be maintained if we think we always/already know what sex is. And, according to queer theory, we don’t.
She goes on to argue that “species identity” — like gender — is not biological but a social construct:
Antisex positions rest on the idea that all humans are different from all other animals, and the wall between them can never be breached. Like the ways we used to think of race or gender ‘identity,’ these positions contend that one’s species rests on physical markers that are immutable, that belonging to the categories of ‘animal’ or ‘human’ is grounded in a biological essence untouched by culture.
In Gender and Sexuality in Critical Animal Studies (Lexington Books), Anastassiya Andrianova, a professor of Postcolonial Literature at North Dakota State University, claims that the term “bestiality” is “derogatory” and should be referred to by “the more neutral term ‘zoophilia,’” the first step in shifting the Overton Window. Zoophilia means “preferential sexual attraction to animals,” while bestiality denotes “the deliberate use of animals for human sexual purposes,” but Andrianova wants to use the former for both.
Worse, citing the self-serving statements of the perpetrators themselves, she also refers to the animal victims of sexual assault as sexual “partners” by claiming that those who engage in bestiality often “show their concern for the emotional lives and subjective experiences of their animal partners.”
Not only are the arguments made in defense of bestiality applicable to sexual assault of children, but like children or intellectually disabled people (dogs, for example, “have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child”), animals suffer trauma, with small animals often killed during the rape. With or without physical trauma, it is a line that should never be crossed and treated as anything other than what it already is in most states: a crime.
In the end, there is no atrocity against animals that CRT professors will not defend. And not only do they embrace abuse, they do so by disparaging gay people and people of color, turning the fight for equality into the promotion of disparity and the struggle to live with dignity into an appeal to depravity.
CRT professors are the very thing they condemn in others: privileged
Adopting these views requires the suspension of common sense definitions of racism, sexism, and animal welfare and a strained credulity that the authors of these books and journal articles actually believe what they have written. I don’t think they do, which makes the fact that they publish them even more craven.
Having inherited a society where legal and societal norms allow them to prosper in relative safety to the point that they take those norms for granted, these CRT scholars can casually and cruelly call for the elimination of animal protection laws because doing so presents the possibility of personal reward at no personal risk. High in their ivory tower, they expect no repercussions to themselves if these laws are not enforced, but the return on calling for such an outrageous precedent may hold the key to notoriety among other equally narcissistic CRT academics. Animals are nothing more than pawns in a field that is having its moment despite abandoning all pretensions to truth or objectivity. It’s not about animals, people of color, or building a better future. It’s about them, their identities, and their careers.
And in putting themselves above others, they are also causing us to lose a generation of animal advocates to CRT: young adults graduating from college are schooled in a hierarchy of “privilege” masquerading as justice. In this hierarchy, animals are always at the bottom. Worse, as CRT views human-animal relations as “a zero-sum political struggle involving identity markers like race,” it excuses animal harm based on the interests of those causing it. In other words, animals do not even make the hierarchy. They are objects to be used for any purpose, including breeding, guarding, abusing, fighting, and raping. For all the discussion and concern regarding hierarchies of privilege within CRT circles, this prescription for human-animal relations could not be more inequitable, uncharitable, and unkind.
Attacking the messenger
Unfortunately, rather than engage with the evidence and have a good faith, honest, and open discussion about the threat posed to the animal rights movement by CRT scholarship, critics of my articles usually dismiss me in a knee-jerk and predictable fashion. They accuse me of being privileged, even though privilege means power over vulnerable others, which I do not have.
I can’t force anyone to read what I write or discuss it with me on my social media pages. If they join, I cannot stop them from leaving. And people can opt in and opt out at their leisure. In addition, my career highlighting the betrayals of the large animal protection groups, teaching others how to see through their misinformation, and struggling to reform a profoundly dysfunctional movement has also rendered me the proverbial outcast. I do not have “privilege” within the movement because I stand outside it.
They also accuse me of right-wing propaganda, even though the price of defeating CRT and overcoming its risks should not be — and does not have to be — right-wing authoritarianism. I fear the anti-democratic currents that have captured the extreme Right much more than CRT politics. That is because there is only one which is intent on destroying those democratic institutions, including the rule of law, which I believe are adequate to defeat CRT, essential to promoting human flourishing, and a prerequisite to extending Enlightenment norms and legal protections to non-humans. That is why I voted for Mr. Biden, encouraged others to do the same, and will probably vote for him again in 2024.
Moreover, my concerns about CRT are not based on religion or politics. I oppose CRT because it lacks evidence, undermines progress, and poses a danger to animals. Standing for dignity — whether human or non-human — requires that we not only reject the racist tropes that dominate in CRT academia but the Trojan Horse that subjugates the rights of animals to the rights of their abusers, thereby eviscerating the philosophical foundation upon which a more just world for non-humans is dependent.
If anything, it is CRT proponents who are advancing right-wing propaganda. Specifically, the inability to have a frank and informed discussion about the dangers of CRT drives concerned voters into the arms of MAGA, which is using the issue as a cudgel. If we care about the American experiment, social progress, civil rights, and animal rights, the last thing we should be doing is giving anyone with legitimate concerns about CRT a reason to do so.
Finally, they accuse me of misrepresenting what CRT is and claim that the authors I cite are outside the mainstream of CRT when it is CRT itself that is extreme. Indeed, almost all these professors or legal scholars self-identify as CRT advocates. Most of the articles or books are published by peer-reviewed academic presses and journals as CRT, and many of their BISAC categories identify as CRT. For example, the articles legitimizing the rape of dogs and other animals are listed as “Critical Animal Studies and Theory” and under “Gender and Sexuality” theory. These books/articles are favorably reviewed by other professors who self-identify as CRT. I quote all of them verbatim. And the conclusions drawn by these authors are consistent with the central tenets of CRT that:
(Falsely) Deny physical attributes, like species, are rooted in objective biology;
Ascribe immutable characteristics based on (wrongly perceived) group dynamics; and,
Seek to “accomplish the political and metaphysical task of permanent and neverending subversion” of “accepted ways of thinking on any issue,” irrespective of the content or real-world consequences.
To form a more perfect union
When those trying to distance themselves from these conclusions argue that CRT simply means that racism and discrimination exist and must be remedied, they confuse CRT with traditional liberalism. Unlike CRT, traditional liberalism looks at race, sex, sexual orientation, and disability as morally meaningless distinctions. That doesn’t mean ignoring inequality. It means rooting it out to build a colorblind and sex-blind society. This is how civil rights pioneers like David Walker, William Lloyd Garrison, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., viewed race, how Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul viewed gender, how Harvey Milk viewed sexual orientation, and how Justin Whitlock Dart, Jr., viewed disability.
It was also the backbone of the movements they helped lead and responsible for the successes they achieved, including the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, legislation such as the Ku Klux Klan Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, and court rulings such as Loving v. Virginia, Brown v. Board of Education, and Obergefell v. Hodges.
By exposing the hypocrisy that one group’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were regarded as “self-evident” while others were not acknowledged at all, abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights activists, and disabled rights advocates have all invoked these principles in their quest to realize its promises and help us form a more perfect union. It is the approach I support and — when advocating for the expansion of rights to non-humans — embrace, believing it to be an essential and tested formula by which we can likewise win greater protections for animals.
That this system is under threat by anti-intellectual, anti-democratic, anti-scientific, and mob rule currents is undeniable. But instead of calling for a recommitment to traditional liberalism, CRT proponents are not only embracing racial disparity, infantilizing people of color, and pathologizing homosexuality, they are defending dog abusers, advocating for the killing of whales and seals, and promoting the sexual assault of animals. It leaves those of us who still believe in facts, science, democracy, dignity, privacy, and animal rights not only without a political home — squeezed as we are by the extremes on both sides — but wondering whether one of the most successful multicultural democracies in the world and one of the greatest societal experiments in human and companion animal flourishing will continue to progress.
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