PETA campaign evoking American slavery is placed on hold
The scenes are graphic. The charred body of a Black man is juxtaposed with a burning chicken. A shackled Black leg is shown next to the leg of a chained elephant. A woman is branded next to a panel of a chicken getting branded. The message is unmistakable: animals are suffering the same fate as African-American slaves. That’s the point of a controversial campaign by the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The online exhibit has been placed on hold amid a flurry of protests.
PETA officials rejects the charge that it is exploiting racism and says the idea for the campaign came from an unlikely source – Dick Gregory. The Black comedian serves on the board of PETA and gave a knowing grin when asked whether this was his idea.
Regardless of who came up with the idea, it’s still a bad one, according to Cassandra Newby-Alexander, associate professor history at Norfolk State University in Virginia. “Comparing humans and animals is like the apples and oranges analogy,” Newby-Alexander states. “You can’t compare the systematic deprivation of people’s rights, their culture and heritage to animals that don’t have an understanding of things. Doing so belittles the legacy and horrors of slavery.”
There is also the issue of historical accuracy – or inaccuracy.
“Horses and dogs were treated better than Blacks,” says Horton, the Grambling professor. “The psychological presupposition was that a slave was less than an animal. Slaves were considered property. They were shipped like sardines in a can…worked for years without pay and Black women were violated.”
An estimated 12 million Africans were enslaved imported to the new world, one-third of them died before they were placed on ships. The panels display nameless victims from the past who didn’t get a chance to tell their stories and now they are lowered to the status of animals.
This isn’t the first time PETA has found itself in the middle of a fierce debate. PETA offended the Jewish community recently with a “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign that showcased photos from slaughterhouses and Nazi death camps together.
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