Benedicte Boisseron's AFRO-DOG, which I read in 2020.
This book was not an easy read because it is very academic! Many philosophers whom I haven't read and know nothing about are cited. Regardless, I took away a lot from this book and had to write these notes down as food for thought. I also attended an online presentation by Prof. Boisseron after reading this book, which was a helpful summary.
If you have read AFRO-DOG, what did you take away from this book? What was illuminating to you? Let me know in the comments!
The purple text are my own personal notes. (not from the book)
NOTES after reading AFRO-DOG:
The book is a response to “intersectionalilty” - the process of analyzing intertangled oppressions (race, class, gender, species etc) and how we need to rethink the way we talk about these oppressions. There is a harmful way to do this vs. a respectful way to do this. We have to be aware of nuances and history.
One problem is when the terminology that is used by one struggle/movement/cause is appropriated by another cause. This may seem like an “efficient” way of communicating oppression - comparing the oppression of animals to the oppression of black slaves (what PETA does) - but the reality is that :
When people are racialized, they are animalized (Exotic/Other/Savage etc) This comparison/analogy is in fact, what defines racism.
Dogs have been weaponized against Black slaves.
Dogs have been weaponized against Black & Indigenous protestors.
Analogizing the Black Cause and the Animal Cause is harmful and insensitive. Making comparisons between RACE and SPECIES is problematic, when one cause takes the upper hand and uses the other as a measuring prop. The unique nature of suffering and resistance in each cause is devalued/obstructed.
Some examples of these problematic analogies:
Animal exploitation/abuse is like chattel slavery (Spiegel: The Dreaded Question)
”Animals are the new Blacks”. (Animal Liberationists)
“America cares more about animals than Blacks”. (Kanye)
“To Animals, All Humans are Nazis” etc (PETA)
This Black-Animal analogy is racist because this is removing Blacks from “Human”. This is treating Race like a separate species/a subhuman category, and reinforcing an “interspecies” battle.
Using “chattel slavery” to prop up Animal Rights suggests that the Black Struggle (a Human rights issue) is something society has progressed beyond, and relevant as a mere stepping stone. The idea of “Animals are the new Blacks” can be traced back to Jeremy Bentham + Peter Singer/Animal rights activists. The argument is that at least Blacks can rebel and speak for themselves, animals don’t have a language to resist with.
They are wrong. Animals do have language. They speak all the time! They resist all the time!
Where PETA/ALP compares animals to “slaves” or “Jews”, this is both a trivializing of real human suffering and tragedy, and also using animals as “allegorical tools of comparison”. Animals are turned into generic silent symbols - they become metaphors of suffering - with no regard for the specifics of their species/individuality and the unique contextual pain they feel.
Use intersectionality MINDFULLY without appropriating the language of Black Struggle.
Vicki Hearne: Why is suffering often the only focus? “What interests some people is not the joy and intelligence and difficulty and difference of animals, but only their pain”. Likewise, reducing slaves to “suffering” obliterates the complexity and uniqueness of Black individuals who should not be defined by their pain alone. "enslaved" rather than "slaves".
Animal rights should also be about enrichment, play, normal happy communication! It's not all about stress signals.
Boisseron: Animal injustice and Black injustice are CONNECTED but not comparable.
Examples of connected injustices:
Dogs were brought to the Americas to track and capture slaves
Black slaves learned to fight/dominate dogs in order to escape
Dogs trigger trauma in Black communities because dogs have been weaponized (used by the Police) against Black people
BSL - pit bulls have been stereotyped as vicious criminals
Michael Vick - characterized in the media like a pit bull.
Another way to think about Humans and Animals without resorting to humiliation, oppression, victimhood is to focus on DEFIANCE and ALLIANCES. Eg, Alliances = pet ownership.
Boisseron (after Douglass):
In contrast to the archaic analagous/comparative approach, one needs to look at human-animal encounters through the prism of Black and animal defiance. Focus on interspecies alliances and racial empowerment.
Looking at Black Veganism: Intersectionality without Race-Animal Analogies.
“While ecofeminism carries a strong tradition of exploring the intersection between sexism and speciesism with the work of [white feminists], black intersectional feminism seems to carry less of an inclination to do so”. Black vegans stay away from comparisons of Blackness with Animal Oppression. Blacks do not want to be “ranked together” with animals - Blacks should MATTER MORE than animals.
Pattrice Jones: a Vegan diet is decolonization. The primary concern is health, welfare in the Black community. “Health activism” is the emphasis of veganism, a “Diet-oriented liberation of the black body”.
Re-framing how we think about our relationship with an animal. How we think of “Animals” is connected to racism too. Animals are used as metaphors for the Other.
Deleuze and Guattari, Donna Haraway:
Why do we think of relationships in terms of BETWEEN A and B, and not in terms of A BECOMING B?
“Becoming animal is not a metaphor or mimesis but truly a metamorphosis”
Donna Haraway: Dogs should not be scapegoats for other themes. Dogs are not surrogates for theory; they are not here to think with. They are here to live with.
The problem of Foreign-ness as Animality & Interspecies “Becoming Against”
Like the issue of race in humans, the pit bull exemplifies how much more “dog” and “breed” have to do with human perception and social construction than with science.
Dogs (pit bulls) have also been the victims of fearmongering ideologies. Certain breeds as “Vicious dogs”
Historical reality - dogs have been brought to the Americas and trained to track down and be ferocious towards black slaves. (Inter species “Becoming Against”) St Domingue - mastiffs were trained to eat slaves after being starved for days. Blacks learned to be violent towards dogs (whipping) to instill fear in the dogs, to avoid being attacked.
Again in the 1960s civil rights protesters were attacked by police dogs.
The idea that Blacks jaywalking or roaming the streets are like “dangerous” dogs on the loose, threatening, and to be contained at all costs.
Vick case - Vick (Black man) is “animalized” in the media.
Read Harlan Weaver’s essay. There is already a dog-fighting community of white men who don't get animalized the way Vick has been.
What is Humanity? Colonial vs Commensal
Boisseron: the concept of “humanity” is based on western colonial racio-anthropocentric ideas. It has always been the white colonial who has defined humanity in terms of the human-animal divide. WE are human; the Other is considered “animal”.
The colonial power comes into the space of the Other, and without their permission, “TAKES CARE” of them and expects gratitude or some sort of profit in return. Saviorism The Other is blamed for being ungrateful when their space was invaded in the first place. They didn’t ask to be “saved”.
In Western Culture, humans always expect a give and take relationship between Human & Animal, otherwise the “Animal” is regarded as a pest or freeloader (gives nothing back). Eg. pigeons, squirrels, rats... This same metaphor is used for Blacks in America, and the Arabs in France.
In Creole culture, humans and animals have a commensal relationship. (opposite of a contractual relationship) One organism is living off the other with no strings attached. Humans feed animals with no strings attached. Commensalism is a one-way giving (or one-way taking). There is no adversarial relationship other than requiring space (“go away now”)
Another example: the street dogs that R Coppinger talks about. Streeties in India roaming free, and being taken care of by anybody, vs the ones "rescued" by white Americans and shipped to the USA.
The point made here is that the Human-Animal divide is not a biological but a CULTURAL construct.
Ethical vegetarianism (“ we don’t eat animals because we don’t want to cause suffering to animals”) in fact reinforces the colonial human-animal divide! This is saying that “Humans are Not Animals”. This position disavows the biological fact that humans are also animals. Treating animals “more humanely” is a paradox.
The Animal Rights (PETA) rhetoric is also against pets/companionship between humans and animals! A very segregationist approach to sharing this world with animals.
Spivak: Western intellectuals with their “politics of the oppressed” often speak on behalf of subalterns as a homogenous whole with the unacknowledged result of muting their individuality.
Derrida: Humans have for too long spoken for animals and reduced their existence to species, thus not giving justice to individual animals. Why I love the Behaviorial approach to animal ethics/ justice - Animals are individuals.
A major feature of racism/colonialism/speciesism is keeping the Other silent to control the narrative.
Boisseron talks about DECOLONIZATION as letting the silenced voices emerge -- Black narratives, Black perspectives by Black Individuals. Checks and Balances. Not letting Whites speak for Blacks (through homogenization, sensationalization, race stories).