Thursday, April 28, 2011

PETA almost manages to out-asinine the Tea Party

President Obama's a mutt, get it? His dad wasn't even African American, he was actually from Africa! So he's only part American, no matter what his birth certificate says!

Seriously, PETA, fuck off with this one. You may think it's an amusing piece of social commentary, but to the rest of us it's just another example of how your organization prefers publicity over human decency.

Via Copyranter.


  1. I don't really find this offensive, and I'll explain why.

    There is a long link between the idea of racial mixing and mongrel animals, for example the word 'mulatto' (a mixed African/European person) comes from the Spanish word for 'mule', ie an animal that is half donkey, half horse. Mixed-race people are sometimes called mongrels by racists, and the obvious position, that you take here, is to counter this by trying to deny the connection.

    The other approach, taken here by PETA, and which I think is better, is to undermine the very idea of racial/national purity, to say 'who cares?' and celebrate the idea of the '(American in this case) mix' - there is no implication here that he is not fully American.

    As a non-American, to me saying that Obama has a birth-certificate (which he clearly does) is insufficient; the idea that a non-American-born person should never be President seems ridiculous, and would be unlikely to bother right-wingers if the person in question wasn't black/mixed (eg there was talk a while back of the constitution being changed to allow someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger to become President): the real fear is of the racial other, of concern for racial and national purity. The link that PETA is making is provocative, since it links human and animal issues, but that is exactly what any rights-based organisation does; it uses analogies to extend values from one small group which we are part of to a wider one which we are not. To me there is a clear conceptual connection between negative attitudes to 'mongrel' humans and 'mongrel' animals, and using this ad to support Obama and highlight the plight of millions of dogs facing extermination seems like a clever move.

    Having said that, whether it works as an ad depends on whether enough people get the message. Hopefully they do and some dogs get saved. In the interests of full-disclosure, I should say I'm a vegan, which means I come from a similar philosophical position as PETA, and I'm also mixed race (West African/West European) so I'm in the demographic most entitled to be offended by this ad.

  2. I'm glad you are not offended. But I remain so, and as a member of the human race, I think I have every right to be.

    I am aware of all of the history of "mongrel" and "mulatto" being used to denigrate humans, and this is why the ad bothers me. By blurring the distinction between mutts in the pound and a human's ethnic ancestry and contested "pedigree", I think PETA actually continues the outdated and regressive anxiety about "race" in the united states.

    It's a cheap and irresponsible move on their part, and instead of elevating the status of animals I think it does more to dehumanize... well... humans. It's not the first such dick move on their part. It's part of a pattern.

  3. For reference, here is how PETA framed it:

    "President Obama released the "long version" of his birth certificate today, which proves that he is a Hawaiian-born American. One might say he is much like millions of American mutts who are unfairly criticized because of their lack of "papers." In fact, PETA is saying it—in an ad we plan to run in Obama's birthplace, Honolulu"

  4. I'll still respectfully disagree with you, the implicit connection between mixed-race people and 'mutts' isn't going to go away any time soon whether PETA references it or not, and I feel more offended by people using the term 'mongrel' in a negative way (but trying to exclude humans from the equation) than by making the implicit connection explicit in a positive way; ie. I would rather see the term 'mongrel' reclaimed as a positive or neutral term than try to deny a conceptual connection which is not going to go away as long as the idea of race exists. This is what PETA is doing in the ad, and I think their press statement confirms my reading. As an aside, Obama used the term 'mongrel' to describe African Americans in an interview on the View, so I suspect he may have a similar perspective on the issue.

    As a human being you clearly have a right to be offended, but I'm just trying to offer an alternate perspective from someone who is constantly subject to the kind of discourse this is part of.

    Having said all that I don't tend to find PETA ads in general as offensive as some other people, so maybe it depends more on your attitude to PETA and animal rights than on specific other issues.