Melissa Harris-Perry: Michael Vick, Racial History, and Animal Rights

After feeling as if her comments regarding Michael Vick were not properly contextualized on her appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show last night, Melissa Harris-Perry took the opportunity to flesh out the history of race and animal rights on her group blog today.  I was happy to see she tackled the issue of Tucker Carlson’s recent comments that Michael Vick should be executed as punishment for his crimes.  Here, Harris-Perry discusses some crucial historical connections that rarely get discussed:

Recall that North American slavery of the 17th and 18th century is distinguished by its “chattel” element.  New World slavery did not consider enslaved Africans to be conquered persons, but to be chattel, beast of burden, fully subhuman and therefore not requiring the basic rights of humans. By defining slaves as animals and then abusing them horribly the American slave system degraded both black people and animals. By equating black people to animals it both asserted the superiority of humans to animals, arrayed some humans (black people) as closer to animals and therefore less human, and implied that all subjugated persons and all animals could be used and abused at the will of those who were  more powerful. The effects were pernicious for both black people and for animals….

Not only have animals been used as weapons against black people, but many African Americans feel that the suffering of animals evokes more empathy and concern among whites than does the suffering of black people.  For example, in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina dozens of people sent me a link to an image of pets being evacuated on an air conditioned bus. This image was a sickening juxtaposition to the conditions faced by tens of thousands of black residents trapped by the storm and it provoked great anger and pain for those who sent it to me.

I sensed that same outrage in the responses of many black people who heard Tucker Carlson call for Vick’s execution as punishment for his crimes.  It was a contrast made more raw by the recent decision to give relatively light sentences to the men responsible for the death of Oscar Grant. Despite agreeing that Vick’s acts were horrendous, somehow the Carlson’s moral outrage seemed misplaced. It also seemed profoundly racialized. For example, Carlson did not call for the execution of BP executives despite their culpability in the devastation of Gulf wildlife. He did not denounce the Supreme Court for their decision in US v. Stevens (April 2010) which overturned a portion of the 1999 Act Punishing Depictions of Animal Cruelty. After all with this “crush” decision the Court seems to have validated a marketplace for exactly the kinds of crimes Vick was convicted of committing.  For many observers, the decision to demonize Vick seems motivated by something more pernicious than concern for animal welfare. It seems to be about race.

Read Melissa Harris-Perry’s full blog here at TheNation.com’s group blog, The Notion. (WARNING: Disturbing images.)

–Rosamund Hunter

Pollitt Weighs in on Assange

Katha Pollitt dedicated her most recent column in The Nation to discuss the left’s reaction to sexaul assault charges against Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.  Pollitt writes, “What’s disturbing is the way some WikiLeaks admirers have misrepresented the allegations, attacked the women and made light of date rape.”  I particularly liked the last few sentences, which sums up the whole point of her piece:

One reason the Swedish rape conviction rate is low is that, thanks to thirty years of feminist progress, the law defines sexual violence and coercion broadly, but as in other countries, police and juries often do not. The same seems to be true of large swaths of the American left.

WikiLeaks is revealing information citizens need to know—it’s a good thing. Assange may or may not have committed sex crimes according to Swedish law. Why is it so hard to hold those two ideas at once?

Read Katha Pollitt’s full article, “The Case of Julian Assange,” here.

–Rosamund Hunter

This Week: Georgia prison rebellion, possible HIV cure, & more

Stigma and Violence Against Transgender Sex Workers
RH Reality Check: “Doubly stigmatised as transsexuals and as sex workers, pushed into street work, they become victims of abuse and violence perpetrated by bystanders, customers, their own ‘sisters,’ and (sadly) even by those who should be protecting them – the police.”

21 Companies That Have Excluded Women From Leadership
Huffington Post: “The figures are outrageous and point to lingering misogyny in the board rooms and executive suites of a number of America’s largest companies.”

LGBT Books Vandalized With Urine in the Lamont Library
Harvard Crimson: “HUPD spokesman Steven G. Catalano wrote in an e-mail that the vandalized books’ subject matters included lesbian and gay issues and same-sex marriage.”

Inmates in Georgia Prison Use Contraband Phones to Coordinate Protest
New York Times: “The inmates contend that if they have a source of income in the prison and better educational opportunities to prepare them for release, violence and recidivism will go down.”

EMILY’s List: Women Lean to Barack Obama
Politico: “The survey, conducted by the Democratic Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, tested a voting group of crucial importance to Democrats: women who supported Obama in 2008 but stayed home or backed Republicans and third-party candidates this year.”

Researchers report possible HIV infection cure; others cite dangers
CNN: “Researchers in Germany are reporting that they may have cured a man of HIV infection.”

This Week: When sexual assault matters & more

A New Nursing Home Population: The Young
NPR: “Over the past 20 years, federal laws and policies have established a civil right to get long-term care at home. But NPR’s investigation found that is only sporadically enforced.”

Obama Signs Bill to Pay Black and Native Farmers—Finally!
ColorLines: “The signing of this bill will provide $1.5 billion to settle claims with black farmers and $3.4 billion to settle with Native American farmers.”

Canada military publishes new transgender policy
Pink News: “The policy says they should wear the uniform of their “target” gender but must be given privacy and respect. For example, no reason must be given when a person’s name is changed on military records.”

When Interpol Cares About Sexual Assault:
The Nation: “It seems we only care about women’s bodies when there’s a political point to be proved.”

Matthew Boyle steals from the government to prove that poor people don’t need food
Feministe: “Did you know that you can use food stamps to buy actual food? Thank goodness right-wing investigative “journalists” are on the case.”

San Francisco Transgender Woman Files Claim Against DMV
CBS San Francisco: “A transgender woman says a California Department of Motor Vehicles clerk used a state database to mail her a personal letter at home condemning her sex change.”

President Obama’s Compromise

Obama’s endorsement of a compromise that will extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy has set many progressives and radicals into a rage—and rightly so.  As Obama continues to deride the “professional left” as being too ideologically pure, the left recognizes the real-life consequences—not just abstract principles—that these tax cuts promote. There have been some great responses from progressives today, but I especially liked this blog by Kai Wright (Editor of ColorLines) for The Nation. Here is an excerpt:

Just after calling his fellow Democrats sanctimonious for defending a core principle they’ve campaigned on for a decade, the president proceeded to tick off examples of principled compromises in American history—FDR taking what he could get on Social Security, LBJ starting small with Medicare. Then he made this stunning remark:

“This country was founded on compromise. I couldn’t go through the front door at this country’s founding. And if we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn’t have a union.”

Mr. President, WTF?! Which one of the “compromises” that allowed a slave republic to endure from more than a century is he celebrating here? Perhaps the one where black people were counted as a fraction of humans in order to preserve a balance of power that allowed Northern and Southern aristocrats alike to get rich off of murderous slave labor? No, we wouldn’t have had a union without that. Or maybe he’s pitching forward to the “compromises” of the post-Reconstruction era, when the white capitalists of the North got too spooked by white laborers’ demands for reasonable wages, and so abandoned the promises of Emancipation. That, too, kept the union plowing forward—into another century of apartheid and state-sanctioned terrorism.

Read Kai Wright’s full piece “Obama’s Bizarre Celebration of a Slave Republic’s ‘Compromises'” at TheNation.com.

–Rosamund Hunter