Can We All Agree That It’s Not Racist To Be Disgusted By Animal Cruelty?

December 30, 2010 at 11:01 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Michael Vick.

I could stop right there if I wanted. Just saying the name is enough to piss off most people. President Obama, no stranger to foot-in-mouth syndrome, did exactly that recently and he reignited an issue that should have been argued to exhaustion a year ago. And so, here we are again, arguing about Michael Vick and animal cruelty.

Let me get this out of the way before I go any further, just to make it clear which side I’m on. I think Michael Vick is a monster. He committed horrible crimes and I am disgusted to see him living it up as a celebrity. If you were looking for a balanced opinion of the Vick topic, you will be disappointed here.

The NFL’s decision to let Michael Vick play again and the Philadelphia Eagle’s decision to sign him is reprehensible and shameful. On the other hand, the Humane Society of the United States has agreed to work with Vick to educate people about the evils of dogfighting. So let Vick go to work for the Humane Society and do that full time. That should be his redemption, not going on to be a sports hero.

That’s my opinion of Michael Vick and his post-prison life.

I’ve been watching the arguments about Michael Vick explode on the internet and things have really taken a turn for the bizarre. The most obvious example of this is Tucker Carlson.

Carlson made an outrageous statement on television, stating bluntly that Michael Vick should have been executed for his crimes. That opinion is idiotic in the extreme. Carlson is a talking head for the Fox News Channel, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that he’s going to say something stupid any time he opens his mouth.

No, Vick should not have been executed. I don’t think he spent enough time in prison either but I can’t get too worked up about that. The prison system in America isn’t fair to anyone except for the corporations we have foolishly allowed to run them. Plus, he has children who haven’t grown up yet, so I’m willing to show mercy for their sake.

What is almost as bizarre are the things being said by people defending Michael Vick. At some point in the argument, many of Vick’s supporters wandered entirely off the topic and started calling people racists.

What? Racists??

I was completely floored by this. How did we change direction from animal abuse to racism? Where and how did race enter this picture?

Here is a sample of some of the more ridiculous things that have been said by Vick supporters:

-Vick is being lynched
No. A lynching involves a rope and someone is dead when it’s over. Michael Vick has a PR problem. These are not the same things and you are a world class moron if you need for that to be pointed out.

-White people weren’t this upset about Martha Stewart going back to work after getting out of prison
No, we weren’t. Because Martha Stewart went to jail for perjury. PERJURY. Are you so screwed up in the head that you can’t see that beating an animal to death is a far worse crime than lying in court? If so, go find a shrink because something is wrong with you.

-People are railing against animal cruelty while wearing a leather jacket and eating a hamburger
That’s a really sad attempt at a strawman and it’s completely irrelevant. Michael Vick and his buddies weren’t herding cattle towards a hammer that knocks them unconscious before butchering them and wrapping them up for the supermarket. They were running an illegal syndicate of dogfighting events, where animals were maliciously and viciously tortured, beaten and thrown into a pit together to tear each other to bloody pieces for the amusement of a mob of screaming barbarians. Don’t be dishonest and pretend it’s the same thing.

-People hate Vick because he’s black
There may well be a number of racists exploiting the situation to express their hatred of black people but that is not why people are disgusted by Michael Vick. People are disgusted by Michael Vick because he is disgusting.

In my case, I don’t even watch football. Give me the name of any random football player and I won’t have a clue who you’re talking about. The first time I had ever heard of Michael Vick was just after he got out of prison and I saw the revulsion his name caused on Twitter. I had no idea who he was or what he looked like. I searched the internet for his name to see what was going on.

By the time I finished reading about his crimes, I was physically ill. There is nothing racist about being disgusted by someone who gets a rise from inflicting pain, terror and misery on helpless animals. I am just as sickened by any white, Hispanic, Asian or Middle-Eastern person, male or female, who commits the same crimes as Michael Vick. The only people factoring race into this topic are the people shouting about racism.

In 1964, Life Magazine published a picture of President Lyndon Johnson lifting a dog off the ground by its ears. He didn’t beat the dog to break its spirit the way Michael Vick did. He didn’t starve the dog to make it mean as hell the way Michael Vick did. He didn’t electrocute the dog because it lost a fight the way Michael Vick did. He didn’t muzzle the dog and throw it into a pen with vicious, trained fighting dogs as a helpless sparring partner the way Michael Vick did. All President Johnson did was pick the dog up by its ears, something which many people argue isn’t even painful for a beagle. He wasn’t being malicious or cruel; he just didn’t know any better.

That didn’t matter. People reacted to that picture with shock and outrage. This wasn’t just some ball player either; people were condemning the President of the United States. They buried the White House in their angry letters.

Guess what color Lyndon Johnson was. Here, I’ll help.

Last night, I watched Professor Melissa Harris-Perry on The Rachel Maddow Show and read her follow-up thoughts which were published today on The Nation magazine’s website (the show ran out of time before she could finish her conclusion).

Watching and reading Professor Harris-Perry’s thoughts on the subject left me just as confused as I was to start with. Yes, terrible things have happened to black people and continue to happen every day. And yes, we should all pay more attention to these terrible things. The things people choose to care about and the things they choose to ignore can be confusing and often callous.

Be that as it may, it didn’t answer the question of how race, civil rights or slavery got mixed into a discussion of a person who tortured dogs viciously for amusement and profit.

And then all at once, it hit me.

The reason the strange accusations of Vick supporters seem so bizarre and off-topic is because we are arguing about two different things. I thought the topic was about whether or not it was time to forgive Michael Vick for his crimes.

As it turns out, there is a bigger problem here. Never mind whether or not we should forgive Michael Vick, there are people who don’t seem to understand how serious his crimes were in the first place.

Vick supporters don’t seem to understand that what he did was a horrible, despicable crime. This isn’t about someone who littered or parked in front of a fire hydrant. This isn’t a guy who forgot to pay his taxes. This was not a little thing. This was not a minor crime. People invented the word “monster” to describe people who do terrible things that are very similar to the things Michael Vick did.

Here is just a small sample of what I’m talking about:

Among the allegations: Some or all of the four individuals named in the indictment starved dogs to instill aggression. They “tested” dogs in fights against other dogs. They shot, body-slammed and even hung dogs that did not perform well. They electrocuted a losing dog. They gambled tens of thousands of dollars on staged combat involving these poor creatures.

What Michael Vick did was not a small thing. His crimes were the acts of a depraved monster. His supporters don’t seem to get that. I see them saying things like “I love my dogs too, but…” and “obviously it was a shame, but…” and I honestly think they don’t get it.

What Professor Harris-Perry seemed to be saying – and maybe I misunderstood her – is that African-Americans don’t consider animal cruelty to be anywhere near as terrible a crime as white people do. By not understanding the magnitude of just how profoundly offended we are about animal abuse, they seem to think we’re reacting to Michael Vick out of hatred of a black man, not out of disgust at someone who has committed monstrous crimes. Our reaction is not about who he is, it’s about what he did.

Yes, many white people dote on their pets as if they were children. To many of us, they are children. We raise them from birth, we swat them for peeing on the carpet, we play ball with them, we spend 10 to 20 years of our lives with them and we grieve when they die as if we have lost a child. When a pet dies after 20 years, it hurts just as badly as if it were a child that died. As far as we’re concerned, our pets are just funny-looking kids.

It’s understandable if others can’t share that level of empathy with animals. I realize it must sound bizarre to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. It’s just how we are. Call it a quirk of us crazy white people if you want.

So yes, many people get pissed off about animal cruelty. Extremely pissed off. It enrages us like few other things are capable of doing. Anger doesn’t really describe it. Anger is like stubbing your toe; our feelings about animal cruelty is like having your whole foot crushed underneath the wheels of a car.

It’s shocking to realize there are people who don’t get angry about the mistreatment of animals. It makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with anyone who would excuse it. There are certain crimes that are simply inexcusable.

This is not something that we can agree to disagree about. If you are not disgusted by what Michael Vick did to those dogs, that is not a viewpoint that I can respect. If you are not sickened by what Michael Vick did, that is a flaw in your character. Something is wrong with you. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly but it needs to be said.

We don’t despise Michael Vick because he’s black, we despise him because he is despicable. We despise any person who does what he did. That’s where Michael Vick’s supporters are badly misunderstanding us. This is not about race to us.

Pick another person if you want to make a point about redemption and second chances for ex-cons. People are trying to make a hero and a role model out of a cruel, horrible monster and that disgusts me almost as much as the crimes he committed.

I am reluctant to forgive people for committing certain crimes, especially animal cruelty. I’ll be happy to cop to that. That’s a flaw and I admit it. If you want to pretend that racism is involved in that somehow, then you are the one who is speaking from ignorance, not me.


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