Where do we even begin? I can't possibly outline in this initial blog post all the links between pit bull dogs and broader structures of oppression. First that would mean defining "pit bull" - always a hot topic online - is it a breed, or not a breed? And would ya even know one when you saw one? We'll deal with all that soon. But there are also myriad discourses swirling around pit bulls, both in popular culture and in the political landscape. These are where the real problems lie: in rampant ignorance and prejudice that manifest in neighborhoods, in shelters, in ill-conceived legislation, and that directly result in mountains, literally landfills full of bodies of dead "pit bulls."
But I'm getting ahead of myself. In order to recognize these as problems, one has to be aware that these structures of oppression even exist. If you don't believe in sexism, racism, classism - if you think we've taken care of all that and need to stop squawking - then you're not gonna get it. If you're invested in maintaining the status quo of white male privilege, then you might even want to silence us or worse: hurt our dogs. There are going to have to be some rules of engagement here on this blog to deal with you. We want to speak honestly here, and won't apologize for our truths. This country is not a democracy and neither is this blog; we are open to all sorts of productive dialogue, but if you are threatening or hostile, we will delete your scum-sucking ass. It's our blog, and Mama Knows Best.
Let me try to explain the big picture, as I see it. (I don't pretend to speak for red velvet femme, and I'm sure she will chime in with her usual hard-hitting eloquence.) Pit bulls are not vicious; they are much like any other breed of dog. IMHNSO, they are the bestest dogs ever. They are, however, the victims of a vicious culture war, a war that is most assuredly based in racism, but it may be even more about class than race (we'll have to explore that later, too). Breed-specific legislation is the most obvious example: getting rid of "those" dogs is a transparent attempt to get rid of "those" people. You know the ones. The trunkin' ghetto thugs and white trash byb's too. Really, let's just have mandatory spay/neuter for those folks as well. The poor pit bulls have become a hugely contested signifier of racial and class-based fear and hatred.
Pit bull enthusiasts have employed a couple of different strategies. As pit bulls continue to be (over)bred in urban areas, they line the death rows of shelters across the U.S. Despite all best efforts to exterminate them (some shelters even call them "kennel trash"), they continue to come in droves. The tide is so high that I've caught myself desperately wondering whether they didn't signal an apocalypse. This endless flow constitutes a viral form of resistance from the urban underclass. Even though the dogs are perfectly lovable and adoptable, they have come to represent the violent excess that will always escape societal controls. And so the cycle continues and escalates: this flood of dogs running loose (and maybe after your children) heightens the hysteria, akin to moral panic, among mainstream media, citizens and lawmakers.
Then there are a number of advocacy groups that have done their best to package pit bulls for the middle class. They photograph them lounging in designer gear, licking on pet kittens, and mugging for cameras. It's all good. It seems to be helping. But the "Ban the Deed, Not the Breed" strategy displaces all that hatred back onto the people, those bad pet owners in their do-rags and pickup trucks. It doesn't get to the root of the problems of marginalization and oppression in all its forms. We're still living under patriarchy. Because "those" people love their dogs too. Pit bulls can be appropriated and re-appropriated by different groups for disparate ends, and still the dogs will suffer.
Here's a necessary disclaimer: we aren't saying that racism is equal to breed discrimination. Or that one struggle for human liberation is the same as another. Social movements each have their own histories and specificities and we don't want to conveniently collapse them for the sake of our argument. But there are relationships and all kinds of slippages between forms of bigotry. The animal liberation movement has been informed by the civil rights movement and other liberation struggles. And in the case of pit bulls suffering due to racial and class prejudices, we're not talking about merely analogous oppressions, but about prejudices actually creating and fostering one another.
We're also not claiming we're the first to have thought of this stuff, or the only ones to be having this discussion. There are some amazing blogging voices out there. It's complicated enough that we are joining in and devoting a whole blog to talking about it. Of course, we can't blog without basic guerrilla tactics: over-the-top irony, cute doggie pics, vegan recipes, Foucault and foul language. Hope you'll come back soon.
(Hat tip to Michael Swift and Cindy Patton for my (yes, ironic) title.)
NJ Department of Health Investigating Linden Shelter
16 hours ago