Saturday, April 5, 2014

What the IJC Whaling Ruling & Social Media Response Tell Us about Racism and Western Imperialism

By tevie Lynne

TRIGGER WARNING:  This post discusses racism and includes racist and racially insensitive screengrabs.

Before we get this post under way, I want to make it absolutely clear that from my perspective I would prefer that no nonhuman animal be exploited or die unnecessarily. However, morality is rarely that straight forward and there are other things I like to take into account before deciding whether or not a campaign or an outcome is really the boon it seems to be on first glance.

Australia took Japan to the International Court of Justice to challenge its claims of whaling for scientific research. The ICJ has recently handed down their verdict (12-4) that the current Japanese whaling research conducted in the Southern Ocean is unscientific and must cease immediately under the International Whaling Convention.

Amongst the cheer and uproar of my Facebook friends, I have my serious misgivings about the ruling, not for the nonhuman animals but for the hints of imperialism and racism that seems deeply embedded in the pursuit of this case and its outcome.

I was watching the news unfold on the Australian public funded news channel, ABC News’ Facebook page. It’s pretty safe to say that the majority of individuals responding to this news are not vegan.

ABC News: #Breaking: International Court of Justice rules Japan's whaling program is not for scientific purposes and forbids granting of further permits #ICJ

Part of the reason I think that the anti-whaling movement has so much popular currency in Australia is precisely because it attacks a non-white other.

Johanna over on the Vegans Of Color blog posted an excellent blogpost about U.S. vegans attacking other countries and other cultures. She writes:
...we in the West feel it’s our high-and-mighty duty to go & tell other countries, with which we have had an adversarial & racist relationship, what to do. Instead of listening to local activists & supporting them if & when they request it (& in the manner they request), US activists love to barge in, without thought to cultural context or self-determination & autonomy for folks in the countries they’re honing in on. (& yeah, go figure, the whole exotification thing makes it a lot easier to point fingers at OMG those weird savage people!)
This racist elements of the IJC decision were highlighted with people wishing harm against Japan if they broke the ruling. One person had the audacity to use a racial slur for Japanese people as well other disgusting and dehumanising language in his comment. I reported it to Facebook and they removed the comment.

Ian Cole: "What a waste of time and resources 500 million people in the world rely on the ocean for food. And within the next 15 years it will all be gone including wales." Peter Allison: "Yeah, let's go and slaughter what's left and feed the Japs so they can breed like flies and plunder what's left of the remains of the planet. Great call Ian Cole."

Japanese Responses

Some Japanese individuals jumped on this discussion thread to show their support of the decision.

Taro Munn: "As a person who is part Japanese, I do like its traditions.  However this is one tradition I absolutely loathe. So I am glad of the decision."

"Whale meat and whale restaurants can be found everywhere in Japan. Many tv programs showing whale meat. No one here knows "research".  When I was student, we had whale meat on school meal. I am vegetarian now. They are all same animal.

However, other Japanese individuals were less enthused.

Katsuyoshi Kanahashi: "When I was a child I used to enjoy eating whale meat in stead of the meat of pigs, oxes and others which were too expensive for my family living in a local fisherman's town in Hokkaido. Only a marine product gave us albuminous substances with greens. I am at the age of 62. I don't like their way of thinking, their logic to make this decision toward Japan to halt whaling program in Antarctic without thinking the cultural differences among countries. You are often trying to show your fairness with this expression; Let's agree with disagree. Why don't you accept the difference? Is that really a problem? ^^"

Katsuyoshi Kanahashi’s response shows further issues of classism as well as imperialism present in the debate. 

Even on this one English language thread, Japanese people are shown not to be homogenous and have a diversity of views.

Japanese newspaper The Japan Times, which is published in both English and Japanese, ran an editorial on the ICJ decision. But one thing which struck me as significant was the following paragraph which neatly surmises issues of Western imperialism as well as violence used against the Japanese in pursuit of this imperialism:
Opposition to whaling on environmental or animal welfare grounds has often been viewed in Japan as an attempt to impose Western values in disregard of Japan’s whaling and culinary traditions. In recent years, Japanese whaling operations have been severely hampered by radical environmentalists’ violent sabotage activities.
This should jar with animal advocates. On the one hand we are trying to end the oppression of nonhuman animals, on the other, we are perpetuating an oppressive ideology backed by racism and fueled by violence.

Japan’s Whaling and Indigenous Hunting Practices

We see similar outrage and obsessions in Australia over Indigenous hunting practises. As if to underscore the way in which opposition to whaling and opposition to Indigenous hunting are linked, commenters responding to the ABC’s Facebook post showed how they thought the issues were very much intertwined.

Barry Neall: "About time, now let's fight harder for the dugong and turtles"

Joy Walford: "now for our sea turtles and dugongs :) "

These comments came as a surprise to an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander identified individual who wrote:

James Billy: "Why one has to mention Turtles n Dugongs. Im not trying to be rude but from my perspective as an ATSI indigenous, turtle n dugong is traditional food source."

For many of the commenters, their racist attitudes seem to extend not just to the Japanese, but also to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

We Can Do Better

It’s easy to see that growing up in a racist, imperialist society can mar the Animal Rights movement. When I first went vegan, I held onto my own white, racist, imperialist ideologies. But I see that like animal oppression, just because everyone around me is doing it, just because it is sanctioned by institutions and my government, doesn’t make racism and Western imperialism okay to participate in.