No, I don't mean the self-imagined political wag, nor those of a similarly fantastical oppressed ethnic subculture of the US. I mean the kind of (over)educated middle to upper-middle class, progressive liberal occasionally self-avowed skeptic, contrarian and/or scientific white folk.
I've seen the odd social justice action now and again in the US over the past decades. Whether at the local municipal level, the University level or on national TV. African-Americans are typically very well represented even when the issue at hand is not a "black issue" per se. When it comes to the incredible underrepresentative University campus population, it is particularly striking because you will find the black faces that you'd never known were on campus appearing in support of social justice causes.
There is one notable exception and that is the animal-rights campaign. The practitioners of animal rights theology would have you believe they are engaged in a social justice battle akin to many familiar ones. They never seem to look around and ask why their tiny band of followers are so unusually devoid of the black folks.
Perhaps it is because one of their favorite memes is viscerally offensive to African-Americans?
Not to mention entirely inaccurate from a scientific and historical perspective.
I know, I know. I know what you are thinking. It is a post in woo- and sensation-friendly Huffington Post, noted enemy of science and lover of all that is wacky. Why get all bloggy about a dog-bites-man story about yet another scientifically disingenuous entry at HuffPo?
I suppose my motivation is that you will see this sentiment elsewhere; so we can't just blame it on HuffPo. Besides, the blogger in question, Eric Michael Johnson, identifies himself in his tagline as "Scholar, scientist and journalist". So he might be expected to bring some good scientific support for the meme that is offensive to black folks. If he does not, as a self-avowed "scientist" he should tolerate, even welcome, a critical assessment of his theorizing.
In his tepid chastisement of the violent ARA extreme, EMJ focuses mostly on tactical outcome:
I would urge you to think about your ultimate goal in this struggle and consider whether your tactics are helping to bring this goal to fruition or whether they are emboldening your adversaries and further entrenching the divide.
Notably missing is any sense of moral or ethical outrage over the violent excesses directed against scientists- most likely because EMJ has a lot of "sympathy" for their "frustrations". You will recognize this as the typical double-talk coming from prominent mouth pieces of the extremist groups which are nominally in the accepted public sphere. I'm sure others will be addressing that aspect of the post at great length but I wanted to return to the "Monkeys are just like black slaves" argument. As formulated by EMJ in his post at HuffPo:
There are many who would object to the comparison between enslaved human beings and enslaved nonhuman primates. However, like you, and as a primatologist, I view this to be a difference of degree rather than kind. Research on primates in the wild has shown that they have rich emotional capacities including affectionate family bonds; long-term social relationships; the conscious awareness of self as separate from others; altruism; communication through gesture, body posture, facial expression and sound; learning by observation; making and using tools; using medicinal plants to treat illness; understanding and using abstract symbols for communication; and manipulating social situations for their own purposes. They are our next of kin in an evolutionary sense and I believe that rejection of our common kinship today is similar to the rejection that whites felt towards blacks just a few centuries ago.
Yes, I object. First because of a sort of historical mischaracterization of the existing strength of the evidence that enslaved black humans were similar to non-enslaved white humans on a list of critical characteristics. Second, because this brief list of observations supposedly derived from "research" in "nonhuman primates" substantially mis-characterizes the strength of the evidence. There is evidence, yes, that could be viewed as supporting human-like qualities of (some of) these nonhuman primates. But if we have some familiarity with the strength of the evidence, the comparison with enslaved human beings becomes inescapably offensive.
Let us start with the fact that the comparison is historically laughable. Just because grand pronouncements about enslaved black people were being made by people who claimed to be learned and scientific, this does not mean their evidence at the time had any merit. In fact it did not take any effort at all to readily observe black individuals, enslaved or not, who demonstrated consciousness of self, altruism, language (not the "abstract symbols for communication" misdirection, language), etc, etc, up to and including the sort of complex skills required to oversee the banquet kitchen of the President of the United States! At the very time, all society had to do was basically to step out of the way of black folks and to stop artificially preventing them from expressing their full behavioral repertoire to falsify any claim that black people differed in any way on these traits that EMJ has listed off. As history has progressed to modern day, we have all the evidence you could wish for that a person with black skin and more proximal African heritage is possessed of any fundamentally human-like traits you might assign to white people.
Again, this evidence emerges trivially. It does not require unusual training or intervention. All it requires is giving the white and black person an approximately similar set of environmental circumstances. Any layperson of unprejudiced mind can see it. The data support it. Any highly educated person that wishes to argue the contrary has a very tough job indeed parsing rarified statistical arguments about highly non-essential traits of humanity (like IQ three standard deviations above the mean) to establish any relevant differences between those of differing skin phenotype. On a group basis or even (given normal development) on an individual basis.
In very sharp contrast, we have the evidence that nonhuman animals, of the primate Order or otherwise, express traits or capabilities that are similar to those of human animals.
There have been many highly effortful attempts to let chimpanzees, gorillas and even African Gray parrots express their capacity for language. From the Premacks to the Georgia State University Language Resource Center to Irene Pepperberg, investigators have spent unbelievable amounts of time with painstaking instrumental conditioning of behaviors that might look like language. The demonstrations can be made to appear highly impressive to the naive viewer. However, just like Clever Hans and just like Epstein's insightful pigeon, appearances can be deceiving. One can take the end result of one best individual exemplar of a species, among several other exemplars who have failed to exhibit the same degree of 'success', and make it look very impressive.
Then the uncritical mind fills in the blanks. The uncritical mind assumes that any other individual can do the same thing, which is demonstrably not true. These are the best exemplars and the investigators have other considerably less-capable exemplars that never seem to garner the same attention or be integrated into the Gestalt interpretation. The uncritical mind glosses over or ignores the incredibly wide gulf between what Alex and Washoe and company can do...and what a normally developing human toddler, or even an adult second language-learner, can do. The uncritical mind ignores the incremental shaping that was required to bring about the best exemplar*. The uncritical mind ignores the fact that you have to go so some unbelievably unusual lengths to prevent a normal human from acquiring what is undubitably genuine language.
Do I need to remind you that black folks, even the enslaved ones, acquired true language, often that of their white owners, trivially?
Altruism, numerosity, tool use...the list goes on and on. There are data. There have been often highly effortful investigations. To produce very slim evidence that maybe, perhaps, nonhuman animals have traits and behaviors that are something like human traits and behaviors. And really, to assert otherwise is simply magical thinking that good skeptics and atheists and Darwin botherers should dismiss out of hand. Of COURSE humans are animals and share behaviors with the descendants of their common ancestor. It would be ludicrous to pretend otherwise. So why are well educated animal rights activist tilting at this ridiculous straw argument?
Since EMJ offered up tactical advice about making the AR case, I should reply in kind. I dunno, maybe the black folks I fail to see in animal rights activities are demonstrating elsewhere that day. Maybe they exist in droves. If you know any, send them over here to comment. If I'm right however, EMJ and other fans of the slavery / Tuskeegee analogy might want to think on recruiting allies to their marginalized cause. They may want to think on what it says to black people when they make this insulting comparison of black people's capabilities with those of monkeys. It doesn't come across well.
*[For those of you who are not behavioral scientists. Think about it. Think about your own assays and experiments. How often would you take a highly effortful assay that takes years of daily labor to prepare, observe a result in one of many preps, a result which is highly debatable and may require your mother's eye to distinguish from background..and conclude that that one is the truth? Never. Ask these comparative behavior scientists some tough questions.]