An introduction to Human Privilege
We hear a lot about male, white, heterosexual and many other forms of privilege but there is one form of privilege that we hear little about. It is the most pervasive and destructive form of all unearned privilege: human privilege. It is the most important of all the issues as the excluded group is the most exploited group on the planet i.e. non-human animals. That is not to belittle any form of inter-human privilege, all of which must be addressed.
The strongest and most horrific forms of this privilege is what can be described as open human supremacy, the idea that as humans we may use non-human animals in any way we wish. But this article is going to examine the more subtle forms of privilege that even those that claim to support animal equality engage in. Before anyone takes this as a personal attack, these are thought processes I have gone through myself. We all need to self examine on the issue and ‘check’ our privilege.
As humans we are privileged in the fact that it is not a nearly universally accepted norm that it is OK to kill us, experiment on us, steal from us, etc. If we are the subject of abuse we are privileged, that for the most part, we can speak out in some way, shape or form in a way that can be understood. This is not the case for any other animal. Of course, not all humans benefit from this privilege nor does every white person benefit from white privilege (for example those in Zimbabwe).
As humans we have the choice to abuse our privilege or to ally with the oppressed group. I will presume that those reading this have taken the latter option. This article will look at the human privilege that those that are allies with non-humans choose to perpetuate.
The first example I will address is the assumption that not doing harm to animals is actively ‘saving’ animals. Some that are vegan claim they are saving animals simply by not eating them. Strangely they do not claim to be saving humans by choosing not to eat them. Veganism is a moral baseline not a kindness, we owe it to the animals just as we owe it to other humans not to eat them.
With that simple example it is possible to see that human privilege is alive within the subconscious thought processes of some of those that are allies of non-humans. However it goes much deeper than this. One privilege we have over non-humans is the ability to be understood within human society and thus when we are advocating for their interests have a duty to faithfully represent our non-human brothers and sisters rather than our own ideas. We are not the oppressed group in this situation so it is not for us to speak our truth but that of the non-humans.
When we compare, as equal, the holocaust of the over 100 billion non-human animals killed alone for food a year to human issues that effect only some of the 7 billion humans that currently live (and the around 100 billion humans that have ever lived), we do the non-humans a disservice. I doubt they would view those problems as equivalent! When we go further and compare various oppressions suffered by those killing and eating the bodies of non-humans as equal to the oppression of the non-humans being killed and eaten, it is down right insulting!
This is where the concept of Non-Humans First comes from, not that humans are lesser in moral status or that their individual problems matter less but the vast difference in scale and the fact that many humans are themselves oppressors of non-humans. If we are truly speaking on non-humans’ behalf it is hard to avoid the fact they would hardly see their oppressors problems as equal to their own!
When we make these false equivalents based on human privilege it is easy to act against non-humans interests. Sometimes this means denying animals’ allies. By using our human privilege to place our own opinions above the interests of the non-humans we claim to represent we give ourselves the position of picking who can and cannot be animals’ allies. Some animal rights activists choose to exclude other activists based on their rejection of one or other element of human rights ideology. While it is correct to support human rights, it is wrong to deny non-humans’ allies because of it. We are not the oppressed group in this situation so it is not our choice to make. Put simply the non-human animals don’t care who saves them!
While it may still seem an admirable position to exclude those that do not conform to human rights beliefs anyway, we can see this position is actually rooted in human privilege not a search for equality. Those that advocate for this position do not insist that the human rights causes they take part in exclude speciesists of any kind from their protests. The same people that refuse to attend animal rights demonstrations to which human rights detractors are attending, will happily attend human rights protests which does not exclude speciesists. This is hypocrisy at its worst, grounded fully in human privilege.
If those advocating this policy were not so obviously hypocritical their case could be given some serious weight. However as they are it should be recognised as part of human privilege and firmly rejected.
This is just a small taster of what is a vast topic, many will feel this is an attack on them, it is not. This is a serious issue that needs addressing. As long as we are willing to go on a journey of self-reflection we can overcome these elements of human privilege and embracing the Non-Humans First Declaration is a good starting point. I hope this has been of some use to you and thank you for taking the time to read and reflect on it.