by Guest Contributor Dany Sigwalt
Rumors are flying about Michael Vick’s future in the NFL. He has been conditionally reinstated to the NFL, and is now looking for a new home team.
Michael Vick, of course, was the NFL superstar quarterback who was charged as a “key figure” in April of 2007 of an extensive illegal interstate dog fighting ring. He was released from federal prison after serving 23 months. Although the Atlanta Falcons, the team he was with when he was lifted to celebrity ,dropped his contract after multiple attempts to trade him to another team in the NFL, many are still encouraging teams to “forgive him” for his actions. The NFL is now considering reinstating Vick into the NFL, with a possible four game suspension at the beginning of the 2009 season.
Last night, I got into my first conversation about Vick and really even dog fighting since this fiasco broke into the media two years ago. Up until a few weeks ago, I was convinced that single issue animal rights activism (like anti-fur or boycotting KFC until they improve their treatment of animals they eventually kill) was ineffective and merely helping people feel comfortable about choices that don’t address my core concerns regarding animal rights. We live in a world where 10 billion land animals are reared and murdered for consumption in the US alone to support an unsustainable lifestyle that harms everyone involved. I have a hard time believing that throwing red paint on a person wearing fur would create the shift in our collective consciousness to end human exploitation of nonhuman animals. Vegans often locate the root of our projection of power and violence onto animals in speciesm. Speciesm, like racism, sexism and other “-isms” involve an analysis of privilege and oppression, wherein humans project unwarranted power over nonhuman animals, simply because of the availability of exploitable bodies.
Holding both anti-racist and anti-speciest ideologies, I frequently find myself disagreeing with the majority of what I have heard and read regarding the Michael Vick Case. As much as I hate single issue campaigns, I do think that if people are unable to acknowledge the person-ness and worthiness of a good life of animals we have accepted as a species to be members of our families, there is little hope of breaking down the cognitive processes that allow us to forget that the cow on our plate was a sister and a daughter, who I think are as deserving of life as you or me. My intersectional anti-oppression ideologies force me to realize that dog fighting circles are frequently located in low income communities and communities of color where the practice has provided a resource for financial survival. Taking this into consideration, I think that the real question is how those of us who are invested in ending dog fighting rings can create a campaign, or a movement, that takes these issues into consideration, a long with the larger issues of the policing of of black bodies, economic alienation, and the powerlessness that living in an oppressive world that leads violence against human and nonhuman animals alike.
First, we must understand that the legal system is still extraordinarily racist and classist. Vick was raised in an environment where he was not taught that it is a moral “wrong” to breed and train dogs to exist for the sole purpose of fighting them. Not only that, but as mentioned above, dog fighting frequently offers an alternate source of income. The whole issue of dog fighting, to my mind, presently speaks to the overt ways in which the law exists to serve particular groups of peoples’ moral compasses. Just as the war on drugs largely exists to strengthen the prison industrial complex, and serves the unique few who are privileged enough to own stock in the corporations that are making a profit off of the incarceration of bodies of color.
Both of these laws, and their sensationalist media coverage, maintain a culture of fear of the “other,” for harming their own bodies and those of the dogs they are fighting. Vick did not hurt another human, and yet, the media swarm around him, fueled by his celebrity as well as his wealth, and yet, is vilified and presented as a monster to be feared and punished — not at all dissimilar from the ways in which black men at large are regarded in our society. Continue reading