A new exhibit on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is raising eyebrows for its contrast of slavery, genocide and animal cruelty.
The display, placed by activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), appears to be a new take on a 2005 PETA campaign that compared slavery and the torture and lynching of black people to animal slaughterhouses — a display so controversial that PETA was eventually compelled by black activists to remove it.
The new exhibit is a bit more varied than the widely condemned ‘Animal Liberation Project” in 2005, which asked viewers, “Are animals the new slaves?” That was enough to trigger a strong condemnation from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which accused PETA of using black people for political gain.
When asked how she would respond to people who object to PETA’s analogy, Ingrid Newkirk, the group’s president and cofounder, told Raw Story that she was not clear which analogy was in question.
“Do you mean, like the Animal Liberation Project?” she asked. “Or something else?”
“What it is, is an exhibit about how all discrimination is wrong and how all exploitation and needless violence is wrong,” Newkirk went on. “No one can argue that historically, blacks have certainly experienced that, and so have a lot of other people. Children, women, all to varying degrees. What this says is, let’s stop thinking about whether one victim is more important than another, whether one act of gratuitous violence is more … They’re all horrible. We condemn them all.”
Featuring images of child laborers, lynched black people, Cambodian genocide victims and others, the “Glass Walls” project draws upon a much wider range of human suffering to make a point about animals.
Newkirk suggested that people who can’t see their broader message might be are “caught up in racism themselves, or their ethnic identity.”
“There’s no one thing,” she said. “It’s all about the fact that human beings have an infinite ability to be kind, but they also have an infinite capacity to compartmentalize others, to be dismissive of others, to be prejudiced toward others. It’s what human beings do. This exhibit says open your heart, open your mind, open your eyes, and look at the act and say, ‘Do I want to be part of this or not?’
“In their time, people came to the defense of those things. This says, look through all those things, then look at the things we’re doing to other individuals today.”
She added that the exhibit may already be sparking some discussion, claiming that a group of students who visited the display this week were led by a teacher to examine whether the mass killings in Norway were analogous to slaughterhouses.
“How wonderful would it be if Norway, which is a fairly progressive country, embraced the day and closed the slaughterhouses because they’ve seen enough blood and violence and so on?”
The six-panel exhibit will be on display until early Sept.
A spokesman with the NAACP did not respond to request for comment.
Courtesy photo: PETA.
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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