How can Westerners talk about cruelty “over there” without stirring racism?

When I talk about my interest in doing small animal public health and animal welfare work internationally, one topic that regularly comes up is the issue of some Asian cultures eating dogs.  It’s a topic I’ve grown to really dislike, despite my obvious sympathies for the dogs.  From the amount of general public attention the issue gets, dog meat is one of the things Western people think is most barbaric and vile about other cultures, right up there with female genital mutilation.

Because dogs are essentially a sacred animal to my own Western culture, the idea that anyone could treat dogs the way we treat our own food animals is absolutely horrifying.  Dogs are family.  Cows are food.  Any culture with a different hierarchy of the value of animals is evil.  Things gets very emotional and angry very quickly.  Because Asians are the other, then it is their otherness that becomes the focal point.  Asians are eating dogs because they are monsters and have no ethics.  If they had ethics, they would behave like we do and eat animals that we think are the correct ones to eat.

While I absolutely share a disdain for the dog meat trade, it’s such a difficult issue because it can’t be discussed by Westerners without devolving into racism very quickly.  It’s a topic I don’t even want to talk about as a white person, even though it could serve as such an interesting spark for a discussion about how notions of animal welfare, the animal-human bond, and the way we treat animals vary greatly from culture to culture.  There sadly isn’t room for complex discussions of cultural imperialism when it comes to dog meat, including the important issue that Western protests of the dog meat industry may actually be aiding that industry.

I regularly see Facebook posts about the dog meat industry.  The comments are invariably awful.  Here’s one thread that particularly bothered me because the article in question was about Chinese activists fighting the Chinese dog meat trade.  While the other was both the hero and the villain in the story, comments still focused on race.  (I added one line in red to clarify where I think the poster was referring to the Chinese animal activists rather than Chinese dog meat consumers.)


“They aren’t people.”  It’s the exact definition of dehumanizing someone you dislike.

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