It can be difficult to understand the privileged mindset. And for many of us, it can be hard to relate to. But I recently came across a video[i] depicting extreme animal cruelty at one of the nation’s biggest dairy farms, and it make me consider this: as humans, we are all privileged; and we all have made actions that coincide with the privileged mentality.
In order to better understand this, let me ask you a few questions:
- How many of you consume dairy?
- How many of you feel entitled to dairy products (meaning you feel entitled to the cow’s milk over her baby calf?)[ii]
- How many of you would prefer not to think about where your dairy products come from?
- How many of you care where your dairy products come from?
- How many of you that do care will put in the necessary effort to eliminate unethical dairy products (even when eating out)?
- How many of you that care will put time and money into researching and purchasing ethical dairy products?
Now I ask you this:
- How many of you agree that misogyny is a global pandemic?
- How many of you will fight against misogyny when it’s easy to do so?
- How many of you will fight against misogyny when it’s not easy to do so?
- How many of you will fight against misogyny when it affects you?
- How many of you will fight against misogyny when it doesn’t affect you?
- How many of you will fight against misogyny even when it’s principles benefit you?
- How many of you will fight against rape, domestic violence, and femicide?
- How many of you will fight again against your natural inclination to sexualize the female form?
- How many of you are willing to change your ways in order to fight misogyny at its source?
When asking ourselves these questions, we may realize that it’s not so simple to go against our urge to benefit from privilege, especially when it’s easy to do so. In fact, most of us won’t acknowledge the harm that our privilege does to others, or even step outside of our privileged state and put ourselves in the predicament of the sufferer (such as the cow, the calf, the woman, the immigrant, the subjugated, the minority). In general, many of us will fight an internal battle, finding ways to rationalize our belief structures and corresponding actions or lack of action: A cow isn’t human. A woman’s place is in raising children. Milk is in almost everything and it’s delicious. Women are attracted to powerful men. My kids need milk to grow. Women also take advantage of men. Humans are more deserving than cows. Women have it easy: they don’t have to work hard and don’t experience sexual rejection like men do.
When you juxtapose those statements, it’s quite jarring. It can also be jarring to realize that certain individuals will agree with the above statements while other individuals will disagree. But whether such rationalizations are true or not should not be the primary focus if our goal is to alter the privileged mindset and check the pervasiveness of privilege in human societies. For in order to challenge such belief patterns, it is crucial that we focus on the fact that such rationalizations are familiar to us all; commonly used to establish the status quo, diminish quilt, and stop individuals from questioning the injustices that their actions and thoughts have on other living organisms. And it is only in examining the privileged mindset that we can understand that the reality of one group or individual is not always enough to change the mentality of another group or individual.
In essence, truth is not always a big enough threat to injustice.
For example: I’m sure deep inside many of you still want to disagree with my assumptions above and find a way in which having privilege over an animal is different than having privilege over a human being. Of course, that case can rightly be argued. But so can’t the case of differentiating a particular gender from another, culture from another, or ideology from another. Furthermore, that way of thinking is how privilege gets upheld and how those in privilege abuse those without privilege. It’s the reason baby calves are being beaten, slaughtered, and forcibly separated from their mothers. It’s why women are commonly killed by their domestic partners. It’s the justification an entire religion, race or ethnic group makes for the genocide of another.
Please understand that I am not writing this to condone white privilege, Eurocentric biases, the patriarchy, or those in power. I do not wish to take away accountability with empathetic understanding. I do not want to vilify individuals who eat animal products (I don’t disagree with the fact that consuming meat and dairy has certain benefits when done ethically and in moderation). I am also not trying diminish your sense of morality or the positive image you have of yourself and of those who think and act like you. I am here to hold all of us accountable and to challenge the collective way of thinking. Because that is how we can enter into sympathetic dialogues with those who both abuse and fail to realize their privilege. That is how we can best get individuals to change their privileged mentality. That is how we can understand the privileged sense of reality so that we can better effect policies and social structures that help to minimize the power of privilege.
In a way, it’s humbling to acknowledge the bad all of us have taken part of in being human; and its enlightening to dissect the way in which we fool our own minds into rationalizing our personal privilege. We are all unjust. We all have habits that bring us comfort and ease, but serve to harm other humans, animals, and the environment. And we all have ways to justify our behavior so that we can feel better about continuing those habits.
So- for the sake of those animals that giver their life and livelihood for your benefit- try to not diminish their struggle, their pain, and their suffering just as you wouldn’t want to diminish the suffering of disenfranchised human populations. And try to not rationalize your actions by minimizing an animal’s intelligence, strength, or right to life, as you wouldn’t want a man to do to a woman or a majority group to do to a minority.
And- most importantly- I challenge you all to examine your privilege. For the manner in which we take without appreciation and without considering the consequences is perhaps the main contributor to our economic and environmental crises and one of the key factors in fighting the rampant injustices that plague our world.
[i] Elejalde-Ruiz, Alexia. “Videos of Fair Oaks Farms triggered outrage. But who polices how the dairy industry treats its cows?” Chicago Tribune. June 21 2019. Web. 23 June 2019.https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-farm-animals-welfare-regulations-fair-oaks-20190621-osm7x5nze5e3tegqodxflflfkq-story.html
You can access the video via the Chicago Tribune article (which I suggest you read) or by clicking on this link: GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=_quX1acHGks
* Please also read dissenting opinions on the situation, as there are theories regarding coercion and unethical practices by ARM Investigations. (Interestingly enough, the backlash at ARM from the dairy industry and consumers illustrates how the majority of us are reluctant to check our privilege and fight against injustice when it benefits us.)
[ii] Baby calves are often taken away from their mother shortly after birth to the despair and detriment of both so that corporations and consumers can have unlimited access to the cow’s milk supply.