An African-American associate professor at a liberal arts college in the 1960s points to his own appointment as an example of progress. Malcolm X asks him:
“Do you know what white racists call black Ph.Dâ€™s?”
He said something like, “I believe that I happen not to be aware of that”â€”you know, one of those ultra-proper-talking Negroes.
And I laid the word down on him, loud: “Nigger!”
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X, p. 290.
By explaining that white racists (and if we loosen the definition of racist, we can assume that’s the majority of Americans) still consider him a nigger, Malcolm brings into sharp relief the fact that such “progress” is literally skin deep. As long as you have white racists, as long as the system that creates disparities and allows racists to continue to be racist exists, there is no real progress; all there is is window dressing.
We have to consider, then, how far such “progress” has come.
Eating Apes is a book by Dale Peterson, a journalist (or writer or something) about how people in certain parts of Africa eat apes. (I’m reading the book for a History course on how people in the West view subjectivity in sub-Saharan Africa.) For Peterson, this is unconscionable and — because (among other things) it is so much like eating humans — even immoral:
In the big cities of Central Africa, middle-class people pay a premium for bushmeat, including the meat of apes. [...] Thus, we see that the problem [of eating apes] is deeper than material history and that cultural values are clearly as much a root cause as poverty.
- Dale Peterson, Eating Apes, pp. 200-201.
Here, I see Peterson saying the same thing Malcolm pointed out white racists say: It doesn’t matter how rich black people get, they’re still niggers. (In this case, because eating apes is part of their “cultural values”.)
When Peterson refers to material history, it appears that his scope quite narrowly refers to the history of poverty in Africa (or parts of Africa). It doesn’t refer to the material conditions through which many of the people in Africa live — the material conditions that give birth to cultural values. (Where else do cultural values come from? Primordial backwardness?) One of these material conditions is, or was, the kinds of animal meat available for consumption. This differs remarkably from the kind of meat available to those in the West.
But wait, Peterson goes on to explain that:
Recent advances in Western scientific disciplines tell us that the great apes are far closer to human than anyone had previously imagined. [...] Killing and eating [apes] amounts to killing and eating animals shockingly close to human. Such is the thinking, one of the several reasons for deep concern about the extent of the slaughter of apes in Central Africa [....]
Peterson, p. 205.
So the reason people in the West don’t eat apes is because they are shockingly close to humans. That’s it. This brilliant logic also explains why most people in the West don’t eat frogs, horses, donkeys, rats, grasshoppers, cockroaches and beluga whales. They are all shockingly close to humans — as revealed by advances in Western science.
Peterson also refers to hunted animal meat as “bushmeat”. But is that what he calls deer? or quail? No, he doesn’t even bring those things up. If we disregard conservation statuses, what’s the moral difference between someone in Canada shooting a deer for consumption and someone in Africa shooting an elephant for consumption? The very use of that term, bushmeat, is remarkably patronizing and contributes to the process of othering in which Peterson indulges.
Not that I advocate eating apes. I just don’t really see the problem with eating apes if there’s no problem with, say, eating chickens (whose DNA is shockingly close to that of humans).