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Accepted Paper:

The ugliness of multispecies intersubjectivity: pandemic racism and the love of animals in the UK  


Maythe Han (University of Edinburgh)

Paper long abstract:

What kinds of narratives and discourses emerge and spread when a viral crisis and a racial crisis coincide? Who is considered ‘contagious’, by whom, and why?

In this paper based on ongoing digital ethnographic fieldwork, I look at the strange and frightening intersection of the love of animals and the deeply entrenched racism toward Black people and people of colour endemic to Britain. My data come in the form of a meme and a long thread of comments in response to it. The meme depicts a protestor who is about to throw a brick at a police horse and calls for protestors throwing things at police animals to be shot, placing the pain of the horse, a nonhuman animal, above the life of a protestor, a human person. This meme made a brief appearance on a UK-based dog people’s group on Facebook before it got deleted by the person who originally posted it, so the comment thread only lives as a series of screenshots on my computer.

I follow multiple conversations in the comment thread to elucidate how the discourse surrounding, as well as the public fear of, viral infection has been co-opted by white British people who self-identify as ‘animal lovers’ in order to justify their racist stance: the kind of people who would move mountains for the rights and wellbeing of nonhuman animals if they could seem shockingly callous toward the systemic violence aimed at the lives of racialized people. I then argue that portraying Black Lives Matter protesters as spreaders of COVID-19 in the time of life-or-death struggle against racialized police brutality is a form of strategic racism that is painfully yet also easily compatible with love, empathy, and intersubjective kinship they share with their beloved nonhuman animals.

Author: Maythe Han

Panel P02
Mystery, contagion, evasion