Disclaimer: The point of my post is not to point fingers at these commenters in particular but to address attitudes I’ve been noticing that Westerners have towards non-Western countries. This is not about targeting these commenters in particular, which is why I blocked out their names and profile pictures.
Yesterday Leaping Bunny announced that in additional to banning animal testing for cosmetics, India has decided to extend the ban to household products as well. This was amazing news and a great victory for animal rights advocates everywhere but then I read some revolting comments. There were in the minority, but it was still disgusting, especially when people had ‘liked’ their comments.
First, the more minor problem with these comments are they are distasteful for the topic. The post is about an animal rights victory and these comments tarnish that happy news with pointing at negative things that are happening in India. Why not applaud a country for such an amazing decision, especially when such a decision does not even seem to be on the horizon for Canada or the U.S.?
What is extremely problematic with these comments is their racist and elitist undertones, and I see attitudes like this so often. Yes, rape happens in India and there have been a couple of horrific incidents recently that have brought a lot of global attention, but rape also happens everywhere else in the world too, including Western countries. Pointing fingers at an entire country for not treating half of their population well while rape, violence against women and systemic sexism and rampant in the West too, is not only showcasing the denial about the lack of equality in Western communities but also shows the elitism that many people have in which they believe that we in the West are civilized while other parts of the world are not.
India in particular is a fascinating country that is full of dichotomies, including complex layers of class, caste, wealth, education, religion, urbanization, etc. You will have areas where there is utmost poverty and exploitation while other areas are filled with wealthy individuals and highly educated people (including women). To assume that there is a rape problem in all of India assumes that they are still a ‘backwards’ country, which was a prevalent attitude by the West for centuries pre-, during and post-colonialism. Comments like the ones above really show how these attitudes have not changed for centuries.
It’s quite possible that these commenters, like many others, find news like this shocking because it shakes up their belief that India is an uncivlized, backwards place where women are treated like second-class citizens and are offered little to no protection from their communities. A decision like upholding animal rights is unfathomable and a slap to the face when they think that their wonderful Western country should be at the forefront of decisions like this but rather are trailing behind. It scares them to think that they will be surpassed in the “country fighting for goodness and morality” department. Just look at this comment.
Now I know this person meant well and wasn’t trying to offend anyone, but the message is offensive. What they are saying is that the U.S. should be ashamed that a country like India, who is not as civilized as the U.S., can make such a progressive decision and meanwhile the U.S. is lagging behind. In fact, the U.S. is struggling to not only ban animal testing on cosmetics but is now under threat of making it mandatory under the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Act (read about it here). Basically, commentary like this shows the underlying belief that one’s country (the U.S.) is superior than another country (India) regardless of what the reality truly is – that all countries have parts about them that need changing for the better. Throwing each other under the bus is not healthy or acceptable.
It’s also interesting to note that when Leaping Bunny posted an announcement a week earlier about an animal testing ban on cosmetics in Sao Paulo, Brazil (read here) there were all comments commending Brazil and not a single comment was made about something bad that is happening in the country. Why is that? Possibly because they are not in central Asia where people ‘don’t treat their women right’.
The solution to alleviate thinking like this is to recognize one’s assumptions of other people and not generalize or stereotype entire groups of people based on small amounts of information one receives from the news. As well, one needs to recognize their own status and privileges and recognize that their circumstances constrain the way they view the world and they should try to see things from other peoples’ perspectives to have a better appreciation and understanding of what is reality.
The full thread of comments can be found here. Please do not target and harass the commenter that I featured here. That is not what I want to happen and I don’t think fighting fire with fire is the right way to solve problems.