Saturday, March 24, 2012

What’s Wrong with Only White Men Judging a Contest Defending Meat-Eating?

by Lori Gruen, A. Breeze Harper, and Carol J. Adams

This past week The Ethicist at The New York Times invited people to submit their defenses of meat eating. She created a panel of five judges who will evaluate these defenses. The panel consists of all white men. We’ve raised a discussion about why this is a problem, first by writing “The Ethicist” herself, then Carol in a blog, and there have been Facebook and Twitter discussions too.

Some people wonder why it is a problem that there are only white men judging this contest. We want to explain some of the reasons we think this is a problem.

As Carol has pointed out, there is an entire alternative tradition that explores issues associated with meat eating based on feminist insights, and, as she has argued for over 20 years, our culture is heavily invested in the identification of meat eating with manliness.

As an actual “ethicist” and someone in a white-male dominated profession, philosophy, Lori pointed out in her email to Ariel Kaminer (NYTimes’s Ethicist) that there is a campaign underway that seeks to draw attention to conferences that include only white men. The point of the campaign is to bring gender and racial biases, like those held by the NYTimes Ethicist, to light in the hopes of trying to enhance opportunities for all women and men of color who are significantly underrepresented.

As someone bringing a critical race perspective to veganism, Breeze always notes remarkable examples of the exercise of white privilege. She cites critical whiteness scholars such as Charles Gallagher and Peggy McIntosh who propose that white Americans are collectively unaware of how the center stage in which they might find themselves does not reflect the reality of those who do not exist in such white privileged spaces of inclusion (Gallagher 2008).

Kaminer has now admitted that the panel was inadequate in terms of demographic diversity and she defends her decision.

We find it ironic that the NYTimes Ethicist would ignore diversity when she herself was brought into this position because of the Times’s recognition that diversity is important.

Admitting her awareness of the lack of demographic diversity is also an interesting position, because she is naming her “awareness,” yet she has chosen to go with the choice of judges, nonetheless. (Although we might take issue with the particularities of the different views of the judges she chose, that is not our point here.)

Kaminer suggests that she often pays attention to women, just not this time. But a commitment to respecting differences while creating opportunities is what feminism and anti-racism is about. Justice demands that the same people not be disproportionately disadvantaged while members of those groups who did nothing to deserve their higher status continue to benefit from their moral luck.

Kaminer reported that she chose fame over diversity. Famous people, as she knows, brings name recognition and a built in following. This is just how “implicit bias” works. As philosopher Jenny Saul recently wrote in the Washington Post "implicit biases are unconscious associations that result largely from living in a society where certain stereotypes are widely held. ... So, we grow up in a world where the majority of the big famous achievers are men and we come to associate being famous and achieving a lot with maleness"

Choosing fame (or more accomplishments) over diversity is certainly the excuse that many people use when they attempt to justify hiring only white men. Where is the "ethics" in that? How ethical it is to admit you are aware but choose to go along with the status quo? To be ‘aware’ and be able to have the choice to go with the status quo/fame is a privileged position. Her decision becomes, then, not as much about ‘diversity’ as it is her making the choice to keep “The Machinery of Whiteness” intact (See Steve Martinot 2010). It’s also what Eduardo-Bonilla Silva and Tukufu Zuberi (2008) call a “white logic” or “white framing” of reality and social facts that are masked as ‘universal’ or ‘general audience’, but is in fact a way that the white [male] status quo dictates what are relevant social ‘facts’ and what are not. This framing of ‘reality’ creates the illusion that voices outside of the white male norm are worthless or won’t sell enough papers.

And just how does one become famous or a highly recognized “name”? The self-fulfilling quality of fame for privileged white men has been shown over and over again. They are the ones who the media turns to as “experts.” According to “The Status of Women in the US Media 2012” from the “Women’s Media Center”: Studies of newsmakers’ gender show women are less likely than men to be the subjects of news stories.
  • The Media and Gender Monitor (2011) reported that, globally, "24 percent of news stories are about women.”
  • “In 2010, NPR reported that only 26 percent of its news sources were women.”
  • “King (2010) found that women were the minority among reviewers and authors reviewed in 3 literary journals.
  • Romm (2011) conducted a “rough count” of literary magazine editors and concluded, “…for now the gatekeepers of literary culture- at least at magazines- are still primarily male.”

You can read the full report here.

Bitch Magazine recently carried an article on “Missed Connections: What Search Engines Say About Women” by Safiya Umoja Noble. She reported on an exercise she conducted in class in which students were asked to do a google search for “black girls.” One time the top hit was, “”; another time, “ This morning “Black Girls Gone Wild” was the third from the top. Search for “women’s magazines” and no feminist magazines appear. Noble concludes, “Search engine results don’t only mask the unequal access to social, political, and economic life as broken down by race, gender, and sexuality—they also maintain it.”

And, in her role as gate keeper, so does Kaminer maintain unequal access. She also fails to recognize that using normative white male figures starts a different kind of masculinist competition, in which men then can argue with each other in a self-enclosed way (the “Singer” approach vs. the “Pollan” approach, for example), rather than widening the circle.

White men are constructed as 'experts' and 'objective'— unlike non-white racialized men or women who can't be 'objective' or are not as 'famous' as them. And so the cycle of prejudice continues in which white male elite perspectives dominate the production of social facts.

So, what is this contest really about? Is it about ethics and the billions of animals that end up dying to become someone’s dinner or is it about getting some of the most famous white males in this field to attract large numbers of readers/contestants? The latter would equal more exposure and upward career mobility for Kaminer and the Times and for the men on the panel. Perhaps the Ethicist may want to consider naming her social location and how her choice benefits her versus it being a choice to create a more ‘broad’ and ‘objective’ panel of judges. Naming her social location may not be a bad thing, as transparency would help her readers understand this contest and its context better.

Perhaps Kaminer just isn’t aware that there are women, and men of color, who have much to contribute to this discussion many of whom have an equivalent high public profile as the white men she chose. Here’s the complicated thing—we three women, and we aren’t alone—are not without a public profile in the area where ethics and food overlap. But there are also really high profile women like Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Walker, Ellen DeGeneres and many others who might have been asked.

The Ethicist resorted to the default -- which is always the white, male, middle class norm or body that supposedly represents a 'broad' category of opinions. These are people who will never be the exploited within the food system. Ethically, it is important to say this and name it and its implications when judging ethics. She chose judges that are at the top of the social hierarchy in the United States. Those of us who seek to expose the racialized and gendered construction of knowledge production within the traditional white Eurocentric canon are socially placed “outside the system that keeps whiteness safe as the cultural center" (Warren 2003, 22)

What might “the Ethicist” have done instead? She could admit, “I asked others for names, and, falling into the same trap I am now defending, they all recommended white men.” Or, “I’m new to this field, and didn’t realize there were any feminist and anti-racist issues to meat eating that might make such a choice even more suspect. My bad.”

The fact is that ethical discussions about eating animals are permeated with sexist and racist perspectives that have operated as normative. The Ethicist simply continues in this tradition. We invite her to use better judgment.

works cited
Gallagher, Charles A. ""The End of Racism" As the New Doxa." In White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology, edited by Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, 163-78. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008.
Martinot, Steve. The Machinery of Whiteness : Studies in the Structure of Racialization. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010.
Noble, Safiya Umoja. “Missed Connections: What Search Engines Say About Women.” Bitch Magazine. (Spring 2012). 84: 37-41.
Warren, John T. Performing Purity : Whiteness, Pedagogy, and the Reconstitution of Power. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.
Zuberi, Tukufu, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. White Logic, White Methods : Racism and Methodology. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.


  1. Great thoughtful writing as always Carol, thanks for raising awareness!

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  2. Thanks for this way better analysis than mine. I just posted on this too, with a list of ten suggestions, including you Carol. Thanks again, will share.

  3. Fantastic post & what a shame that Ms. Kaminer hasn't yet used this situation as some kind of opportunity. I hope that will change as the days go by and perhaps the Public Editor and others get involved in this matter.

  4. Did anyone see the epitome of "white male privilege" int he manner in which Piers...the new British "host" derided Toure on CNN on Friday and Saturday nights? Typical.

  5. This article is excellent. It raises a number of issues worthy of extended commentary.

  6. I am a woman who was born on a beef cattle farm. I make my living selling meat to individual consumers who live in NYC and probably read the NYTimes. I share your critique about the composition of the panel of judges. I am equally concerned about the lack of farmers, chefs, working people and anyone under 30 years of age on the panel. A truly useful discussion of the issue needs to include a much wider variety of voices.

  7. What a loon. What the hell does feminism or racism have to do with vegetarian or meat eating choices? I never thought of the women in my life as exhibiting "manliness" by eating meat. Any more than a man being "feminine" by eating a cucumber. Then again, maybe you are right. I never gave it much thought that a radical lesbian feminist might view the cucumber in a totally different light. It was the first tool that enlightened them that they did not need a man. On the other hand, sexist men use the word "tubesteak" to say that's what she needs. No I understand where you're coming from.

  8. Yes, previous anonymous poster, the authors are loony.
    1. This is a contest, not a panel to decide a potential life or death sentence.
    2. Ms. Adams' feminine insights explain why Americans associate eating meat with manly attributes. This explains why having a panel of only white males is a problem? How? Are you implying the panel naturally has a bias for the pro-carnivore entries? Get a real life; See #1.
    3. Ms. Harper's argument notes "remarkable" examples of white privilege? Am I missing something? What is remarkable about the contest? See #1.
    4. Ms. Gruen... oh well. See #1.

  9. what a dumb bitch its not even that big of a deal to nerdrage about but you still do, I feel stupid just reading the lines "vegan-feminist intellectual"

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  15. What preposterous navel-gazing.

    I'd urge you to focus more on women in Saudi Arabia being raped than on white judges on inconsequential contest panels. There ARE real dangers faced by women worldwide -- but most of those dangers are no longer happening in the US. A more international perspective, with emphasis on oppression in the Muslim World, would be a more realistic approach to your work.

    Privileged white women writing about privileged white men really strikes a wrong note with me.

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