‘Whataboutism’ – What about you?

EDITOR – I was gravely concerned to see the letter from an individual professing to be vegan while gladly declaring that she had taken her child to an animal using circus. It greatly troubled me to know that people would read this and be left with misinformation. As someone who previously did not understand veganism before choosing to become vegan myself, I felt it important to write in; not for myself, but for the voiceless animals that are most adversely affected by this, the animals that vegans seek to respect, appreciate and protect.

Veganism is a lifestyle that rejects the commodity status of animals. It must not be confused with a plant-based lifestyle, which focuses on a plant-based diet, usually for health reasons. A vegan person, with the understanding that animals do not benefit in any way in a circus environment but in fact suffer, would not condone nor attend such an establishment. Regardless of their physical appearance, the captive keeping and gruelling training sessions of these animals is wrong. There are currently over 40 countries worldwide with a ban or restriction on the use of wild animals in circuses, which is very revealing of a changing era.

With a variety of ethical entertainment options available to us, attending an animal-using circus (after a five year absence in KZN) is neither necessary nor reasonable. Teaching your child that animals do not belong in cages, do not exist to entertain us and are in fact better off in their natural environment engaging in natural behaviours is not deprivation. As adults and guardians of children, we help them make ethical choices every day, we teach them right from wrong. We are their example. Although I myself am vegan, when protesting the animal circus and raising awareness for the animals, I do not discriminate against who joins me in protest. Vegans and non-vegans alike are welcome to attend. Although there are a number of injustices happening to animals, at a circus protest the focus is on the circus animals. There is a time and place to fight for other causes.

“Whataboutism gives a clue to its meaning in its name. It is not merely the changing of a subject (‘What about the economy?’) to deflect away from an earlier subject as a political strategy; it’s essentially a reversal of accusation, arguing that an opponent is guilty of an offense just as egregious or worse than what the original party was accused of doing, however unconnected the offenses may be.” – Merriam-Webster.

I would like to address the allegation of a lack of time and effort spent on other issues unrelated to circus animals. Referring to other issues attempts to deflect from the importance of the issue at hand, to reduce its urgency and to undermine it. When faced with ‘whataboutism’, as many activists are, my general response is: “What about you?” I am only one person, capable of so much, but if we all played a part in standing up against injustices, imagine how much we could achieve? Regardless, I would like to assure the writer that I do take all forms of animal exploitation seriously. All our local activists do. Ban Animal Trading (BAT) organised and held its first Durban July protest this year, in which a number of local activists were involved. Every year we participate in the annual Empty the Tanks protest outside Ushaka Marine World. We were involved in a large Pietermaritzburg Zoo protest held a few years ago and support ongoing efforts to have Opal, the isolated orangutan, relocated to a well-equipped facility in the UK. We have stood, numerous times, outside slaughterhouses to raise awareness about factory farming as part of the global Save Movement. Every second weekend my team is out on the Durban beachfront, speaking to people about factory farming and the alternative, veganism, as part of the global Anonymous for the Voiceless campaign.

Those are just a few of the initiatives that the local Durban activists are involved in. Most of us work full time, some multiple jobs, and we use our free time to be advocates for the animals, gladly. So before you indulge in ‘whataboutism’, take a moment to ask, “What about me? What could I be doing? How can I make a difference?” Every animal matters. There are those of us who actively seek to make their voices heard. We stand united against the exploitation of animals used in circuses and will continue to protest and create awareness, until every cage is empty.



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