Pest Control: an old metaphor for racism

I happened to stumble across this really horrifying story last week:

Last week the Web site UsedWinnipeg.com ran an advertisement headlined “Native Extraction Service” with a photograph of three young Native boys. The service offered to round up and remove First Nations youth like wild animals, and “relocate them to their habitat.”

The text of the ad read: “Have you ever had the experience of getting home to find those pesky little buggers hanging outside your home, in the back alley or on the corner??? Well fear no more, with my service I will simply do a harmless relocation. With one phone call I will arrive and net the pest, load them in the containment unit (pickup truck) and then relocate them to their habit.”

To complete the clusterfuck trifecta, the image in the ad was stolen from Longhouse Media. In fact, it was from an award winning documentary about native Swinomish youth!

Despicable.

Beyond the obvious hateful racism, there is something else going on, and it’s a pattern: Talking about people of color as pests or insects.

“Nits make Lice.” Remember that one? When Col. John Chivington ordered the use of howitzer artillery guns to fire upon unarmed Cheyenne women, children, and elders in 1864?

This othering is a racist technique that’s centuries old. By treating your “enemies” as less than human, they become non-people.

And if you treat them as pests, well.
You know what you do with pests, right?
You EXTERMINATE them.

What do pests and native/other people have in common in this world view? They don’t respect boundaries. They go where they are not wanted.  Bugs and mice come in your house.  First people come….into your neighborhood.

Let’s just ignore the fact that the boundaries are completely artificial, and it was their habitat in the first place before they were colonized.

I’ve linked here to an image of racist US propaganda from WWII. Same thing, different context.  This is why white supremacists talk about “mud people.” Non-whites aren’t humans. So killing them is easier. And killing them is a duty, not a sin.

Goebbels used this metaphor to rationalize death camps:

“Since the flea is not a pleasant animal we are not obliged to keep it, protect it and let is prosper so that it may prick and torture us, but our duty is rather to exterminate it. Likewise with the Jew.”

William Porter, Chief of the US Chemical Warfare Service in 1944, said “The fundamental biological principles of poisoning Japanese, insects, rats, bacteria and cancer are essentially the same.”

This metaphor between humans, insects, and war is pernicious and common. It dehumanizes its target. It makes them less than human.

Please. Don’t let it go unchallenged.

Additional reading:

6 thoughts on “Pest Control: an old metaphor for racism

  1. “The fundamental biological principles of poisoning Japanese, insects, rats, bacteria and cancer are essentially the same.”

    Perhaps biologically the same, but not ethically the same. A human life is more than the sum of the biochemical functions in the tissues of a human body and killing another person is more than just stopping cells from functioning.

  2. Well the simple fact is he’s right. The USA’s chemcal weapons we’re like most of the worlds at the time, based on the G-series of gases, which were in turn based on Organophosphorus compounds (OPC’s). Guess what OPC’s are used in, thats right, nerve gases, insecticides, herbicides and anti cancer drugs among many others.

    When it comes to killing things with nerve agents, The fundamental biological principles are all the same.

  3. THAT IS NOT THE POINT.

    The point is that non-white folks are equated with pests. They didn’t say “humans and insects.” Neither did Goebbels.

    The thing I am pointing out here is that we make people we want to kill and exploit less than human.
    Sheesh.

  4. Bug Girl – did you happen to read this Editorial from Pat Boone (yes, that Pat Boone)? He writes:

    “All manner of parasites, vermin, roaches, rats, worms and termites find their way into the building. Long before they’re detected, they infiltrate the walls, the floors, the roofs – and then chew their way into the structure, the supporting beams and the very foundation of the house itself. Silently, surreptitiously, whole communities of invaders make places for themselves, hidden but thriving, totally unknown by the homeowner.”

    I am not able to give Mr Boone the benefit of the doubt.

    (I love your blog!)

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