Mad Butcher op ed

Originally published at scoop.co.nz

The Mad Butcher debacle has captivated the country with all the dramatics of a season finale of Shortland Street. And let’s face it, Sir Peter Leitch is every bit as kiwi as Shorty and just as loved.

According to one shopper interviewed outside the Mad Butcher store in Manukau last week by a Stuff reporter, Leitch is a ‘good guy’. He is a ‘good guy’, said this Mad Butcher customer, because ‘he is a well-known New Zealand personality’.

Surely to qualify as a ‘good guy’ one might need more than just notoriety as the number one criteria? But then his popularity is based on his media shaped image as a person who is down to earth, mad as a meat axe and an all-around good bloke.

New Zealanders are not always too flash at questioning the status quo.

So, hats off to Lara Bridger for speaking out when Leitch called Waiheke Island a ‘white man’s island’. What makes Leitch think he has the power to define who belongs on Waiheke Island?

The answer to this question is multifaceted and deserves our full attention.

Let’s begin with Leitch himself. Of course Leitch’s justified his racist rant as ‘banter’. For him, that is what it was. I can guarantee that he has never had to analyse his underpinning assumptions, motivations and values based on his position as a white, pakeha wealthy male. Let me state uncategorically that there is no such things as ‘banter’ when it comes to assertions of power and superiority based on racial categories.

Neither should it be reduced to ‘casual racism’ as described in the media.

Leitch’s comments are more salt in the wound of New Zealand’s painful history of ingrained colonial attitudes of superiority and white man’s privilege. There is absolutely nothing ‘casual’ about that.

And there is a deep-seated irony in Leitch being called out as a racist that has not been picked up on yet. Leitch has profited enormously from the suffering, abuse and violent deaths of animals. In this respect he is in the same league as other well-known New Zealanders such as Sir Peter Tolley and many others thoughout Western history since the invention of slaughterhouses in the 1890s. He could also be likened to the railroad barons in America who demanded and enabled the slaughter of the bison.

Given the historical and existential similarity between the slave trade and the meat trade, being called out as a racist is entirely fitting. Leitch’s absolute and totalising speciesism ( the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals) runs parallel to his racism.

Animal liberation is , of course, a cause that many have yet to embrace. This is probably nearly all of us are party to the exploitation and abuse that allows men such as Leitch to become rich. However, what has finally been revealed about the Mad Butcher with this fiasco is this – those who abuse and disrespect animals also show disrespect for humans in equal measures.

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