The Ethics Of… Racist Milk

Yeah you read that right. Bear with me here – I can’t promise this one gets any more rational the further we dig into it, but it does get pretty funny, so there’s that.

You can say a lot of things about milk. You can say it’s delicious. You can observe how many products we’ve managed to integrate it into. You can wonder how it’s possible UHT milk seems to last such an uncanny amount of time. And of course, you can allow the thought to intrude that it might be a bit weird that so many of us regularly drink the lactation of another species, and don’t think there’s anything weird about that.

And it would be incorrect to say that milk has never been a political topic. Whether it’s farmer exploitation, methane emissions (Ha! Cow farts), ‘bath milk’ (you’re not fooling anyone guys), veganism, animal rights, or even urban planning – milk has been the centre of a surprising number of political debates.

Racism, however, has not traditionally been one of those debates.

Or so you’d think.

Seriously, buckle up for this one, it’s about to get weird.

Did you know that lactose intolerance it actually far more normal that you probably thought? Yeah, that whole ‘drinking the lactate of another animal’ thing is not actually universal, and it turns out you need to be doing that for a very long time for your body to be used to it. So for those of certain European ancestries, the enzymes necessary to easily digest milk (lactase) is common, because our ancestors sure did love their non-human lactatations.

But for other communities, this is not the case. You may already know that Asian communities in particular don’t really drink milk that much. Maybe you thought that was just a cultural thing, but it turns out there’s a more practical reason: Asian people, and most non-European communities in general, are lactose intolerant to some degree or another.

It’s a strange genetic quirk that doesn’t really have all that much of a consequence to it really. A useless factoid you might bring up at a party (or in a blog) to sound smart, but not really information you can do anything with. It is in fact even more useless considering recent economic booms in south-east Asian nations such as China and Indonesia, which have lead many citizens of those countries to embrace dairy as luxury products, lactose intolerance be damned. And before you laugh at them for quite literally poisoning themselves for the sake of status, do take a moment to consider the utterly idiotic shit we do in Western nations for the same cause.

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“Notice meeeeeee!”

Or alternatively, “PENIS!”

But never let it be said that humans can’t find a way to crowbar any fact into supporting their beliefs – because it turns out the newly-resurgent white supremacist movements popping up everywhere at the moment have decided the European predisposition to being able to drink milk easily, is a sign of genetic superiority.

Or as the people pushing this theory might put it: ‘ME DRINK MILK GOOD. ME BETTER THAN YOU.’

Before we go any further, I think it’s important to take a moment just to acknowledge my feelings on this topic so far;

Can we just all take a moment to register how fucking idiotic it is that this conversation ever came about? I am a grown-arse human being, sitting here and writing an article on the ethical and political implications… of racist milk. A necessary topic? Fine, sure. But let’s be clear here – this is not normal. This cannot be normal. To write this, I have had to research the genetic legacy of milk consumption. I’ve needed to watch videos of Nazis talking about the relevance of milk to their political goals. And 5 minutes ago, I watched a video of half a dozen doughy, shirtless white boys chugging milk as a form of protest against an art installation by Shia LeBeouf, which in turn was in protest of Donald Trump’s presidency.

That was not a joke.

I swear, if there is ever going to be proof that we live in a computer simulation, this year has gotten pretty close to it. I think our ‘programmer’ might have been getting bored and decided to up the stakes a bit.

So the question naturally arises; if I think this topic is so absurd, why am I writing an article about it? Well, partly because it was a request and I love me a request. Partly because it’s friggin’ hilarious, because seriously – chubby topless protesters chugging milk.

But partly also, because it might actually work. The racists might actually manage to secure milk as a symbol of white nationalism. That would be a problem, because creating symbology like that can be remarkably effective in making your ideas wide-spread, and more importantly, normal.

That might seem like a stretch, but just consider some of the other powerful symbols we already acknowledge; the swastika started out as a Hindu symbol for goodness and is now literally banned in some countries because of its association with Nazis. But that’s an extreme case, surely? It’s not like these basement dwellers have pulled off a world war recently, so why would I worry that their milk fetish might have any sort of influence?

But the same logic works on less intense levels too. Consider the gay rights movement’s use of the rainbow as their symbol; one of nature’s most stunning and beautiful displays, co-opted to represent an entire political movement. What a win! There’s a reason the anti-gay marriage movement is working so hard to undermine that link.

A real poster found in Sydney, Australia, illustrating the wonderful ‘debate’ we currently have going about gay marriage, thanks to our delightful Federal Government. Urgh.

Such symbolism doesn’t even need to be explicit to be powerful; remember up there how I bemoaned the idiocy of fashion? Well why is it exactly that upper-middle class Asians are willing to poison themselves to drink milk? Why is it that we hold sports cars in such esteem despite their ridiculousness for use on anything other than a racetrack? Why the hell do women wear make-up, high heels or shave their armpits when all three of those things make their lives worse on every practical level?

Because we don’t value those things for their inherent qualities. We value them for what they symbolise to ourselves and to others. Those projected meanings might not make any objective sense, and in many cases, might even be blatantly hypocritical (remind me again how high heels become a sign of female empowerment when they require you to literally cripple yourself in order to show off your arse?). But like it or not, this symbology is real, and it is powerful.

So, if the link between milk and white supremacy were ever to become one that was commonly recognised, what could the consequences of that end up being? Probably nothing good, I’d suggest.

So what do we do about this stupid, stupid topic?

On the one hand it’s tempting to ignore it and hope it goes away. It’s such a blatantly idiotic thing to be proud about, such a massive reach in association between lactose tolerance and ‘racial superiority’ that I doubt even the white nationalists take it seriously. So ignore it and it’ll go away, right? But if the rise of Trump taught us anything, it was that underestimating self-evidently false ideas is a really bad idea. After all, if being obviously wrong was enough to defeat an idea then white supremacism and racism in general would have dried up years ago. But here we are.

But on the other hand the rise of Trump has also made it clear that action against such symbolism can be just as dangerous, or possibly even worse. Remember that time during the US election campaign when a frog meme was flagged as a hate symbol?

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Sure that meme is closely tied to 4Chan, which is a pretty well-known online swamp of regressive politics, and the decision to brand the meme as a hate symbol may well have been legitimate given how 4Chan was collectively behaving during the election campaign. But that does not change the fact that it looked just straight up ridiculous. To re-cap;

You’re attempting to suppress a picture of a frog.

Because a particular group commonly uses it.

To promote political ideas you don’t agree with.

Legitimate or not, that looks like straight up censorship if you spin it right, and badly misguided censorship at that. So you’re not trying to engage with the group, or defeat their ideas on their own merit – you’re just going to go after their funny frog picture? Yeah, that’ll help.

Imagine trying this same approach with this milk bullshit; outright acknowledging that white supremacists think their ability to drink milk demonstrates their superiority, and then combatting that argument using evidence and rhetoric. Sounds good on paper, but in practice what you just did was take an inherently silly idea seriously. And despite the fact that it was the white supremacists that came up with it in the first place, I absolutely guarantee you that they would mock the shit out anyone who took them seriously, using it as ‘proof; of how soft, triggered and weak progressives are.

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It’s the “It’s just a prank, bro!” of political discourse. If you don’t take a serious position on anything you never have to defend anything and can just snipe at other peoples’ beliefs with zero risk. Kinda like Socratic Dialogue, funnily enough, though there’s not a lot of debating that Socrates was also a massive troll.

So if ignoring this milk racism won’t make it go away, and engaging them seriously could actually lend them both legitimacy and a stick to beat us with, then what do we do?

Simple really. We mock them.

That might seem somewhat hypocritical from someone who frequently writes about the importance of understanding and reconciling with your opponents, but when your opponents refuse to take a solid position so they don’t have to be accountable to one, believe in violent and clearly disproven ideas, and clearly enjoy believing in those ideas as a form of social defiance, that is an audience you are not winning over. At this point they take disagreement as a badge of honour. Engaging with them just reinforces their stance. What is needed here is containment.

And that’s the subtle beauty of mockery – it’s unlikely to win anyone over to your side, but it’s a mighty fine way of keeping people away from your opposition. And in regard to this topic in particular, the alt right has made the job incredibly easy.

Here is a group that claims they are genetically superior to other races, and have chosen to demonstrate this by getting a bunch of tubby wankers to chug high fat beverages in public. A lot of words come to mind here, but ‘genetically superior’ is not among them.

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Check out for similar examples.

These idiots would have us believe that their ancestral ability to drink milk shows their racial superiority over other cultures. Dunno about you, but the fact that my ancestors decided to suckle at the teat of another species seems a bit fucked up quite frankly. The fact they did it consistently enough to develop a tolerance for what was self-evidently an unnatural practice just makes it worse.

And doesn’t the fact that we developed the ability to process lactose mean that we didn’t have it for a really long time? Meaning multiple generations of my European ancestors chose to power through waves of bloating, indigestion, vomiting and diarrhea just for the pleasure of that fresh, non-human cow lactate.

Seriously ancestors, what the fuck.

But you know the best bit about this white-power milk drinking fetish? Turns out lactose tolerance isn’t exclusive to Europeans after all. Turns out there’s actually quite a large number of communities in Africa that love themselves some milk as well. So at this point our poor little racists get to make a choice – either milk drinking is not the greatest proof that your genes make you special, or else you’re going to have to include Ethiopians in your exclusive genetic superiority club.

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The really ironic thing about this is that this woman is almost guaranteed to be fitter than a first-world racist by almost any metric.

You see what we just did here? We didn’t ignore the argument and allow it to fester, nor did we confront it and give the dickheads a fight they wanted. Instead we took the stick from their hands and gave them a beating with it. In fact I’m so stoked about the obvious and hilarious idiocy of this ‘Milk drinking makes me superior’ argument that I now really want to make sure it stick around and comes to prominence. Why? Because if we play it right, this attempt by the racists to seize a powerful symbol could completely backfire in their faces. Instead of becoming a grand victory to spread and normalise their views it could become the precise opposite; a grand and glorious monument to the utter, profound, oblivious stupidity of their ideas and the foolishness of anyone that follows them.

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

4 thoughts on “The Ethics Of… Racist Milk

  1. As I understood it, the milk drinking came about because of the gene mutation, not the other way round. Those with the mutation were able to take nurishment when other food sources were scarce and therefore tended to be more successful than those who were lactose intolerant. The mutation doesn’t give the holders any advantage where there’s no cattle, which explains why it remains relatively rare outside of Europe and north and east Africa.

    I can recall when our diary industry developed the milk biscuit thinking it would be the answer to solving malnutrition in areas suffering famine. It didn’t take long before it was realised that most of the world is not particularly lactose tolerant. I think that would have been in the 1960s.

    If my memory of primary school social studies is correct, communities in northern Africa were the first to domesticate cattle so it’s not surprising that the gene mutation is prevalent in that region. I imagine the life of a lactose intolerant member of the Maasai people would be rather unpleasant and short as milk plays a large part in their diet.

    • Hi Barry, thanks for the comment and sorry for the delay replying. Good point regarding the gene mutation. Agreed, it’s pretty clear how the ability to drink animal milk would be an advantage given how energy-rich it is. Great example with the milk biscuit! I’d never heard of that. What a great case study!

  2. Pingback: The Ethics Of… Kneeling During the National Anthem | The Ethics Of

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