June 1, 2019 | by Jabari Brisport
As far as I can tell, there are no furriers left in Harlem. Way before Prada became the latest fashion giant to ban fur, the black community joined others in seeing fur as a cruel accessory rather than a status symbol.
Long ago, Michelle Obama and Oprah announced that they only wear faux. Taraji P. Henson and Wendy Williams posed for PETA’s “Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign. Last month, a Mason-Dixon poll commissioned by Voters for Animals Rights found that 77% of black New York City voters support the City Council bill to ban the sale of new fur.
That’s why I was puzzled to read that among all of today’s racial crises, a Harlem preacher devoted time and resources to fill buses for multiple rallies at City Hall to fight for the right to buy new fur coats.
“Fur has given black people standing, fortitude and strength in the face of bigotry,” Rev. Johnnie Green announced to the press.
Green’s posts promoting the “protests,” at least those I have seen, made no mention of fur whatsoever. “Free field trip to City Hall, free lunch, and a chance to win a $250 AMEX gift card,” one tweet proclaimed. Once there, his black flock was photographed having posters thrust into their hands by white organizers.
As one of many African American animal activists who testified at the hearing in favor of the ban, I found it insulting that the fur trade would use my community as a smokescreen.
The fur industry is notoriously cruel, as you can see in online videos from fur farms — if you can stomach watching it. Driven insane from being locked in tiny cages, animals pace or spin constantly. Some gnaw on their own limbs or tails. Killing is often done by anal electrocution, but it doesn’t always work. Some animals are still alive — and in agony — while the skin is torn from their bodies.
Trapping is no better. Animals are often left to suffer for days, and ensnared mothers who are desperate to return to their young have even been known to chew off their trapped leg to escape.
It was distressing to hear Green champion fur as a sign of “status” and “achievement” for black Americans. As a public school teacher, I’m all too aware of how obsessed children are with the latest phone or the fanciest sneakers. I see how it hurts kids to grow up believing that their value is determined by what they own. Religious leaders should be reminding our youth that the important things in life are neither material possessions nor opportunities to flaunt wealth.
Alongside the claim that a fur ban would be racist, the largely white fur trade complains about a loss of jobs. Any black person versed in American history knows that even if these claims weretrue, potential job loss is not an adequate reason to keep an immoral industry afloat.
Times change, fashion evolves and industries adapt. It’s already happening, as demand for real fur has plummeted and textile manufacturers are now creating faux furs out of environmentally responsible materials such as recycled bottles. My winter coat is lined with that plush type of faux fur.
A ban would ensure that our laws are in line with our ethics as a city and would encourage more innovation, creating jobs and feeding our economy.
Many black vegans and black animal rights activists are rightfully shocked that furriers have brought race into this discussion. I’ve marched with Black Lives Matter in Charlottesville and gotten hit with tear gas by white supremacists. I’ve been arrested while protesting a luxury housing development in Crown Heights.
I know what a threat to the black community looks like. This fur ban ain’t it.
Brisport, a math teacher and community activist in Brooklyn, is on the board of Voters for Animal Rights.