Racist, sexist roots of Black cats and witches

Few people realize this, but black cats and witches became symbols of evil in a deeply racist, speciesist, and perhaps especially sexist society. The discrimination against black cats is not unlike discrimination against humans for their skin color; in this case it’s their fur color. The black may have to do with equating darkness with the devil and light with heaven, which is just as artificial as lumping all “black people” into one (socially constructed) category. The supposed evil of black cats has gone unchallenged as anything more than a matter of superstition due to speciesism. Stephanie Ernst wrote a blog post a while back about how animals, just like humans, face discrimination when it comes to adoption – whether it has to do with age, ability, or superstition.

Witches, of course, were exclusively women accused of being possessed by demons (at least, this is the origin of  the traditional Halloween witch). Calling on Wikipedia:

The patriarchal beliefs that Puritans held in the community added further stresses. Women, they believed, should be totally subservient to men. By nature, a woman was more likely to enlist in the Devil’s service than was a man, and women were considered lustful by nature.

Let us not forget how hideous witches have been portrayed, playing off of the “male gaze,” which socially constructs women as visual objects with visual appeal the definition of good. Furthermore, cats’ association with women(*) became their liability. While the traditional Halloween witch may nowadays cause little more direct discrimination than the pejorative of calling a woman a “witch,” black cats are still directly shunned. When I was a kid (and I’m only a few years out of high school now), my mom would warn me about black cats. No mention of witches, though. Only demons and ghosts and black cats.

For whatever reason, black dogs also happen to face discrimination, according to animal shelters.

*I read about this in a book titled Animals and Women, edited by Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan.

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~ by Louëlla on October 31, 2009.

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