Got Milk? Make A Political Statement
It may seem strange, but in recent years, milk has been chosen as a symbol of racial purity by the alt-right. The essay summarized in this article examines how lactose tolerance has come to symbolize white supremacy.
The author notes that claims about milk, lactose tolerance, race and masculinity first surfaced in the 19th when England colonized India and the Chinese island of Hong Kong. Colonizers eating a western diet believed it made them more masculine and therefore more dominant, enabling them to defeat and subjugate the ‘effeminate corn and rice eaters’ of China and India. This was a widespread stereotype of the day and not seen as racist. Meanwhile, the aura of so-called science lent respectability to the belief that the superiority of the English and other northern Europeans was the product of a more meat-centered diet.
Meat and dairy consumption were also used as a symbol of ‘white privilege’ during this period to differentiate the white male workers from the immigrants who were again cast as ‘effeminate rice eaters.’ Immigrant diets were perceived as a threat to white manhood.
Milk pasteurization began in the latter part of the 19th century though it did not become ubiquitous until the 1920’s and 1930’s. Because much of the Asian population is lactose intolerant, milk began to embody not only technological superiority but became an identifier of white citizenship. The consumption of milk and other dairy products became synonymous with the physical, educational, scientific, and artistic superiority of the white race.
The author notes that the hypothesized connection between dairy consumption and white supremacy was resurrected more recently to explain western prosperity. Academics and the media have posited a link between economic outcomes and lactose tolerance. According to this theory, the ability to absorb the calories and nutrients in milk and dairy allowed these (mostly European) populations to outstrip lactose-intolerant populations in physical health, innovation, and technological development. As this strange logic goes, today’s inequality in wealth between peoples and nations was the result.
But, obviously, this theory has some crucial flaws. For starters, it fails to explain the rise of China: most Chinese are lactose-intolerant and yet China has built an enormous, thriving nation that has lasted for millennia. Nor does it explain the opposite phenomenon: parts of Africa, the Middle East, and south India are lactase-persistent but were colonized by Europeans despite this supposed biological advantage. And all of this assumes causation when the only thing observable is a highly limited correlation.
Other “researchers” have gone even further. Beliefs in freedom of choice, equality of opportunity and the value of human life are linked with lactose tolerance. Personal achievement and lower crime rates, mediated by temperament and impulse control, are also attributed to lactose tolerance. These theories hide covert racism under the guise of genetic adaptations.
The author concludes that history is repeating itself. In the early 21st century, fears of stagnant or falling wages and anxiety about immigration drove a need to reassert the privilege of the white American male. Consuming animal products differentiates this group from the ‘others’, those deemed not white, not masculine, and not truly a citizen. “Soy boy” has replaced “effeminate rice eater,” but the underlying belief system of white superiority remains unchanged.
This essay should be of interest to animal advocates because it demonstrates how a simple act such as drinking milk can symbolize an entrenched political ideology. In this case, those on the far right of the political spectrum see milk as the quintessential symbol of racial purity. Political beliefs tend to be strongly held and resistant to change. Group members may define behavioral norms, and these can serve as a litmus test for inclusion. Those who hold to this type of extreme ideology will strongly resist attempts to influence their opinions.