- Purchase/rental options available:
As nineteenth-century scientific theories of racism sought to justify slavery and oppression by dehumanizing black people, popular abolitionist arguments often emphasized the humanity of enslaved black people by likening them to free white people, most popularly in the figure of the mixed-race hero(ine). Other abolitionist arguments, however, employed animals as points of familiar reference, in cross-species comparisons that did not simply repeat racist ideologies but solicited interracial sympathy. This essay reads abolitionist children’s literature that deployed a strategy of “animal humanism,” using domesticated animals to mediate their readers’ sympathy for enslaved people. Focusing on the parallel rhetorics of species and race in children’s literature, the essay centers its discussion on the abolitionist revision of Maria Susanna Cummins’s novel The Lamplighter (1854) in The Lamplighter Picture Book (1855), other abolitionist literature for children, and political cartoons in which species and racial difference figure. As pets are construed as both domesticated and domestic in these texts, the possibility of cross-species kinship presents a more proximate familiar relation than cross-racial kinship. Attention to these uses of domesticated animals reveals the limitations of sympathy that is more easily mediated through species rather than race. However, readings of the animal as not only familiar but familial open new possibilities for an abolitionist sympathy that has antiracist potential in its ability to be mediated through acknowledged positions of difference rather than a dependence on sameness.