Cats Are Not Racists

The title might seem absurd. But I don’t think it is absurd to consider racism in other species, or the central core of racism: colour prejudice. And that phrase “colour prejudice” is an interesting one because with respect to domestic cats, although it has never been studied directly, there is no evidence for colour prejudice among cats. And the concept of feline colour prejudice might be seen if a tabby cat spurned the attentions of a black tom cat but we never see it. Domestic cats are colour blind when it comes to observing and assessing other cats or that is the way it appears.

Beautiful stray cat
Beautiful stray cat. Tabby-and-white. Photo in public domain.
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I have a theory about that. Domestic cats are not tribal. Although over 10,000 years of domestication they have become quite sociable, at their core they are solitary creatures. This quality was, as we know, inherited from their wild cat ancestor the North African wildcat (African-Asian wildcat). Because they are not tribal they can’t be racist.

Conversely, if an animal is tribal they can be racist (and normally are) because in my opinion racism is built upon tribalism. Racism is a form of tribalism which is what I’m trying to say. And humans like other primates such as chimpanzees are tribal.

I have always thought this and I’ve always believed that institutionalised racism is inherent in humankind because we are tribal in nature. Sir Peter Bazalgette writing for the Financial Times pleasingly agrees with me. He sums it up nicely when he says: “We humans, like other primates, are naturally tribal. We are loyal to those we identify with – by nationality, skin colour or football club – and hostile to those outside in other “tribes”. This empathy for our in-group is the basis of racism as well as patriotism.”

As I said, that sums it up beautifully. The link is our evolution from primates to humans and the fact that primates are essentially tribal and territorial. This leads humankind to racism. Humans are constantly struggling with an inherently racist character. I believe that every human on the planet is racist, it is just a question of how each individual controls it and suppresses it. Many people suppress it almost completely whereas those humans who behave more instinctively through a lack of education express their racism more readily, which is why you see it in football crowds very often (a working class sport).

So back to the domestic cat. This is one major area where they are different to their human caretakers. They don’t demonstrate a colour prejudice against other cats, which is amply demonstrated when they choose a mate. The colour of the coat of the mate that they choose is not a factor.

The reason why domestic cats have such a wide range of coats compared to the highly restricted and limited range of camouflaged wild cats is because of human intervention. People vary in their tastes, and cultures vary in their tastes too. This has resulted in a wide range of coat types and colours because of people engaging in informal selective breeding over millennia. People select cat with a type of coat and then allow that cat to breed.

Left to their own devices, the early tabby domestic cats in ancient Egypt (and there were only tabby cats in ancient Egypt) would probably still be the same today, because the tabby coat is the best camouflage. But modern domestic cats don’t need camouflage because their role is to entertain us and be our companions. In fact the opposite is true: bright coats and intricate patterns delight people and this is a form of entertainment.

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1 thought on “Cats Are Not Racists”

  1. Oddly enough, we had only one cat for 16 years and because she was The Perfect Cat we will not have another–also I turn out to be allergic to cat dander (long story). She fought other cats a lot–but those cats that seemed to bother her the most were cats that looked like her–dark brown tigers; the cat she got along best with was solid white and grey areas.

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