On Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force communicated that Minnesotan dentist Walter James Palmer (first AND middle name? UH OH) tracked and killed protected lion Cecil, the result of paying more than $50,000 to hunt the famous animal of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. The news blew social media’s collective roof off in a steam of anger as hot and wild as anything I’ve seen in awhile.
The fervor was greater than the fallout from the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina; the mysterious, implausible death of Sandra Bland; and the movie theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana.
I’ve done enough venting about the lack of concern and empathy for murder victims — be it by the police, domestic terrorists, and peers (gangs, classmates, spouses, etc.). In particular, the deaths of unarmed black men and women are as haunting and horrifying as the muted responses from the media and fellow American citizens.
Why single out African Americans from this messy equation? Because the same energy that I’ve seen eulogize a lion and demonize a hunter in one day has been as vehement in silencing the protests of blacks against police brutality. The asinine hashtag #alllivesmatter is in its own reductive way a muzzle on the cries of a helpless, terrified populace that is scared that we could be the next victim of a power-mad, racist, ignorant killer that views us as less than human.
Less than human.
As I see the #CecilTheLion memorial tweets flow through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, I get angry. Sure, there were people that are outraged about Charleston, mad about Sandra, and still grieve about Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. But the racial climate in this country is such that discomfort and an incapacity to have insight into the suffering of others not sharing one’s own experiences — let alone skin color — are reasons enough to temper any meaningful dialogue on America’s deep-rooted, institutionalized racism.
(And no misguided, half-hearted attempts at “having a conversation about race” count. You either have the talk or you don’t. If you break up with someone, you don’t string them along with the words “We need to have a talk” and then walk away. Fuck that, and fuck you for beating around the bush.)
And gun control! Even the deaths of dozens of children in Sandy Hook weren’t enough to get a meaningful dialogue about gun control off the ground. (And the murders of people of color or women sure wouldn’t move the needle on meaningful legislation of firearms.) Fear of the NRA and gun lobbyists! Money over everything — even the lives of fellow human beings. How FUCKED is that?
But a lion is dead. A wildlife-protected lion. A lion that most people didn’t know existed until 24 hours ago. A lion that you’ll probably tweet out a hashtag for while squinting at a suspicious-looking person a few seats over on the bus.
It reminds me of how often I see dog owners that proclaim that their pet “saved them” or that their canine friend matters more than human beings. While their efforts of communicating their love for their animal pals may be rooted in hyperbole, the actions are evident and proof positive. This disregard for another person, this reduction, this compartmentalization …. It is honestly crazy to me that we can do that to each other.
And I am not saying that you can’t proclaim your love for animals and not mourn human beings; hell, it would be great if you had enough room in your head and heart to do two things at once. But it’s hard to prioritize which loud scream to aim for the echo chamber.
God, what will it take for people to stop willfully ignoring the plights of their brothers and sisters? Hey, should we dress all African Americans as lions and then finally mourn when one of them is killed? Maybe dress up in blue (or gold!) dresses and let the internet decide the color of their final outfit? Hey, maybe we can all wear mandated sunglasses that display everyone as white. Because the nervous silence, stifling arguments against intellectual discourse, and skillful dodging of the continued stain on our society is something long past the point of ignoring.
I know that it takes a personal connection to a hot-button issue for someone to change their thinking; we recently saw that with same-sex marriage and interracial marriage decades before that. And while that latter example may be enough to wipe your hands clean on racism chatter, think about the last time you talked about race in a way that wasn’t littered with two-bit jokes lifted from comedians or anti-intellectual talking points from Fox News or its ilk. When was the last time you thought of your one black friend or a coworker without grouping them in with “the black community” when something tragic happens? When did you ever catch yourself when describing someone as “one of the good ones” for not living up to the too-tired stereotypes that plague our media and general discourse?
Or maybe we can mourn another animal we have no real connection to.