I am Black.
I am a vegetarian.
The internet is ablaze after pictures of a Minnesotan, “Trohpy Hunter” dentist, Dr. Walter Palmer posed with his kill “fan favorite” #CeciltheLion. Protests are being staged outside of his practice, which remains closed, opposers have posted horrendous Yelp reviews, and he is encased in an internet shit storm. I have a lot of reactions to this story, outrage, side-eye, and some face palms. What this story has done most of all, however, is made me reflect on my aforementioned identities, and seek to understand how we collectively apply outrage as a society. I have analyzed and re-analyzed this story top to bottom and side to side, so we will break it up into parts:
On digesting the story, while Black:
As of July 30, 2015 there have only been nine days were the police haven’t killed anyone. Nine. And as we well know, a disproportionate number of these victims have been Black. Black people are victims of state violence at alarming rates in this country. This hurts: to constantly see our death on loop on cable news, to listen to pundits and politicians blame us for the violence we are victims to, to be erased. So when I see hundreds of thousands of people mourning a lion halfway across the globe, while simultaneously spewing some #AllLivesMatter bullshit, part of me is a little pissed.
I’ve seen less outrage from White people over the deaths of Sandra Bland, Kalief Browder, and Walter Scott combined than over a lion. Video footage outside of Palmer’s practice shows majority White protestors holding up signs and decrying their outrage. In fact, many seem to have turned this into a family event with the protestors spanning age ranges. I can’t help but think of all the families that locked their doors and closed their shades during the unrest in Baltimore. Why were they not in the streets fighting for justice? Were they frightened of Black rage?
The collective White outrage has led many Black people to raise the question on social media of whether or not they would be mourned and respected after death if they were to dress up as lions. This is the state of our society. The deaths of numerous members of the Black community have not garnered the same outrage as the death of a lion.
However, the calls of outrage ring a familiar tune. Thousands of people are questioning the character of Dr. Palmer, yet I’ve seen far fewer (hardly any) real critiques of the colonial, patriarchal system that created the environment and social conditions for such an event to happen in the first place. Did the imagery of Palmer with a dead Cecil, not raise a red flag in our collective memory? Similar to the way I see “bad apple” rhetoric applied to police officers that kill Black people, there is a large critique from White people about the character of the individual officer, but no real connections made to the legacy of state violence against Black bodies and institutional racism.
On digesting the story while vegetarian:
Jimmy Kimmel got all choked up, while talking about the death of #CeciltheLion and encouraged viewers to donate to the Wildlife Research Conservation Unit. Well, I’m sure Jimmy was really sad, but I side-eyed the hell out of his speech (and we won’t even begin to dissect him insulting Palmer’s masculinity, there is literally so much to unpack there). Tell me Jimmy how many pounds of meat had you eaten that day???
If we can muster up all of this outrage over #CeciltheLion, why not for the many animals that die at factory farms for our dinner tables, school cafeterias, and steak houses? The answer is people at least see a direct connection between factory farming and their daily lives. They know they are complicit in a system that brutalizes animals for profit, so they turn a blind eye towards this violence (I realize I too am partly complicit in this, while I have taken strides to cut dairy our of my life, I do still eat it). However, when it comes to this lion and their complicity in maintaining a colonial, patriarchal power system that created the conditions for such a tragedy to occur, the connection is slightly less obvious.
On digesting the story while Black and vegetarian:
Since we do not only exist as one identity at a time, I have looked at this story simultaneously as a vegetarian and a Black person. I’m incredibly upset by the reaction I’m seeing to this entire debacle.
Black people in this country often feel that we are treated worse than animals. Police officers rarely go to jail or even face consequences for killing unarmed Black citizens, but we have seen a police officer get fired for shooting a dog. Many Black people are asking why are we not better than animals?
I know I am asking this question, and there is something viscerally wrong with treating Black people worse than animals. But…there is also a problem with me situating human life as higher than animal life, many would call this call this speciesism. However, my speciesism must be situating in a larger socio-historical context. Racist eugenics and pseudo science were used to legitimize racism and White supremacy for centuries and that work has had enduring effects. Black people have been likened to animals as a way to justify the brutalization and exploitation of our bodies and spirits. So there is centuries worth of reasons for why so many Black people are upset over the White outrage over #CeciltheLion.
There is a lot to be outraged about in this world and there always will be. We can’t be outraged about everything all of the time; it would kill us. I have heard a variety of responses to Black and Vegan/Vegetarian frustration with the reaction to Cecil’s death, but what comes up most often is “Well people can be upset about more than one thing”. Well, yes. I have yet to see anyone try and dispute this fact. I myself am a person who is often upset about several things in society simultaneously. The problem is the disparities in outrage we are seeing. The problem is that it seems that many white people do not think that Black lives matter. The problem is that most people don’t what to know how their food got to their plate. Further, the people upset about this disparity in outrage are not pro trophy hunting or anti-lion. They are just tired, and upset, and enraged, and hurt. We have put our souls into fighting for Black liberation, for animal liberation, and it frequently feels like the fight is never ending. So we are understandably enraged when thousands of people in this
country around the world can drum up sympathy and support for Cecil, but are silent when an unnamed pig or an unarmed Black person are murdered.
I don’t want people to stop being outraged by trophy hunting. I don’t want people to stop mourning Cecil. I want them to wake up to the other injustices of the world and dismantle the systems that make trophy hunting happen in the first place, and while they’re at it they can unlearn the biases that lead them to devalue animal life and Black life. The rest of us will remain fighting.
Colonialism, Slavery, and European global domination as a whole have shaped our understanding of Africa in innumerable ways. The exotification and fetishization of animals like Cecil is a big part of this story. So is our social construction of masculinity. I’d like to write on this, but I’m exhausted and I welcome others to give it a try.
Here are some other noteworthy takes:
Roxanne Gay for The New York Times: “Of Lions and Men: Mourning Samuel Dubose and Cecil the Lion”
Katherine Cross on Feministing: “Instead of trolling a lion hunter, we should #SayHerName”
The following discussion on The Melissa Harris Perry Show on 8/2: