Imagine if Black lives mattered as much as one gorilla’s

5 giugno, 2014 nessun commento


Over the past few days, my Facebook Timeline has been filled with fellow Cincinnati natives weighing in on the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s decision to execute a silverback gorilla named Harambe, thus ensuring the safety of the small child who fell into the gorilla’s habitat. If people are reacting out of the compassion we are taught to exercise toward non-human animals, the “passion” root is equally present: people of various ages, races, and general points of view are hurt and angry over Harambe’s death. They call for apology, for petition, for policy change, for the parent of the fallen child to be held responsible somehow. It’s not okay to kill a gorilla

The people are passionately compassionate—and with effect. The story is hitting national media; yesterday my partner caught footage of the encounter on CNN. Clearly, it matters how people feel, what they say about what is happening around them; their questions and their demands. In turn, the Zoo has defended its actions while lamenting its loss. Various experts have put forth their now moot prognoses of Harambe’s possible actions. There’s buzz, and meaning, memes, and some strange sort of solidarity in the air.

For centuries, Black people—specifically Black men—and gorillas have been linked, however latently, however insultingly, and definitely vividly since at least “King Kong”’s 1933 entrance into the cultural imagination. You know — the primitive monster who threatens both the sanctity and safety of the prodigal white woman. The same sort of beast that Flannery O’Connor, in her 1952 story “Enoch and the Gorilla,” describes as “hideous and black”: two words an inculcated dyad for those of us Black in an anti-Black society, reflected in a beast that supposedly reflects us.

But I think Harambe was beautiful. Dignified, strong; silver and black. Harambe is worth caring about, as are all our non-human animal counterparts (particularly those we have endangered), as is the overall issue of animal captivity, and the privileging of humans over the numerous (though disappearing) other species of our planet. With power comes the counterweight of compassion. If we choose not to eat animals, we are acting out of compassion. If we choose to eat animals, what is the most compassionate way to do so? If we, collectively, choose to confine animals, what is the most compassionate way to do so? Was the shooting of Harambe the most compassionate decision, the most judicious one—or neither, or both?

But, back to Black people, yeah? I was born and raised in Cincinnati. I remember, albeit fuzzily, the 2001 race riots following the police killing of an unarmed Black man named Timothy Thomas. By the August 2015 killing of unarmed Samuel DuBose (instigated, incidentally, by DuBose’s lack of a front license plate), I’d left the city; I didn’t even hear about the February 2016 killing of Paul Gaston. Truthfully, after six years of living out of state, I no longer feel very connected to Cincinnati, really only thinking of it through the experiences of my loved ones who are still there, along with the Facebook posts of high school classmates I haven’t spoken to in years.

Yet, despite my disconnect, I knew right away that Harambe had been killed, and knew right away how people felt about it: their pain and outrage, their unwillingness to let the death pass quietly. And in my scrolling I searched—hoped—for some post that would reflect what I was experiencing