Cecil the Lion, may your soul rest in peace. Although, I am beyond convinced that animals do not have souls, given the outrage that greeted the callous killing of this Lion it is almost like its status has been elevated from mere animal to that of a human being. In light of the outrage and protests over the killing of this Lion, however, there are lots of burning questions racing through my mind.
Why are Americans so furious over the killing of a Lion that is thousands of miles away but display eerie silence in the death of African-Americans in their own backyard? What are the psychological effects of centuries of violence in America, and the pervasiveness/glorification of violent images on the American people? How come four Senators from the political tribe, the Democratic Party, are so moved by the humanity of a Lion that they are willing to introduce a bill in its honor to prevent the importation of animal trophies, but the killing of black and brown citizens largely remain in their blind spot? No bills have been introduced to save us from the inhumanity of humankind.
Before you dismiss my point of view as being anthropocentric, let me state that I unequivocally condemn the senseless killing of Cecil the Lion in the strongest possible terms. All I’m trying to make sense of is the tsunami of outrage over the death of a Lion in Zimbabwe juxtaposed to the colossal indifference over the erosion of humanity in America.
Truth be told, as a student of history, I am not surprised at the lack of outrage over the killing of black and brown bodies in this society. It is nothing new; in fact it’s very American. And although the current killings at the hands of police are despicable it can actually be argued that we’ve made progress. After all, crowds of white men, women, and children used to gather in their thousands to watch the lynching of blacks that consisted of prolonged torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and/or setting them on fire.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, 3,959 Blacks were lynched between 1877 and 1950. Sam Hose, a man who was lynched on April 23, 1899, was one of many in a long line of tyranny against African Americans. Hose was tied to a tree, his ears, fingers and genitals were cut off and he was later set on fire. The remains of his body were sliced into pieces and distributed as souvenirs amongst the 2,000 people that witnessed the gruesome execution, and his knuckles were displayed on sale at local stores. To be clear, I am not talking about ISIS or describing the ways in which some third world country has inflicted horror on its people; I am talking about the experience of African Americans living on the soil of the United States, the bastion of democracy, the beacon of human rights, the representation of freedom in the world.
What does surprise me, however, is that a black man and a white man were both treated similarly in the court of public opinion in America when they exhibited extreme cruelty to animals. In 2007, NFL star Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for bankrolling a dogfighting operation. Vick’s act of cruelty caused him his career wise as well as significant financial losses to the tune of $142 million. Despite the fact that he had paid his debt to the society by serving time in prison, in 2010 about 100 protesters picketed an award ceremony that chose Michael Vick as the recipient of Ed Block Courage Award honor. The same scenario happened again in 2014 when a large group of people showed up at the Strand Theater in Shreveport, Louisiana to picket his comedy show.
In like manner, Dr. Walter Palmer, a white dentist who had admitted to killing Cecil the Lion has been greeted with global condemnation and volcanic eruption of protesters back in America. Protesters picketed his office to express their anger, his dental office in Bloomington, MN has been closed, and his whereabouts remains unknown as he has not been seen at his million-dollar home. The White House online petition seeking Dr. Palmer’s extradition to Zimbabwe has received more than 200, 000 signatures, while some are equally calling on the America Dental Association (ADA) for the permanent revocation of his license through a separate online petition.
The outrage, sympathy and justice animals get in America makes you want to think that it’s better to an animal in United States than being a person of color. The trillion dollar question remains, why do animals get legislation to prevent future reoccurrence of animal cruelty while there’s no single legislation to stop the terroristic killings of blacks and browns, other than camera on cops?
Violence is foundational to the founding in America, be it the centuries of violence against the Indigenous Peoples or African-Americans. As a matter of fact, it’s safe to conclude that violence in America has attained the status of religion. Violence against black and brown people in so common place in America, that in many ways we’ve become desensitized to it.
Desensitization to any given ailment is not only an American problem – every nation has its own type of vice that they’ve accepted as the norm. For instance, graft is no news in Nigeria; the stratospheric levels of corruption are so endemic that we’ve been numbed to corruption. In 2014, Lamido Sanusi, the former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria reported that $20 billion was missing from the nation’s oil sector, nothing happened! News broke about a couple of weeks ago that a Nigerian minister stole $9.3 billion, Nigerians are no longer shocked at this corruption because it has been widely accepted as a way of life.
Over 150,000 people have died of in the U.S. since 9/11 due to gun violence and this doesn’t bother us as a people. The only shooting that shook us a bit was Sandy Hook and that was because 20 innocent children were killed. Unfortunately, 3 months after the senseless killing Americans sympathy waned!
This is my only explanation for the traction that the death of Cecil has garnered with the American people. The wave of condemnation that Dr. Walter Palmer has experienced so far is not necessarily against violence in and of itself, but the criticism came because of who was on the receiving end of the violence – a Lion, albeit a famous one. It all comes down to a value proposition, animals are highly regarded as companions in this society; people are not. This culture of individualism has damaged us so much that we are not even able to recognize who we are as humans anymore so that we mourn the loss of an animal but can’t muster a few tears for our black brothers and sisters.