This is how white supremacy works.
People are more outraged by the murder of a beloved Lion halfway across the world than by the murder of countless Black and Brown women, men, and children in the United States and across the planet.
A few nights ago, Jimmy Kimmel gave an impassioned speech about the lion, where he held back tears because of how tragic it was that a lion was killed. His problematic jab and use of sexual dysfunction to discredit the dentist aside, it was interesting to see a white heterosexual man on television, the perceived epitome of “America”, get as emotional as the compulsory patriarchal masculinity allows. His monologue was shared throughout the inter-webs, attached with a call for “justice”.
Articles, tweets, youtube videos, and the rest of the [Western] internet has gone ablaze with Cecil the Lion and finding the man responsible. The dentist, identified as Walter Palmer, has apparently decided to close his practice, as many enraged users angrily raided his Yelp and Facebook page. Clearly, people are upset.
But what is so striking about this reaction is that those same people who are enraged by the death of a lion are silent when another hashtagged name appears on Twitter alongside #BlackLivesMatter. We can hashtag #CecilTheLion but not the name of another murdered Black man, woman, or child in the US.
We are not allowed to mourn the death of lives who in our current society are valued less. And in our country, we are not allowed to mourn the death of Black men, Black women, Black children, Black transpeople, people of Color. We are only allowed to mourn the death of white bodies, and even some of those bodies, especially when they are poor, homeless, gay, lesbian, queer, and trans, are made invisible and deemed unworthy of remembrance.
But the lion, Cecil, isn’t white. Cecil isn’t even human. Then why does he get the privilege of outrage while so many others, like Sandra Bland, do not? Why must we seek justice for Cecil but not for Trayvon Martin? Even more daunting is how Cecil has received much more media attention than others suffering and dying in the same country and continent. We can become outraged when a white man kills a lion, but when that same body commits genocide, funds wars, and abuses the neoliberal economic landscape to plunder, we don’t call out for justice.
White Supremacy is always trying to survive. Gone are the days of the literal physical bloodied violence that consumed our world at the inception of colonial globalization (at least on a mass scale), but it has not gone away, simply transformed and become more cunning. The White Liberalism that has taken over the US is one where it becomes admirable to fight for the rights of the trees in South American rainforests but too radical to want to address how we are poisoning poor communities across the US through corporate waste. White Liberalism is donating five dollars to an NGO for malnourished children in SouthEast Asia while (willfully) ignoring the children being held in detention centers at the border. White Liberalism is what allows us to be upset about Cecil the Lion but try to justify the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy shot by police in Cleveland, Ohio.
White supremacy is insidious, knowing that to survive it cannot only value the lives of wealthy cis heterosexual white men, it must also value other lives to appear fair and just. And so, when a lion is murdered, it gives it value, allowing us to feel empathy for the Lion, his cubs, and his tribe.
But when it comes to going on twitter and tweeting #BlackLivesMatter…
Radical. Controversial. Divisive. Reverse Racist. #AllLivesMatter
And so on. This is how White Supremacy works. It lets us cry for a Lion, but not for our Black brothers and sisters.
Look. Im not saying we can’t be sad and enraged for Cecil. Be sad and angry. There is merit in addressing the fact that a white wealthy man is able to go to Africa and kill for sport and (almost) go unpunished. But when the next name that is hashtagged – the next person killed by police in the US, and you don’t feel sadness, rage, anger, despair. Ask yourself.