Written by Helen Cunningham
What did Cecil the Lion reveal about American’s perception of black lives?
It’s August again, and the 9th marks the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder. Michael was killed by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, after he shoplifted a pack of cigarillos from a convenience store. Despite the tragedy of Michael’s death, the media quickly portrayed him as a “thug”, “no angel” and “a hulking 18 year old man.” White reporters and citizens questioned his actions, and speculated that if he’d just complied with the police officer he wouldn’t had died. News outlets reported he smoked marijuana and showed photos of him wearing hoodies and throwing up gang signs when they should have been showing photos of his high school graduation. By changing the story American media condemned Michael Brown and excused the despicable actions of Darren Wilson.
Enter a different kind of death: Cecil was a male southwest African lion who lived in a protected national park in Zimbabwe. On July 1st, 2015, he was shot and killed by Walter Palmer, an American big-game hunter. Cecil’s death was mourned by many American celebrities and the general public, who demanded justice for the lion, sentencing or even death for Palmer, and expressed their outrage in heartfelt tweets and television statements. Jimmy Kimmel cried on air. Ellen Degeneres tweeted that she was devastated by the lion’s death. Cara Delevigne called Palmer a poor excuse for a human being. News sources said that Cecil was “noble and beautiful” and that his death was a travesty. An online petition calling for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to guarantee “justice” for Cecil the Lion has over 400,000 signatures whereas a similar petition demanding justice for Sandra Bland has little over 6000 signatures. This reaction illustrates a sharp contrast between how Americans feel about lion lives, and how they feel about black lives.
Cecil the Lion showed that ultimately white American society values animal’s lives over the lives of people of color. Imagine if the same celebrity outrage that followed Cecil’s death had also accompanied the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, and so many others like them. Change starts from the bottom, but it never hurts to have a few vocal, dedicated, and powerful celebrities on your side.