I thought I would share this perspective on the illegal killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe with you.
At trivia last night, a friend of mine suggested that our team name be #lionlivesmattermore, and I’ll admit that the irony behind that name had to be pointed out to me. My life goal when I was six years old was to go on a safari in Africa to see the lions (Mom can verify), and honestly that hasn’t really changed much. Naturally, the news of Cecil’s killing upset me a great deal, and images of that dentist’s smug face everywhere filled me with anger. It was an easy story to get wrapped up in, with a particularly vile and unremorseful villain to fuel the emotion; so much so that for a short time I lost a little perspective on the things that really anger me. I’m thankful I have amazing friends to help remind me. Then, with #lionlivesmattermore having brought my perspective back a bit, another friend posted a less ironic and more pointed comment on facebook this morning about the disparity between the outrage over Cecil and the dismissal the black lives matter movement often faces. The comments on this post were full of white people attacking him for conflating the issues, and pointing out they are totally different because “lions can’t speak for themselves.” Perhaps you really do think animal lives are more important than human ones, in which case I know there are a lot of hungry Cheetahs out there who would benefit greatly were you to provide yourself as a snack, but it’s really shocking to me that so many people actually seem to find Cecil a greater (or even equal) loss than the people of color and transgender people dying in our own front yard. Of course, I probably find that shocking because I’m white, and had to have the disparity pointed out to me by my black friends who clearly see it every day. With the tragic loss of Cecil, I and clearly many other white people, forgot that Sandra Bland was illegally threatened out of her car with a taser, illegally assaulted, and illegally taken to a hostile jail where she killed herself, all for changing lanes without a turn signal (and standing up for her rights as a black woman). People of color have been saying these things happen for decades, but instead of listening, we say it’s more important to speak up for the voiceless lions? Perhaps you still think I’m overstating or conflating the issue because Sandra Bland wasn’t shot and beheaded, but tell that to Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, or Tamir Rice. Or perhaps you think that their deaths were entirely due to the stressful and unpredictable hazards of being a law enforcement officer, but tell that to K.C Haggard, India Clarke, Mercedes Williamson, London Chanel, Penny Proud, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, Yazmin Vash Payne, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard, Papi Edwards, or Bri Golec. The systems of racism and transphobia behind these deaths are just as outrageous and stoppable as those that allowed a man to shoot a protected lion, but white people don’t speak up about it because there is no jackass from Minnesota to villainize; we instead have to look at ourselves. So we say not to compare the issues, or that there are other things at play, or whatever other excuse we can come up with to pretend these people dying is a normal and unchangeable part of our society. Anyway, I think and hope that losing sight of this reality and my own privilege in being able to do so for a short time didn’t do too much harm. That I didn’t spend too much time trivializing the lives of my transgender friends and friends of color. If I did, I hope to make up for it by sharing what I’ve learned. The death of well known and loved lion is tragic, but doesn’t make any of my friends fearful for their lives or wellbeing. To allow that event to distract me significantly from the deaths I mentioned above and countless others is a disservice to my friends for whom these things truly matter. I think the same is true for all Americans.