So Harambe died, we all mourned him, the boy that crawled into his enclosure isn’t seriously hurt – we are moving on. This incident hopefully becomes a teachable moment for everyone. Pundits have given their two cents, whether it’s to support of Harambe, the zoo, what this means for wildlife, we were over it. Time to move on to the next non-catastrophe and distract ourselves from the real issues.
People seemed to have moved on from the zoo taking the decision to shoot Harambe; how the enclosure was improperly built and they’ve also moved on from the death of Harambe itself by leaving lovely flowers and notes at all the gorilla statues in various zoos across the country. But there is one area where people will not let go and that is the little boy’s parents, specifically his mother. She has gotten most of the vitriol in the situation because it was her who made the frantic 911 call, but his father was with them at the zoo as well. There is now a change.org petition called Justice for Harambe, which essentially calls for the parents of the little boy to be prosecuted for endangering the gorilla. It’s just around 7000 signatures shy of its 500,000 target. At least half a million people want to see the parents of the boy prosecuted and social services investigate the family on how a tragic accident at the zoo could be a result of something more going on at home. According to the petition it states:
We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life. We the undersigned feel the child’s safety is paramount in this situation. We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation. We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death. Please sign this petition to encourage the Cincinnati Zoo, Hamilton County Child Protection Services, and Cincinnati Police Department hold the parents responsible.
The petition starts out by saying that this petition isn’t from the point of view of racial bias and it’s out of genuine concern for the
child gorilla, on how such a thing could happen if the parents were doing their jobs properly. And that it’s unfair to blame the Cincinnati Zoo, a most venerated institution which has provided education and entertainment for families for this tragedy. The fact that the enclosure didn’t do its job and ‘enclose’ the area properly is just an insignificant detail.
The creator of this petition Sheila Hurt, presumably, is a white woman, since the mentioned she was hurt by the “vilifying” “race baiting” comments, especially on cable news channels as she had no such intentions. Her sole purpose is to seek justice for Harambe – an ape, and to see just what kind of home that child is raised in for it be allowed to fall into a gorilla pit which caused the ape to be shot and killed.
That white people, especially affluent white people have a strange affinity and love for animals is well known. It’s one of the ‘crazy’ things white people do. Taken at face value, it’s a quirk, a source of amusement to care about one’s dogs, cats, horses or wild animals over that of their human family. The Queen of England is known to prefer her horses and corgis over her human companions, even her family. It’s a nine decade long running joke. When three of her four children’s marriages all blew up in the same year, after each one of them told her that their marriage is kaput, her response was to to take her dogs out for a walk. I can’t quite blame her.
I am a animal lover myself, to the exclusion of humans. It’s also a running joke amongst my family and friends that “I hate people” and I love animals. And after having 2 children, this sentiment still holds true. I still prefer the company of animals over people on most days. The reasons are quite obvious. Humans, simply put, can be deplorable. Animals are just as they are, simple, honest, pure, and for those of us who have experienced trauma at the hands of humans, animals are a great source of comfort.
But – and this is a big but, even for the most deluded animal lover, most of them do not sacrifice the life of a person especially a child for an animal. Loving animals to the exclusion of humans and sacrificing the life of a human child for an animal is not a zero sum situation. The life of an animal is not more important than a human, especially not a child.
The truth of the matter is that this is a black child. There is a certain stereotype in this country about the dysfunction of the black family. How they are usually headed by a single parent, usually the mother, though not the case here. That a black family is usually poor, and poverty causes them to parent differently, they have different ‘standards’ for their children than that of a middle class white family. That their parenting standards are lax because they are more concerned about keeping a roof over their heads and food on their table than to worry about personal conduct or discipline. The description in the change.org petition screams this kind of bias: “We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation.” It is Sheila Hurt’s way of saying black people don’t know how to raise their children, that’s how a four year old wandered off and fell into the gorilla enclosure. It’s the parent’s fault, not the zoo’s fault, she says “it is upsetting that people vilify the Cincinnati Zoo, an institution that has done so much work in trying to turn the tide against extinction in several critically endangered species.”
While many have come out in support of the the little boy’s parents, there are those who just won’t let this drop, like Sheila Hurt. She wants social services to look into this family not out of concern of how a trip to the zoo almost got a child thrashed to death by a 400 lb gorilla and social services to make sure the boy is getting all the medical help and therapy he needs; but how the parents let this child fall into the enclosure and where and what were they were doing to allow this to happen. Accidents happen all the time, even the most careful of parents, it only takes two seconds or less for something to go horribly wrong. People do not appreciate the one and half to two seconds of error in judgment until a rambunctious child is presented in front of you. Accidents involving children are plenty, the most tragic ones are the times where a toddler or infant was left in a hot car because the parent forgot to drop their child off at daycare or they thought they did, but because they were rushing and wasn’t paying attention. Or that children drown in a backyard pool because the supervising adults turned their back for five seconds.
The emphasis on getting ‘justice’ for Harambe the gorilla, and the little boy saved from Harambe’s aggression happens to be black and the level of harassment his family is getting for the unfortunate accident is starting to make people uncomfortable and hackles are being raised. This an ape we are talking about. A beautiful animal no doubt, an endangered animal, an animal bred and kept in captivity so that it doesn’t go completely extinct, for it to die it its prime is tragic, but it’s an ANIMAL. The excessive outpouring of grief and protest coming mostly from white people and the repeated calls to hold the child’s parents accountable for the animal’s is a passive aggressive way of saying the little boy’s life matters less than that of an endangered gorilla because he’s black.
If this child was white; people, strangers would send flowers to the parents, people would bring food, a casserole maybe. People would check in on the child, to make sure he’s not traumatized or permanently damaged. All their families, friends, neighbors, strangers they just met would go on cable news to pledge their support to the parents and that this was an unfortunate accident. Up until now, very little concern has been shown to the boy but there’s a hysteria about how a gorilla was killed because of his parents’ lack of proper supervision. All the people calling for his parents to be held accountable, including Sheila Hurt, has not once inquired on the condition of the boy, except to say that his general home environment must be unsafe. Is Sheila Hurt so lacking in her imagination that she can’t foresee a scenario where a four year old might wander off and do what he’s not supposed to do? Is this scenario so unimaginable for her? Or anyone else who are calling for the parents to be held accountable?
This is not crazy white people loving their animals more than their own kids, or crazy white people leaving an inheritance to their dog. I am that crazy white person who loves animals more than people never would I waver for one second or have second thoughts after the fact of saving the life of a human over an animal. This level of aggression to a child’s parents and disregard for the boy’s well being in favor of a gorilla is open blatant racism. Sheila Hurt is the same kind of person that would set up Go Fund Me pages for killer cops of black men like Darren Wilson. When Go Fund Me pages and local fundraisers were being set up to assist killer cops, there was no uproar from middle class white people. They were not there to protest this outrage, to shut down the fundraiser or to obstruct it. They took the standard position of ‘everyone has their day in court’ even if it was plain as day that these cops killed their suspects in cold blood.
The boy’s parents doesn’t need white animal lovers to pour boiling scorn on them and shame them at every turn. The boy’s parents are already beating themselves up everyday, for putting their son in danger, for causing a star attraction at a zoo to get killed, for all the fuss made. We as parents are generally mortified when our children make the wrong kind of spectacle in public, when they kick up the wrong kind of fuss is the stuff of parent’s nightmares. The boy’s parents, on top of all the shame and embarrassment need to feel relief that their boy is safe, thanks to the quick action and thinking of the zookeepers.