Why We're Critiquing the Outrage about Cecil the Lion in the Era of #BlackLivesMatter

by Leah C.K. Lewis

This week, news platforms and social media have been a-buzz with the story of Cecil the Lion, a 13-year-old national symbol that was lured from his home in a Zimbabwean animal reserve, shot with an arrow, skinned, and beheaded. It has come to light that American dentist, Walter Palmer, paid $50,000 to illegally kill the beloved animal. There has been international outrage, with some even threatening Palmer for his actions.

Growing factions of people, however, have noted that this same outrage has not been the reaction when news reports spread of Black folks being shot and killed extra-judicially. Or if these murders are discussed, the stories focus on some alleged “criminality” of the Black victims. Recent examples of this are apparent in news coverage of the deaths of Sandra Bland and Samuel DuBose.

While there certainly has been outrage and multicultural activism supporting the Black Lives Matters Movement, one question arises: Why is it so easy for white and non-Black people of color to see the inherent value of an animal, but not their fellow human beings? To answer this we must first acknowledge and address a seemingly foundational matter—the predatory inclination of white men who kill. Walter Palmer, Ray TensingDylan RoofTim LoehmannDarren Wilson, among others, have demonstrated a malignant indifference to killing unarmed humans, African Americans in particular, and defenseless animals.

It takes a special kind of human to kill. One must fail to see a sacred and precious spirit in another and the interconnectedness of humanity, the animal kingdom, plant life, and all things in the universe. Okay, I know I just got deep there, but in African cosmology, this notion is called “complementarity of difference,” which indicates all beings and things complement one another. Complementarity, as I see it, is crucial to valuing all aspects of the human race and the human experience. Let us call this a virtue.

This virtue has not been cultivated in the men listed above. Instead they emerge from an ethnic group that has been socialized to deem themselves separate, apart, and superior in every respect. Through at least four hundred years of false rhetoric, legal imposition, and demeaning images, white people, in particular, have been manipulated into imagining—and I mean this literally—people of African descent as less than human. It is terrifying, but inconsequential. In essence, people of African descent have been turned into the white man’s Bogeyman.

By consequence of sharing in a world where this propaganda dominates, non-Black POC and even African peoples internalize this insidious misinformation. Constantly receiving these contrived messages of African inferiority is enough to make anyone pathological.

So, “why is it so easy for white and non-Black POC to see the inherent value of an animal, but not their fellow human beings?” In short, because their minds have been altered in such a way that they are literally blind to a natural truth—that people of African descent are, in fact, human and that we too are a part of the human race. Such blindness obscures our value as well as our human vulnerability.

White people and non-Black POC who cannot see the inherent value and human character of Black people are holistically impaired. Their intellectual, spiritual, psychological, and emotional character has been damaged. Thus, their inability to empathize with people of African decent who are murdered and harmed in myriad ways.

The conditions herein describe two psychological conditions—that of a sociopath (one who lacks a conscience) and a narcissistic personality disorder (one characteristic is lacking the ability to be empathic). A world where the ideology of white supremacy has been promulgated has long produced a white world of psychologically damaged individuals. Yet, people of color and animals suffer. Suffering and mayhem result from their white psychosis, which is caused by a distorted sense of reality—that they are superior and that people of African descent are not human.

Empathizing with Cecil the Lion or any animal over that of a human is but part and parcel of their mental impairment. Generally, we empathize with those we relate too. So, to have empathy for a lower level life form, over and above a human being, says a great deal.

For these reason, the problem of solving xenophobia and oppression—the constituent elements of “racism”—belongs, by and large, to white people. They are the ones who developed and perpetuate the myth of white supremacy. Having made a mess, which demeans them more than they are capable of recognizing, they by and large are the source of the wickedness that steals, kills, and destroys social health in this world. No other ethnic group can solve their intra-ethnic ailment. We, African peoples (and other POC), unfortunately, are collateral damage to the chaos that has resulted from the ideology of white supremacy.

Understanding and embracing these realities would best serve people of African descent. Our energies would be better utilized in activism, and nurturing self-preservation and joyousness in the midst of this madness rather than ruminating on the question, “Why?”

Photo: Andrew Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Unit - PA

Leah C.K. Lewis, J.D., M.Div., D.Min. (ABD), is among other good and wonderful things, a graduate of Yale Divinity School and Howard University School of Law, the latter of which trained her to be a social engineer for righteous causes. A frequent contributor to ForHarriet.com she is a councilwoman and literary activist. Follow her on Twitter @HumanStriving, SoundCloud.com/Reverend-Leah-CK-Lewis, and http:www.facebook.com/The.Reverend.Leah.CK.Lewis. Check out her personal blog at http://humanstriving.blogspot.com. #BlackLivesMatter #SayHerName #StayWoke #HumanStriving

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