Stop Blaming Black Parents For Harambe’s Death — Blame Zoos

The gorilla died on Saturday. A three-year-old boy disobeyed his mother’s orders, and as she tended to the other children she watched over, he climbed into a gorilla enclosure, wanting to play, and everyone panicked. The mother panicked, the crowd panicked, the zoo staff panicked — hell, even the male gorilla, Harambe, panicked and began to manhandle the foreign entity invading its space. In the midst of all this panicking, a the Cincinnati Zoo security shot and killed 17-year-old Harambe to save the child.

The zoo later put out a statement explaining that they decided to shoot because of Harambe’s disoriented state, apparently caused by the crowd’s aggressive reaction to spotting the child. By the time a tranquilizer would have taken effect, the gorilla would have most definitely harmed the boy. This was partially satisfactory, but gosh darn it, the Church of Harambe had already been formed and needed a sacrificial goat in his honor. Why not the mother?

The public began to refer to her as “irresponsible,” “neglectful,” ridiculed for supposedly “taking selfies” instead of watching her children. Soon she was not enough, and the media turned to the boy’s father, Deonne Dickerson. He was opened up and filleted, maligned and discounted for his criminal past, which included kidnapping and multiple drug offenses — but, interestingly enough, did not include zoo trespassing and gorilla murder, which for me personally would have been the only explanation why this man’s dabbling in illegalities had a damn thing to do with an incident he wasn’t even present for.

Until this point, I hadn’t seen one picture of the incident, not a frame of the video, yet the wave of vitriol that had washed over the internet for this family left me with a premonition. When I came across an actual petition with almost 400,000 supporters asking the police and child protective services to come out of a bag on this family, I knew there could only be two explanations for the all this public outrage:

  1. A mommy-dearest type had promptly screamed about wire hangers before tossing her three-year-old son into the enclosure while the father chugged a beer, whipped out a shotgun, and then used Harambe the gorilla for target practice.
  2. This family is Black.

Guess which one turned out to be correct (hint: you already know, stop playing).

It’s frustrating enough to see an internet mob turn on a Black family for something that could happen to anyone. But it’s even more enraging to know that someone is at fault, and it’s not the boy’s mother or father (who, again, wasn’t even there that day). When they hold this family up to scrutiny and shame, the public isn’t just being racist. They’re choosing a racist target to distract attention from the real problem, sacrificing both human and animal life in favor of preserving a corporation with (at best) faulty ethics. Yes, I’m talking about wildlife parks.

Like, hold up now, shouldn’t we all be a teensy bit concerned that a child can crawl into a gorilla enclosure in the first place? Think about this: if a child can crawl in, then a gorilla most certainly can crawl its ass right on out of its enclosure. Oh, it already has? And it went hot-sauce-bat-shit-insane on the crowd? You don’t say. You guys aren’t just a teensy bit bothered that a tiger can hop out of its habitat and maul three teenagers that annoyed it? Nobody wants to talk about the fact that tourists were getting snatched by polar bears or that Sea World and its partners regularly kidnap wild orcas, force them into artificial families, snatch their children in the night (so much so that the mothers cry for days) and leave them so mentally debilitated that they are known to just snap? The most infamous orca, Tilikum, killed three people, including a trainer he worked with for years.

Zoos and aquariums have marketed themselves well, establishing themselves as a child-friendly interactive educational center that cares for animals; but these corporations’ main concern is not the public safety, not animals’ safety, but profit margins. The majority of animals in zoos are neither endangered nor being prepped to be reintroduced into wildlife, and their care is ranked on which exhibits bring in the most traffic, not which ones are in the most need. This is evident in the multitude of endangered species lists that include animals zoos have no interest in keeping, as they would not be profitable to keep. Animals in captivity are often neglected, lack proper veterinary care, they can often become bored, depressed, malnourished, and mentally unstable.

And for the love of money, safety precautions are purposely minimized in order to create the illusion that patrons are visiting animals in their “natural habitat” — let’s make as much money as possible and figure out the whole “someone might get killed” thing only when we have to! So here we are, vacationing in an environment prime for incident after incident, where a child can end up in the space of an angry and disgruntled wild animal and the security staff’s only measure can be to put it down.

I don’t want to question whether or not Harambe’s death was necessary or whether the parents are to blame for the zoo tragedy; there have been many pieces already written on these very things. But I implore that as the public gives space to mourn Harambe, we should ask ourselves: what was Harambe’s quality of life? That is not to say he’s better off dead, but to say that our outrage about Harambe should have began a long time ago, before modern zoos even held lions and tigers and bears, back when they were putting African women on display for…erm…“educational reasons.”

You’re mad because a black woman momentarily lost track of her child in a zoo? I’m mad because black women used to be in zoos, and as far as I’m concerned the institution hasn’t gotten less rapacious or more humane. Let’s keep kids out of the gorilla enclosure by tearing the whole thing down.