Why you should care
Because we want our loved ones to live happy lives. Or at least to live.
Hey, it’s kind of a funny thing. Or at least it seemed that way. Jimmy Kimmel cries on TV at the death of a lion named Cecil. You almost have to wonder if it was staged.
But here’s a serious proposal: What if he turned on the waterworks on a regular basis? How about Jimmy Kimmel cries every time a person of color dies in police custody?
This past week, the Internet raged at the death of a lion in Zimbabwe. There were reportedly 670,000 tweets about it in 24 hours, and 391,000 of them were tagged to #CeciltheLion. The Minnesota dentist who allegedly shelled out $50,000 to hunt, shoot and decapitate the animal has been so roundly threatened that he’s gone into hiding. (Hey, Dr. Palmer: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would like to chat.) Palmer’s Yelp page got slammed with thousands of (now mostly deleted) over-the-top angry comments, like the one calling him a bloodthirsty psychopath who might mount your head on his wall.
Is there hope in Kimmel’s saline? Maybe people would pay more attention. Maybe people of color could stop dying alone, in fear.
If Jimmy Kimmel could get more than 6 million views, just on the YouTube video of his lion tears, maybe the same tears could work on an issue of profound cultural relevance, one you might argue is a national emergency. Freddie Gray’s death catalyzed Baltimore in April. And just this month, at least five Black women have died in police custody, from Sandra Bland in Texas to Raynette Turner in New York. Not to mention at least 11 transgender people murdered so far this year — a crisis in its own right.
Kimmel’s tears got play all over, including on USA Today, Time, the Hollywood Reporter, HuffPo, CNN, BuzzFeed, CBS News, the New York Daily News. So I politely request that Kimmel run with this. I’m not looking for more than, say, two tears. Three, tops … he wouldn’t need a hankie or a cold compress. If this sounds flip, it’s truly not meant that way. Traditional news coverage and protests have failed to stem a tide of racially biased murders that goes back to America’s birth. Could there be hope in Kimmel’s saline? Maybe it could stop all those deaths from seeming so … banal. Maybe people would start paying more attention. Maybe Black women and other people of color could stop dying alone, in fear, cut off from their families and from the rest of their lives. (Kimmel’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)
How did we get here? Is it that we don’t care about people of color? George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology in the social and decision sciences department at Carnegie Mellon University, says that’s not the right question: “Human sympathy bears almost no relationship to the misery of victims.” Rather, he says, it’s that we’re suckers for “a compelling story,” and if we saw a movie depicting the life of one, say, Native American woman who perished in police custody, we could be just as sympathetic to her as we are to Cecil. Or it could be that these issues are too murky to talk about. Elizabeth Churchill, a psychologist specializing in human-computer interaction and social computing, says people are comfortable discussing Cecil and other very simple stories that are easily defended. Nobody’s going to get up in your face about outrage for a slain endangered animal. With police brutality, she says, people are overwhelmed by the scale and horror: “People feel like they don’t know what to say.”
But Jimmy Kimmel’s tears could be a talking point. If he shed a few every time a transgender person bled out alone on the street, like 66-year-old K.C. Haggard in Fresno, or every time someone like Ralkina Jones died in a holding cell, maybe we’d finally find the words, or at least the one that counts: Stop.