A first-grader from Wichita, Kansas was mauled by a leopard after the boy scaled a 4-foot railing that surrounded the leopard exhibit, crossed an 8-foot gap and approached the animal's cage. The child received lacerations to his head and neck after the leopard stuck its paw through the cage and grabbed the boy by the side of the head.
A 3-year old boy at Little Rock Zoo with his father and grandfather slipped through the railings surrounding a jaguar exhibition and sustained multiple injuries after he fell 15-feet into the cat pit. The family’s request to keep the child’s name private were granted by the hospital, zoo and multiple media outlets.
A 2-year-old boy at the Cleveland Zoo suffered injuries to his legs after he experienced a 10-foot fall into a cheetah exhibit after his mother dangled him over the exhibit’s railing.
Outside of the fact that these incidents occurred at zoos, the common factor that these incidents hold is that neither the race of the child nor the race or criminal history of their parents was ever a point of emphasis by media outlets.
The father of the boy who recently fell into the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla exhibit inhabited by Harambe didn’t fare so well. Within days of Harambe’s death, the father’s personal history and information were being shared by media outlets. Ironically, the father wasn’t at the zoo when his son tumbled into the enclosure.
After finding out that the child and his parents were black, multiple outlets began to point to their race as a contributing factor for why the boy ended up in the predicament. This leads me to wonder why black people don’t receive the benefit of the doubt when high-profile incidents like this occur.
An incident that occurred in St. Louis serves as another example of this trend. A white infant died from heat exposure after her parents forgot that she was in the backseat of the family vehicle. The parents were not charged with a crime related to her death. Instead, the public was encouraged to show that family sympathy.
Less than a week later, a black mother was arrested after she left her adolescent children in an air-conditioned car while she ran into a store to grab a few items. This woman was summarily vilified in the media.
There is a disparity in how we present certain groups as worthy of mercy and understanding while simultaneously holding other groups to a different standard. How can we who seek justice and equality for all help to change this unequal practice?
First, when someone’s ethnicity is identified in a story, we can ask ourselves if the inclusion of that information makes a difference in why a situation occurred. This can help determine if the author is writing from a racialized slant.
Second, we can call out writers and media outlets that make ethnicity a criteria in who to hold accountable and who not to hold accountable.
Third, we all can engage in honest dialogue with people of ethnicities that differ from ours so that we can learn how they are unique from us yet similar to us in so many ways.
Terrell Carter is assistant professor and director of Contextualized Learning at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas and pastor of Webster Groves Baptist Church. Follow him on Twitter @tcarterstl.