While some in the media and online did shame the Graves family, who were allowing their child to wade in an artificial lake despite "No Swimming" signs, the family has received overwhelming support both online and in their community. And this is absolutely as it should be. There is nothing worse in this world than to lose a child.
However, Michelle Gregg, mother of the boy who was nearly killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, was treated very different in the media and online. Despite the fact that, by all accounts, Gregg lost sight of her child for only a few seconds and had to be physically restrained from jumping into the enclosure after him, people tore her up online. Half a million people signed a petition to have her held criminally accountable even before all the details were out.
Yesterday, I ran across this USA Today editorial opining on the differences between the two cases. It focused on the differences between gorillas and gators. A CNN story thought the difference was because of the venue. In fact, most of the stories that acknowledge the disproportionate response very carefully ignored the massive elephant in the room.
The Graves family are well-to-do. Pillars of the community. And white. Michelle Gregg and her son are black.
Is it a race thing? Ranier Maningding writing for the Huffington Post makes a really compelling argument that it is. He points out
I'm not sure how much is race and how much isn't. Maybe it's a gators vs. gorillas thing, maybe it's a venue thing - heck - maybe the massacre at Pulse has turned us into a more caring and compassionate people; at least for a news cycle or two.ALL OF THIS BULLSHIT is a way to disprove the humanity of Black parents — to prove that Black people aren’t responsible for themselves or their children. By doing this, we validate our legacy of oppression towards Black people.
But I find it just utterly bizarre that so many publications chose to completely ignore the racial element, even though so much of the cyber-bullying the Gregg family endured was overtly racist. Does white America just not see racism, or are we covering our eyes in the hopes that if we don't look at it it will cease to exist?
Like, look at Charleston. After an openly white supremacist man made racist statements while killing black people in a black church, folks actually tried to argue this wasn't race-related. Why? What did anyone hope to accomplish by standing in the middle of a hurricane and swearing there is no such thing as rain.
Is it a guilt thing? If we ignore the racism, we don't have to ignore our own culpability? Or maybe we think that if we acknowledge our privileges, someone will finally show up and take them away. Maybe we're afraid if we start seeing minorities as fully human, we'll drown in self-loathing for all the times we acted like they weren't.
Or maybe we're just scared that, if minorities ever get out from under white America's thumb, they'll treat us just like we treated them.