If you didn’t know, a little black boy fell into a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. For ten minutes, he was dragged by a gorilla named Harambe before he was fatally shot and the little boy was saved. Harambe is dead. Little boy is alive. Not ideal, but child alive. Animal dead. Sounds about right if I had to choose one over the other.
But the little boy’s mother has been killed and brought back to life a million times over if the internet could have its way.
As a mother of a 4 year-old child, I weep for the mother at the receiving end of all of this judgment. She may have turned her back for only a minute, but in a crowded zoo it would have taken her longer than that lost minute to find him. We all would like to think that we would have been more attentive.
I consider myself a good parent. But the truth is that I’ve had that heart stopping moment when I’ve looked away and couldn’t find my child. And maybe that moment has been at a zoo, near a gorilla enclosure that has a space a small child can climb under.
So I give that mother the benefit of the doubt. I trust that she loves her child and watched her child and looked away for a moment and then shit just happened.
But a lot of other folks don’t give that benefit of the doubt. They especially don’t give it to mothers. ESPECIALLY not to black mothers. As if there is some truth that only women have eyes in the back and sides of their heads such that they can truly see their children from all angles at all times.
As Panama Jackson from VSB put it:
“For those of you without kids, do you know what parenting really is all about? Especially up to, say, age six? Keeping your kids alive. That’s it really. Everything is about making sure they don’t get dead. Keeping them from chasing that ball into the street. Making sure they understand to walk on sidewalks. Looking both ways before crossing the street. Not touching the stove. Not walking out the door without a parent. Always holding hands with an adult. ALWAYS walking in front of me so that I can see you, etc.”
When I can’t SEE Ahmad, I’m asking, “Where is Ahmad?” Because that’s how fast he can disappear and be into some mess.
And once he was outside, in the dark, looking for his dad and I didn’t know he was out there. Could have gotten hit by a car or mauled by a dog. In the 30 seconds I didn’t know where he was.
Another time, I wasn’t paying attention, and I locked him and the car keys inside the car. And he was a baby, strapped into his car seat.
Another time we were at the playground and I checked my phone real quick and then he was gone and when we found each other one minute later we were both crying.
And I have three kids, hundreds of stories for each. So like a million stories where something catastrophic could have happened to my child.
Those acting like it couldn’t have happened to them are lying. Or, even more scary — they have no idea how often it ALMOST did happen to them.
It’s mind boggling that we can’t all just call this an unfortunate accident and focus on fixing what can be fixed — making zoos so that there aren’t any ways for four year olds to climb under, over or through enclosures (or better yet, stop caging wild animals) — rather than decrying something that cannot be fixed: four year olds doing what four year olds do, parents doing their best, and shit happening no matter what.