Zimbabwe is in the news again. The spotlight last fell on the country when the flag of Rhodesia (its former name) was seen on a jacket worn by Dylann Storm Roof, the white American charged with killing nine black Americans in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. This time, the spotlight on Zimbabwe concerns a white American, Dr. Walter Palmer, who admitted killing Cecil, Zimbabwe's most famous lion. (The authorities first thought a Spaniard was the responisble for the death.)
But why did this particular hunter become such a big deal? Other Americans have visited Zimbabwe and killed lots of big animals and not received so much attention. There is Donald Trump Jr., the son of the presidential candidate, and also the Texas cheerleader. These two have raised some noise, but nothing of the magnitude of Walter Palmer.
Even my Ethiopian taxi driver last night could not stop talking about Palmer ("he also killed a bear illegally"); and as he talked and talked, the KUOW reporter on his radio interviewed a white African lawyer in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, about the possibility of extraditing Cecil's killer ("He should be a man," said the white African, "and face justice for this killing"). On Twitter, the hashtag #CeciltheLion produced the purest stream of hate ("Dr Walter J Palmer you disgusting coward!") I have ever seen on the social network site.
The reason for this strong reaction is, I think, two things: One, the lion has a name (which, coincidentally, is that of the chief imperialist of the 19th century, Cecil). Two, and more importantly, the man trying to be a Great White Hunter is a mere dentist. If a Trump kills a big cat, that is not as offensive. He is pretty much American royalty, and so the public, though finding this form of leisure to be needlessly cruel, do not find it inconsistent with Trump's status in the class order. As for the cheerleader, she is from Texas, and Texans are not known for being either bright or sensitive. Again, it's to be expected of her. But a fucking dentist! A man of that profession has no right to kill something as glorious, as noble, as powerful as a lion. A former NBA superstar? Fine. A man who cleans your teeth for a living? Hell no!