Student highlights racial stereotyping in media

By Melissa Reed

Last year, there were two incidents where a child was attacked by a wild animal. Although the tragedies were similar, the media unrightfully placed the blame on the parents in only one incident due to false stereotyping.

Media portrayals can be inconsistent. (AP Photo)

On May 28, 2016, a 4-year-old African American boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. He climbed a three-foot fence before falling about 12 feet into the moat surrounding the habitat. After dragging the boy around for about 10 minutes, the incident ended when the 17-year-old gorilla, named Harambe, was shot dead, according to New York Daily News.

It’s been more than a year since this incident, and Harambe has been recently replaced by a new male gorilla named Mshindi, according to One Green Planet. While the Cincinnati Zoo has moved from the terrible incident, the little boy and his family have not been granted the same justice.

While the little boy faced no life-threatening injuries after being examined at a nearby children’s hospital, news articles about the incident described his mother as an irresponsible parent. A petition was started to have the parents charged with negligence. It was signed by 500,000 people who argued that the boy’s willingness to fall inside of a pit was reflective of the child’s home situation. Many sources went as far as to check the father’s criminal background, according to Sunday Express.

The problem was not the parents. The problem was the media, which perpetuated false stereotypes surrounding African American families to make them seem inferior.

News articles were not the only source of media blaming the parents. Commenters on multiple YouTube videos describing the incident condemned the parents, as well.

A few weeks later, the media’s attitude toward the zoo and the child’s parents was contradicted by a separate, gruesome incident, which involved a caucasian family in Orlando, Florida.

A 2-year-old Nebraskan boy was snatched into a lagoon by an alligator while at a Disney Resort with his family. The boy was quickly attacked while wading off into the water, according to CNN.

16 hours after an intense search for the little boy, he was found dead, six feet below the surface where he had last been seen, according to The New York Times.

Several articles, commentaries and other social media platforms following the Orlando incident sympathized with the parents, such as The Guardian. Not one of the articles I saw placed blame on the parents for the child’s death. There was also no petition set up to charge the parents with negligence.

The blame was placed on Disney’s resort, acknowledging that a “no swimming” sign was not enough. “A 2-year-old Nebraska boy killed by an alligator at a Walt Disney World hotel in June died due to a series of events that would have been difficult to predict,” CNN wrote.

The ugly truth is that while no one can expect a vacation to turn into a deadly event, it may have well been prevented. The little boy who was attacked by the alligator was the only child near the surface of the water at the time, according to Daily Mail.

At the Cincinnati Zoo, there were no signs of warning that indicated a child might fall into a moat. However, there were warning signs at the Disney resort that were posted around the lagoon that read “no swimming.” Also, the boy who fell into the gorilla pit was at a zoo where there should have been more precautions taken to ensure that no one would fall into a gorilla enclosure, such as an increased amount of barrier to entry. On the other hand, where the little boy in Orlando was attacked was a known habitat to alligators. Despite these factors, the mother in the Cincinnati Zoo incident was vilified by the media, while the parents of the little boy in Orlando were pitied.

Why did the media respond so differently to these similar incidences of wild animal attacks on children?

The answer lies within the tone of the articles following both incidents. Both events are common examples of how the media perpetuates racist stereotypes surrounding African American people. These stereotypes, although false, were used to present African American people as inferior.

While parents are always held responsible for the safety of their children, African American parents are judged more critically due to their race. While the Cincinnati Zoo was able to move on from the incident that ended the life of Harambe, the little boy and his parents will always have the words of the media in the back of their minds, weighing on them for the rest of their lives.

Students share opinions around campus
“How important has physical appearance become in society?”

Julianna Bottiglieri, a junior special education and math double major. (Brielle Bryan/Opinions Editor)

“It has become very prevalent. Beauty bloggers are put on a pedestal.”

Olivia Colomier, a senior secondary education and history dual major. (Brielle Bryan/Opinions Editor)

“Some shows misrepresent races, and what kids see on TV is what they take to be reality.”