Over 60 students, faculty and staff from various academic departments at UNC Greensboro (UNCG) stepped away from their personal and professional endeavors on Tuesday, February 4, to take part in a groundbreaking disquisition delivered by first speaker of the 2020 Harriett Elliott Lecture Series (HELS), Dr. Kimberly N. Ruffin of Roosevelt University.
Ruffin touched on topics such as White privilege, racism and—most relevant to her research—human animality.
Ruffin discussed the stereotypes associated with being Black and likened to primates. Throughout American history there are countless stories of Black people being associated with monkeys, apes and gorillas. Black people have been labeled as animals, savages, uncivilized and nonhuman.
Ruffin shared a personal story of an educational trip she took during which a man driving by in a sports car shouted, “Can I get a banana?” to her and her colleague. Of course, instances such as this are undoubtedly racist and hurtful; however, Ruffin has an alternative take. She explained that Black people have tried for centuries to push themselves so far away from these associations that they have embodied human exceptionalism—ultimately, severing their relationship with nature and other earthlings.
During her speech, Ruffin also shared her sentiments on the film “Black Panther,” particularly on the character M’Baku of the Jabari tribe. M’Baku, known as the “Man-Ape” in the original Marvel Comics, embraces his inner gorilla and worships a gorilla-god known as “Hanuman.”
Ruffin encourages Black people to re-embrace their roots despite colonial stigmatization and to not be afraid of being animals, as all humans are. In a grander scheme, Ruffin suggests that if Black people re-embrace their “inner-gorilla” they may also re-embrace nature more and be prompted to contribute to the reversal of climate change.
Article by T’Shari White, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability. Her research interests involve the environmental perceptions and behaviors of ethnic groups and people.