Was Dian Fossey an eco-colonialist and racist?


Today, Dian Fossey is being honoured in a Google Doodle. The “controversy” section of her Wikipedia article repeats claims of her being racist. One of the articles linked to is an opinion piece (posing as a TV review) called Giants of the Jungle in the Wall Street Journal’s website.

The piece claims that she is racist. To back up those claims, it’s claimed or implied that she used slang language about Rwandans in a negative way, and refused to work with black people. It’s also claimed that she engaged in, or supervised, tactics against a suspected poacher of such a extreme nature that a reader may easily conclude she wouldn’t use them against a white-skinned person.

But Fossey was also a racist alcoholic who regarded “her” gorillas as better than the African people who lived around them. Her anthropomorphization of the apes was matched by her unceasing belittlement of the area’s natives. Arguably the world’s first eco-colonialist, she habitually referred to Rwandans as “wogs,” never in all her time recruited a single black African as a researcher and even burned the crops of neighboring peasants whom she suspected let their cattle graze in the reserve.

(By contrast, they discuss Fossey with great frankness and detail in their book, “In the Kingdom of Gorillas,” in which there is a gruesome description of an occasion when she pistol-whipped a man suspected of poaching on her reserve, and then supervised his prolonged torture at her camp, including the rubbing of stinging nettles on his penis and testicles. Drs. Weber and Vedder write: “He was then given enough Valium to send him into a state of extreme disorientation. When he came to, Dian told him that she had taken his mind away, then given it back. Next time she would keep it.”)

Did Fossey behave in a racist manner, either in what she said or what she did?



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