Sunday, 3 February 2008

Monkey business

I think I can safely say that I am terribly unfamiliar and uninterested with cricket. That's something, coming out of the mouth of a person who considers himself an Australian and is an Australian, at least legally speaking. So despite my severe ignorance in the field of cricket I will dedicate a post to it, Australia's most popular sports (mainly because Australia is by far the best in it, but never mind Australia's affection with winning at all cost for now).
For a couple of months now, Australia has been campaigning in this cricket tournament against India. In one of the matches, an Indian player called an Australian player who happens to be of aboriginal ancestry a "monkey", and was therefore immediately accused of racial vilification, which in turn triggered such a fuss in the media that even I have heard about it enough times to have preferred being shot.
What I want to say about this incident is this. If someone was to call me a monkey, I couldn't care less about it; however, I would, if circumstances permit, correct the error and point out that I am not a monkey but rather an ape. You see, monkeys have tails, apes don't, and I definitely don't have a tail. Being called a monkey is to me a simple and forgettable error, as we're both primates, and that's it.
I know I'm the exception. Most people who were to be called a "monkey" would probably be insulted. However, I doubt most white Australians being called a "monkey" would promote the comment to anything higher than a simple insult; I suspect only a rare few would consider it to be racial vilification.
Why is it, then, that when an aboriginal, and only when an aboriginal, is being called a "monkey" the call is labeled racial vilification?
Allow me to propose an explanation. It is a rather uncomfortable one: The majority of "us", "white people", does consider itself superior to the aboriginals. One has to be their superior; after all, they are so primitive, aren't they? They look much closer related to apes than we do, don't they? Thus, along this twisted line of thought, when someone external uses our superior wisdom to promote their own nasty agendas, we immediately apply our logic and determine that a comment which under normal circumstances would have been considered a stupid insult and nothing more is actually a racial comment. But this classification can only be made when racist concepts are well integrated into our thoughts. Your brain has to have racist assumptions ingrained inside in order to consider the comment to be racist.
My point, therefore, is this. If most Australians consider the Indian's "monkey" call to be a racist comment, it is only because their brains are full of racist prejudice already.
The implications on Australian society as a whole are therefore pretty tragic.


mc said...

The racial abuse charge has nothing to do with calling an aboriginal monkey, as Symonds is actually of West Indian heritage and not of Australian aboriginal hertiage at all! I’ve been told that in the Caribbean to call someone a monkey is considered highly offensive. This may be due to the fact that in the past, to call someone monkey was to indicate that they had not evolved being a human, and was particular used towards non-Caucasian people, inferring that they were inferior used as a justification for colonialism, white superiority etc. It may not be offensive to you but obviously it definitely is to some.

Thankfully this connotation has probably largely been forgotten here as its use in this context is obviously not tolerated. Symonds on tour in India had received such taunts from the crowd. I guess people came to the conclusion that calling Symonds was a racial taunt as they didn’t call any of the other Australian cricketers (all Caucasian) monkey. There has also been some attempt recently from the international cricketing authorities to punish any sort of racism and it was well communicated before the tour that to calling someone a “monkey” would be considered a racial taunt.

So in this atmosphere to call someone monkey would have been highly provocative.
Now we can’t ask Singh about this as he has consistently said he didn’t call him monkey at all! So it’s all rather hypothetical.

A point on cricket though, the general behavior and sportsmanship in this sport is hitting an all time low. If players (this applies to both sides) have to resort to sledging to win a match, what does it say about them? Also the way it was handled by the cricketing authorities amounted to a farce, and as for the media, people are dying in conflicts and famine around the world, but the media are obsessed about this.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Thanks for correcting me. However, you do have to admit that aboriginal-ness aside, the fact people so readily associate "monkeyness" with anything that's not white says something about their prejudices. And, I have to say, the fact that people are offended by being called a monkey in this day and age says a lot about their ignorance and the bad education that led them to being so ignorant.

pseudowife said...

I came into your comments all ready to get on my high horse about Roy's ethnicity, but mc beat me to it.

I think it should also be noted that it has never ever been Symonds that has made the complaints. Following the monkey chants from the crowd that erupted around Roy all through the second innings at Vadodara, it was the Australian management that made comment and then only to say that it was a local matter and should be handled by BCCI and ICC. It should be noted that the BCCI issued statements condemning the use of "monkey" as a term of racial abuse.

During and since that tour, there has been tension between Symonds and Harbhajan. Roy has always handled it in an immediate and private way. He has confronted Harbhajan and sorted it out between the two of them.

The word "monkey" is not the issue here. What is at issue is that Harbhajan has continued to abuse Roy and he chooses to use an expression that his own governing body had labelled as racially offensive. It the word had been idiot or goldfish it wouldn't have made any difference. Because the BCCI had decreed that calling someone a monkey has racial connotation, Harbhajan's continued use of the word is reprehensible.

Sledging has a long history in cricket. Some has been clever and witty and remembered with affection. Some is childish and unsubtle. Some is not even vocal. Harbhajan had a wealth of other language to choose from when he sledged Roy and it would have remained on the field where it belongs. The fact that he chose the term he did, knowing the connotations, is the issue. The word, in the cricketing world, had been emphatically condemned as being equally offensive as other words (like coon, gook or spick).

And, that is the issue.

Moshe Reuveni said...

While I still think there's something wrong with us if we consider "monkey" to be a racial comment, I will admit my mistake.
Thanks for tasking the time to teach me. At least I learned something.