Being the melting pot that it is, the United States has citizens from across the globe living, working and playing within its borders. So much so that there are times when cross-cultural interactions end with hurt feelings and misunderstandings.
It’s one of the rigors of living in a multi-cultural society. On Monday, following Oklahoma City’s 108-102 victory over Golden State, Thunder center Steven Adams described the difficulty he had as a big man chasing the Warriors guards around the by calling them “quick little monkeys.”
Indeed, it was cause to pause.
Whenever I hear words that could possibly be construed as racist or prejudicial toward Black people, the entire world crawls to a halt as my brain races to discern whether or not any perceived slight was intentional. Adams has been in the United States for about five years. Additionally, he hails from New Zealand – a country that was shaped by Great Britain as a former colony and current British Commonwealth.
While calling someone a “monkey” in the United States, with all the history that goes behind it, may get someone smacked or worse if said in the presence of the wrong person, Adams, the descendant of Native New Zealanders, gets a pass on this one.
I recall Mike Meyers in the film Austin Powers calling someone a cheeky little monkey and have heard it mentioned often in British or Australian comedies with absolutely no racial connotation intended.
Additionally, Adams plays a sport dominated by people of African descent and plays on a team whose best players are Black too. His faux pas can be forgiven as ignorance.
However let’s not act like “monkey” is a derogatory term used against people of color only in the United States or just against blacks.
Have you ever heard of the term “monkey model”? It is a term coined by the former Soviet, current Russian Federation, military to describe tanks, fighter planes and armored vehicles whose capabilities have been greatly reduced for sale to third world countries; Egypt, Iraq and Syria being most prominent among them.
I would also add that the term didn’t gain wide use until coined by defector Viktor Suvorov in Inside the Soviet Army. Though I have never heard of anyone call it racist, the very fact that “monkey models” are sold to countries populated by people of color and are greatly scaled down and “simplified” has the stench of racism to me.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about intentions and I really don’t believe Steven Adams intended to say anything malicious.