After the Thunder’s Game 1 win over the Warriors last night, Oklahoma City center Steven Adams described the challenge of covering Golden State’s guards (via Kenny Ducey of Sports Illustrated):
They’re quick little, quick little monkeys, those guys.
Adams, via Sam Amick of USA Today:
“It was just a poor choice of words, mate,” Adams told USA TODAY Sports. “I wasn’t thinking straight. I didn’t know it was going to upset anyone, but I’m truly sorry. It was just a poor choice of words. I was just trying to express how difficult it was chasing those guys around.”
Adams, who came to America to attend the University of Pittsburgh in 2012, said differences in dialect were, in part, to blame.
“It’s just different, mate,” he said. “Different words, different expressions, and stuff like that. But they obviously can be taken differently, depending on which country you’re in. I’m assimilating, mate, still trying to figure out the boundaries. But I definitely overstepped them tonight.”
Without context, there’s nothing inherently wrong about comparing players to monkeys – quick, jumpy animals. If Adams had called them cheetahs or jaguars, nobody would’ve batted an eye.
But context matters – even if Adams is unaware of it.
There is a troubling history of comparing black people to monkeys or apes. This was done to justify treating black people as less than human, whether that meant slavery, Jim Crow laws or any other form of discrimination.
Calling a black person a monkey fosters those damaging attitudes, intentionally or not.
Adams gave a good apology. His background, while an explanation for his error, does not let him off the hook. He owned that he said something inappropriate and said he was sorry.
The only other thing you can ask is that he – and all of us – learn from this and why it matters.
Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard:
Study five, conducted at Penn State University, took a different approach. A group of white male students were primed with words associated with either apes or big cats. They then watched a tape of a policeman beating a man, a la Rodney King. Half were told the man (whose image was unclear on the film) was white; the other half were told he was black.
The students who were primed with cat words considered the beating unjustified. So did those who were primed with ape words but were told the victim was white. But those who were primed with the ape words and told the victim was black were far more ambivalent in their reaction. “The association between black and ape left our white respondents more open to the possibility that police violence might in fact be justified,” Goff said.
Goff considers the sixth and final study the most distressing of all. “We looked at 183 cases over a 20-year span where a defendant was found guilty of a crime and was eligible for the death penalty,” he said. “We looked at any article from the Philadelphia Inquirer that mentioned the incident, up until the sentencing. We coded them for words like ‘ape,’ ‘beast,’ ‘brute’ or ‘jungle’ — ape-specific words.
“It turned out African Americans had significantly more ape-related images ascribed to them than did whites. And among African Americans, the more ape-related images you had in your press coverage, the more likely you were to be put to death.”