In the ongoing India Australia series the Monkey seems to have received more attention than any of the players from either side or any member from the ‘elite’ panel of umpires. It is time we debate whether the term ‘Monkey’ be regarded racist at all.
The Sydney Test is done and dusted. The Indians lost the Test due to very poor umpiring decisions and also because the Indians could not bat out the last two sessions of the Day. But the story that has garnered most attention is the Racism Row. Harbhajan Singh had earlier been convicted and banned for three test matches but now it seems that BCCI has ensured that the ban be revoked and Harbhajan plays in the Perth Test. Now that the ugly spat between the two players is out in the open we know that Harbhajan Singh had allegedly used the term ‘Monkey’ against Andrew Symonds. But is Monkey really a racist term?
As a child, I was often called this name. Little did I know that it had racist connotations and I could take my parents to Court for calling me a monkey? The other surprising element is that almost everywhere in the world the word Monkey is used to denote a mischievous child or a mimic. The Oxford and the Websters dictionary do not throw any light on its Racist Connotation. Infact, even the slang is used to denote an addiction to Narotics whereas a British Slang is used to refer to Monkey as a sum of 500 pounds.
There are phrases that exist in the English Language which exist such as ‘Quit Monkeying around’ whose usage is prevalent all around the World.
“a monkey on one’s back”, which maybe considered a Slang is used to denote an addiction to a drug or an enduring and often vexing habit or urge whereas the phrase
“make a monkey out of” means to cause to appear ridiculous or to make a fool of. If the word Monkey had any racist connotations what so ever then these phrases would have not stood the test of time and would have been banned long back.
Former Aussie Coach John Buchanan was asked whether the word Monkey should be considered Racist. Buchanan wrote in his column on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) website “When I was growing up as a young fella, ‘you little monkey’ was a common colloquial reference for all children due to our ability to be a bit cheeky at times,” Former Indian captain and batting great Kris Srikanth was asked the same question. He replied saying that, “I was often called a Monkey even while batting on the pitch. Never thought it could be racist”
In Indian Mythology, We worship Hanuman or Bajrangbali as a God. And as depicted in Ramayan, Hanuman was a monkey by tribe. And hence in India, the word monkey is a virtue, not a vice. But we can be sure the context in which it was used Harbhajan Singh was definitely not referring to Symonds as a God but nor can it be taken to be racist.
Another argument which comes into the picture is that the entire human race is said to have evolved from the Monkeys or the Apes. Thus the term does not apply to a specific race alone but to the entire human race and hence should not be considered racist.
In 2005 in Australia, Brisbane Lions footballer Jason Akermanis had his radio programme axed and accused of racism for calling the show’s producers “monkeys” It was said that this had degraded the Aboriginal Community and should be considered Racist.
In America though the term “monkey” can be considered Racist. It is present in the Cassell Dictionary of Slang and is a very versatile racist word, being used by whites to describe blacks and by Americans generally to describe Japanese or Chinese or other Asian origin people.
But the colloquial language in Australia does not confirm its racist connotation. The Macquarie Dictionary has sixteen definitions, none of them racist. It is not even mentioned as a Racist term in the Macquarie Dictionary of Slang.
If Monkey is considered Racist what about the Australians being referred to as the Kangaroos or the New Zealanders being called the Kiwis. Is that racist too? In the World of Rugby, the South Africans are called Springboks and the Argentineans are referred to as the Pumas. Racist again? Sourav Ganguly is called the Royal Bengal Tiger. The Tiger is at the brink towards extinction but he has never minded it.
The Indian Film Industry is creating a storm across the World. But it will have to be more careful now in using the terms “Kutthey Kameeney”, “Gadhe ke Auladh”, “Ullu ke Patte”, “Sooyar ke bachche” etc in Hindi movies. Or the Indian movies could be banned overseas.
But at then end of it all, what has to be looked into is the intent with which the player used the Word. Harbhajan Singh would have known that a small portion of the Crowd which was making Monkey gestures at Wankhede Stadium was imprisoned for making such gestures. Maybe it was a term to tease Symonds as is often done in Cricket. On the other hand, Symonds didn’t need to create such a big issue out of it. I am sure he would have used more offensive terms in his Cricketing Career against other players.
The World seems to be falling into a grip of Racist Lingo. Pundits believe that a few years down the Line whatever you would say would end up being considered racist. As for the Harbhajan, Symonds Controversy the two teams should sit together face to face without the Media glare and solve the issue amicably. Cricket unlike Reality Shows doesn’t need any controversies; the sport by itself is popular enough.