Category Archives: cricket

Monkey business no laughing matter

Racist skull analysis

This rather offensive picture comes from Josiah Clark Nott and George Robert Gliddon, Indigenous races of the earth (First published 1857). It illustrates scientific theories of racism in the 19th century, which continued into the early 20th century. Essentially, the theory is that Aryan “races” are superior in evolutionary terms to Black “races”, and that people of African descent are more genetically related to monkeys than Aryan races. Personally I think that Apollo Belvidere looks like a bit of freak, and I’d rather be more closely related to the chimp than him, but maybe that’s just me. Such theories were used to justify colonialism, slavery, apartheid and racial discrimination by Europeans towards other races.

India

Cricket has been marred recently by allegations that Indian Harbhajan Singh called Australian Andrew Symonds a “monkey” during the recent test at the SCG. Three Australian players backed up Symonds, whereas Singh denies that he said Symonds was a monkey, and Tendulkar backs him up. Oh, and an important detail: although Symonds was brought up in Australia by his adoptive parents, he is part West Indian. There was a history behind this, with Symonds being repeatedly taunted by the Indian crowd in Mumbai last year, who made monkey gestures at him. Symonds alleges that Singh also called him a monkey during that match, but he preferred to settle it “man to man”, going to Singh after the match and asking him not to do it again. Singh also denied saying such a thing on that occasion, but apologised.

In the recent incident, match referee Mike Procter accepted the allegations of the Australian team and suspended Singh for 3 matches. Indian officials then threatened to abandon the Indian cricket team’s tour of Australia, saying that the allegations against Singh were unfair. In India, effigies of the test umpires and the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, were burned. There were calls for Ponting to be sacked as captain, in part because he “dobbed” Singh into the umpires. One of the umpires, West Indian Steve Bucknor, was made to stand down for the next test in Perth, prompting outrage from the West Indies. Brad Hogg was then accused by the Indians of calling Anil Kumble and Mahendra Dhoni “bastards”, scarcely a term of offense in Australia (more a term of affection), but much more offensive in India. The Indians now say that “monkey” is not an offensive term in India. In any case, the Test will now go ahead after the ICC acceded to the Indian team’s demands.

There’s a few things here. Both the Indian and the Australian cricket teams have at times behaved badly. Neither team are perfect. Both have complained about the other appealing too many times. Both have sledged.

In Sydney, India lost a match which it looked like it was going to win, in part because of some refereeing decisions. I think this is why the decision to ban Singh provoked such passion. It was mixed up with frustration and disappointment. Certainly, I would have been very disappointed if I was an Indian fan after the Sydney test. Australia has been the dominant force in cricket in the recent decade (very much like the West Indies during my youth), and there is a perception by the Indians that Australia thinks it can rule the roost as a result. By the same token, the Indian cricket authorities are using their economic power to get their way in a bullying fashion, but if anyone questions it, they claim Australians don’t like the thought of “brown” people controlling the game. I don’t care who controls the game, as long as whoever controls it treats everyone equally, regardless of whether they are black, brown or white, and regardless of how much money they put into the game. That’s a fundamental principle of justice – no favour should be given to race, religion or class. The adjudication should merely be on the merits.

On the merits of the matter, there are two conflicting accounts of events, both with esteemed players backing up their sides’ account, which makes it very difficult to adjudicate. I’m reluctant to come down on any particular side or the other without a full view of the evidence. What is important is the lesson to be learned about sledging and the appropriateness of “friendly” rivalry. I’ve never been a fan of sledging and taunting the other team. I really don’t think it’s very sportsmanlike, whoever does it.

The Australian team should be aware that in other countries, the term “bastard” is far more offensive than it is in Australia. I know that when I went to live in the UK, my father warned me not to use the term. But the other teams should also be aware that if an Aussie calls someone a bastard, it’s often more affectionate than nasty.

By the other token, I think that Indians should be aware that there is an entire racist discourse behind calling a person with West Indian background as a “monkey”. It may be culturally acceptable in India to call someone a monkey, but as the picture at the beginning of this post shows, to single out the only black man in a team for that name has some very unpleasant connotations. If it’s not racist, why did the Mumbai crowd single out Symonds? Why were the other (white) team members not called monkeys too? I suggest the only answer can be racism. It ill behooves a group of people who have been under the colonial yoke to adopt racist colonial stereotypes. There is a certain fallacious logic to some of the responses that “brown people can’t be racists”. Anyone can be racist. Racism is present in all societies. It so happens that in most continents, for reasons of “luck” or historical happenstance (rather than because of any intrinsic superiority), Europeans colonised and subjugated other people. But it could just as easily have been a different ethnic group if the conditions had been right.

To call a man of partial West Indian descent a “monkey” could be said to suggest, in accordance with 19th century scientific racism, that black people are somehow less than human. So it’s far worse than just an insult. It’s a justification for slavery and genocide. It’s like teasing a Jew with a swastika and saying it’s an innocent Hindu symbol – the racist subtext of the swastika makes it non-innocent. I note that in the Hindustan Times, many Indians have written justifying the use of the word “monkey” towards Symonds. Those Indians should look at the picture at the start of the post and think carefully about that claim, because there is a deep racism ingrained in that insult. In my opinion, regardless of whether or not Singh actually called Symonds a monkey, it should be made clear to all cricketers and cricketing fans that racist terms such as this are simply unacceptable, and to say it was “just a friendly term” is disingenous.

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