Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sam Newman in racist "monkey" trouble

The Footy Show's Sam Newman has been accused of racism by the ABC's Media Watch program, for use of the racial slur "monkey" in reference to two people.

It was in reference to a story from Malaysia in which a 37-year old man (Muhammad Musa) was married to a 107-year-old woman (Wook Kundor). Holding up a picture of the couple and asking what kind of person would want to marry her, Newman referred to Musa as a "monkey". When co-panellist Brendan Fevola told Newman "you can't call him a monkey", Newman replied: "That man is not long out of the forest."

When Fevola (recently dropped from the show due to his drunken antics) is giving you advice on appropriate behaviour, it's time for a long hard look at yourself.

Not long after, Newman referred to African-American tennis player Serena Williams, and held her picture up next that of Musa by way of comparison.

You can watch the clip from Media Watch here.

This is not the first time that the "monkey" label has caused controversy in Australia. It was only last year that Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh was in hot water for allegedly calling Australian player Andrew Symonds (who is of Afro-Caribbean descent) by the term.

And Newman has form - he's no stranger to controversy. You may remember in 1999, at a time when racism against Aboriginal footballers was a big issue, he blacked up his face in impersonation of indigenous player Nicky Winmar. Last year, when sexual assault scandals were plaguing the league, he placed a picture of journalist Caroline Wilson on a mannequin and proceeded to handle the doll in a sexual way (resulting in him being "rested" from the program). Last week, when being inducted into the AFL Media Association's Hall of Fame, he launched into a rambling rant criticising others in the industry, and when one of the audience called out for him to get off, he replied with "Get f***ed."

Now, some have questioned why the current incident should be considered racist, since Newman has referred to white people in the past as "monkeys" and called his co-panellist Jason Dunstall a "silverback gorilla".

And look, I don't like to support Newman who is clearly a stupid fool, but it could be argued that labelling this racist is an overreaction. Some comments I have read supporting Newman ask why it is not racist to refer to a white man as being a monkey, but it is racist to refer to a non-white that way. And you could argue that it is the politically correct brigade who are being racist if they automatically connect "monkey" to someone's ethnicity. It has been suggested that both Serena Wiliams and Muhammad Musa do in fact look ape-like, thus the comparison. The same could arguably said for Symonds. Cricket commentator Greg Matthews tried to clumsily add to the debate by saying "monkey" was not an appropriate adjective for the burly, powerfully-built Symonds, and then likening him more to a "silverback gorilla".

Oh dear.

What a lot of people have missed here is the historical context. People of African descent, and to a lesser extent Asians, have been likened to monkeys throughout history as a way of lessening their humanity. It was frequently stated in the 19th century that Africans had evolved little from the apes in comparison to Europeans, and you'll still hear people say that today. Witness scenes still occurring at some football games throughout Europe where idiot fans throw bananas and make monkey sounds at black players. But there is no real historical context for a white man being offended due to being called a monkey by another race, if that ever were to happen.

Thus the furore over this recent cartoon in the New York Post, which alludes to President Obama:

Was the cartoonist perpetuating the monkey slur against black people? It's hard to say. Former President Bush was occasionally likened to a chimpanzee in his time in office, which most likely referred to his intellectual abilities rather than race.

So while I'm not saying that Sam Newman was definitely being racist, he was at very least being very stupid and displayed the sensitivity of a neanderthal. You just don't go calling coloured people monkeys.

White Westerners have generally prospered from the legacy of their forebears colonial exploitation of the world. They are on average wealthier than other peoples, and have more opportunities. So don't complain its unfair when non-whites don't like you calling them monkeys, its a small price to pay when you think about it.

Find this interesting? You may like:

Racial humour - when is it okay?.

Controversy over "blackface" Jackson 5 skit

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing that until Sam Newman is involved in a racism issue, I really cannot believe it. Definitely this problem never stop if we continue as until now.