I haven’t read everything about what happened in the run-up to Andrew Symonds’ dismissal, but it seems a bit strange. The man had a few drinks, even though he apparently promised not to. On the other hand, where were his teammates? Did they all go to this rugby tournament, sit at a bench and order drinks, and then watch uneasily as Symonds reached for one after the other as well? Or did Symonds violate the team’s no-alcohol policy and just order one out loud?
Poor man. When the first Harbhajan-Symonds broke out, I tried to sketch a more complicated point of view. I argued a) that Singh did in fact call Symonds a monkey, which I thought reprehensible and deserved as much punishment as Symonds should have received for provoking the dispute, but also that b) Singh did not deserve the “racist” tag as a result.
To understand why, refer to the current debate in the U.S. over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Apparently, at one point, the judge said she thought a “wise Latina” would arrive at a better decision than a white man. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and other conservatives used the quote as evidence that Sotomayor was “racist,” even though where Sotomayor comes from — a minority in an all-white country — precluded her from exercising the power and systematic predujice tha “racism” implies.
So, words mean different things when spoken by different people. I rankled when Australian observers, happy for once to have the spotlight off their own rowdy, notorious stadium crowds, pointed to Indian “monkey” displays as if to say, “See! You’re racists too!” Well, not exactly: there’s white racism, a particularly potent strain that inflicted serious damage around the world, and then there’s brown silliness. (And this doesn’t mean South Asians aren’t prone to discrimination either, of course. Caste-ism is a serious issue in the ol’ country.)
Of course, for Symonds, the sneer only meant one thing, and he probably had to hear it countless times growing up in Australia (and not in the way Indians heard it from their parents and friends, but from occasionally nasty white people). Fair enough. This is why I find “monkey” comments now, particurlarly ones meant to vilify and joke, completely unhelpful. Take 12th Man’s comment on Amy S.’s blog post about Symonds:
“I understand no matter how much you teach a monkey to socialise with human beings, it will return to the trees. N.B. I am no racist.”
I generally like 12th Man’s stuff, but he really doesn’t need to write this kind of shit. It’s particularly distressing because that sort of line sounds like pitch-perfect 19th-century British colonialist talking about the restless natives. It’s not just the “monkey” tag, but the rest of the “civilizing” discourse, i.e. it’s the white man’s burden to teach the brown, inferior races how to behave properly and “mature.” Seriously out of line, 12th Man.
UPDATE: A heartfelt apology from 12th Man below. Much appreciated.