On Monday, Feb. 1, the Sacramento Kings beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 111–104. According to various news outlets (and Twitter), a bit of drama also went on right before the game.
Kings center DeMarcus Cousins — who sat out of Monday’s game due to a sprained ankle — arrived at the Sleep Train Arena and found Year of the Monkey t-shirts draped over the backs of seats for fans. The t-shirts, meant to celebrate the upcoming Lunar New Year, depicted a purple monkey (Kings’ color) over a black field.
Cousins asked for the shirts to be pulled, as he found it racially insensitive that shirts depicting monkeys were being given out at the beginning of what is also Black History Month.
“We all need a lesson in sensitivity,” Kings President Chris Granger said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “In an effort to celebrate Chinese New Year, we had some concerns about the t-shirt giveaway, so we pulled them all before the doors opened. Certainly we don’t want to offend anybody, and we acted as soon as we heard the concern.”
Associating Black people with monkeys or apes is a racist practice that is as old as the concept of race itself, beginning with the first contact between Europeans and Africans. It’s a term — like any pejorative — that aims to maim and dehumanize the people that it’s referring to, articulating that they are lesser, animal-like, and savage.
These associations have real-world effects. A study done by University of California Los Angeles Psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff (when he was an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University) involved showing students videos of a white man and a Black man being beaten by police officers. Goff found that when students were primed with ape words before watching the videos, white respondents generally viewed the beating of the white man as unjustified and generally viewed the beating of the Black man as more justified.
“When I first analyzed the data, I spent two days under the covers,” Goff told Pacific Standard magazine in 2008. “I was sick and depressed. When I left my apartment, I felt everyone looking at me would see a monkey.”
We realize that the timing of giving away monkey shirts to celebrate Lunar New Year at a basketball game, one in which the majority of players are Black, during Black History Month is a case of unfortunate timing. We suspect even Cousins would admit that he doesn’t think the action was malicious or intentionally racist, based on how his comments thus far have sounded.
However, people of color are well-aware that often, the acts that reinforce stereotypes and inequitable institutions are often small and subtle — sometimes unintentionally harmful.
That is why it is important to listen and respect other people’s perceptions and feelings. If the shoe were on the other foot and APIs called for the removal of a shirt that we found offensive, we would hope that other people of color would support us. (end)