- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

An MRI exam can’t help. Neither can an X-ray. Sonograms are completely useless in this area, too.

Medical technology simply is incapable of revealing what you truly believe in your heart and actually think in your head.

Those places can harbor the ugliest feelings and seamiest beliefs, yet go undetected if a person speaks and acts otherwise. Like when someone smiles and holds the door while inwardly cursing your existence and inferiority.

“Have a good day!”

Words can be deceiving and actions can lack sincerity. Or they can be accurate reflections of your essential nature. We never know.

But we have nothing else to go on.

Oklahoma City center Steven Adams referred to two players of African descent — Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — as “quick little monkeys” after Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Did he realize the pain in such analogies? Was he aware of centuries-old implications? Did he know that blacks worldwide are demeaned as being equated to primates?

“I wasn’t thinking straight,” Adams told USA Today in an apology. “I didn’t know it was going to upset anyone, but I’m truly sorry. It was just a poor choice of words. I was just trying to express how difficult it was chasing those guys around.”

“Rabbits” or “squirrels” would’ve been so much better.

Predictably, Adams‘ comments caused a stir, quickly sending familiar opponents to the ring. Fighting out of the red corner was “He Wasn’t Intentionally Offensive So Stop Being Sensitive.” In the blue corner was “Historically Oppressive Language Still Reflects Problems Today.”

The referee was a no-show, as usual.

Adams apologized and sounds sincere. Great. But we shouldn’t move on without reflecting on what happened.

The issue is impact, not intent.

Unlike a multitude of tweets and comments about, say, President and first lady Obama, Adams remark doesn’t appear to be evil and malicious. Conversely, we don’t have to guess the hateful motives of those who photoshop monkey faces onto the first couple.

Or those who throw bananas at athletes on soccer fields and hockey rinks.

We can take Adams at his word that he meant no harm, that growing up in New Zealand made him culturally ignorant to the loaded phrase. But don’t play dumb, as if everyone in his native country — and others overseas and around the globe — would be clueless in using the same terminology.

Though comparing blacks to monkeys isn’t bound by borders, language or religion, Adams said his usage of the imagery was innocent.

“It’s just different, mate,” Adams told USA Today. “Different words, different expressions and stuff like that. But they obviously can be taken differently, depending on which country you’re in. I’m assimilating, mate, still trying to figure out the boundaries. But I definitely overstepped them.”

Again, there’s no indication that he meant to be offensive. He seems to regret his choice of words and I’m not questioning his earnestness.

But I’m always disappointed when racist metaphors surface in the mainstream instead of remaining in the digital sewer where they belong.

Sportscaster Howard Cosell was sorry when he used “that little monkey” in referring to Washington wide receiver Alvin Garrett during a “Monday Night Football” game in 1983. Billy Packer was sorry when he referred to Allen Iverson as “a tough monkey” during a game between Georgetown and Villanova in 1996.

Both announcers said they didn’t mean to be disparaging. Garrett said the comment didn’t bother him and Hoyas coach John Thompson defended Packer, saying “He is not racist.”

Regardless, too much real racial animus already exists here and abroad. Supposedly, innocuous “monkey” references can’t be uttered without objection, lest we encourage an increase in open bigotry.

Hidden forms of prejudice are bad enough. Neither one is harmless.

“If Adams was referring to a backcourt of Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic, no one bats an eye,” CSN Mid-Atlantic’s J. Michael wrote in an editorial, as if white people have been likened to primates in demeaning fashion for hundreds of years.

Michael reported there’s video evidence that Cosell used “little monkey” in reference to a white player prior to the infamous broadcast. “It was an offhand remark about Alvin Garrett, an expression that Cosell said he’d used in describing his grandchildren,” Michael wrote. “It wasn’t about race.”

Maybe not intentionally.

But likening blacks to monkeys is well within reach of the toxic racial hatred that bubbles in some hearts and minds. That’s why being clear is crucial: Such language has no place among enlightened people, whether said purposefully or mistakenly.

Adams seems to fall in the latter category. Fine. Let’s say he’s the person who accidentally opens the emergency door.

Don’t blame the alarm when it sounds.

It’s our reminder that real threats exist and vigilance is appropriate. We can assess intent afterward. But the alert is always reset.

Turning it off would be too dangerous.


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