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Banana-eating jungle monkey? An innocent mistake, I'm sure

Thu 30 Jul 2009, 10:44 PM

by Ben Langhinrichs
There are some stories which make me thank my lucky stars I didn't decide to go to law school.  This particular story, on, starts:
A Boston, Massachusetts, police officer who sent a mass e-mail referring to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. as a "banana-eating jungle monkey" didn't intend to express bigoted views or cause pain, his attorney said in a statement Thursday night.
Nah, how could you possibly think that referring to a black Harvard professor as a "banana-eating jungle monkey", four times in all, was possibly expressing a bigoted view?  But my favorite line comes a bit later in the article.  You can almost predict it, and still it astounds me:
Marano said Wednesday that Barrett's comments were taken out of context.
This is the catchall excuse for anything anyone says that they shouldn't (although sometimes it is said by people with good reason as well), but can you imagine trying to keep a straight face as you explain what context would justify this offensive and racist stereotyping?

Yup, I'm glad I didn't go to law school.  Can you imagine defending this guy?

Read the entire story: Attorney: Cop made mistake with 'jungle monkey' e-mail

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What has been said:

849.1. Ian Randall
(31/07/2009 04:40 AM)

I agree it's obviously a racist comment in any context.

However is it really any worse then Dick Cheney in 2003 referring to the French President Jacques Chirac and the French people in general as "Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys"?

849.2. Tim Lorge
(07/31/2009 05:02 AM)

@Ian - Ummm first, it was Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons who first brought us that wonderful phrase for my people and second, Chaney never said that about Chirac. It was British MEP Nigel Farage.

849.3. Tim Lorge
(07/31/2009 05:05 AM)

P.S. The cop is still a dope. :o)

849.4. Rodney Scott
(07/31/2009 10:57 AM)

You get the argument you pay for:

cop's salary: "We all know what a butthead my client is."

middle income: "My client did not intend to insult, slur, dig, asperse, zing, slam, dishonor, roast, libel, smear, defame, disgrace, or in any other way malign said professor with his electronic online correspondence."

top dollar: "I intend to prove my client was temporarily insane."

There are many more reasons to be glad you didn't go to law school. I do wonder if the cop would have paid the same consequence had his message called Palin a brainless hick instead (something I was guilty of just yesterday). I'll leave you all to rant about "the difference", expecting at least one history lesson, while I'm off at my brother's wedding. I'll be relieved to return and find out why I don't deserve to lose my job (if I don't). Keep in mind that this cop didn't personally arrest anyone, but returned insults to a professor who had first called a fellow officer a racist. I wonder how Gates would have handled my friend's experience of calling the cops during a violent attack (library tagging incident) and they never show? Clearly not with the simple eye roll my friend did. Of course, he's used to it. He doesn't expect any better.

849.5. Ben Langhinrichs
(07/31/2009 01:54 PM)

@Rodney - The term "brainless hick" may not be respectful, but is far less offensive in my opinion. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were both called similar things in earlier days. Even aside from the direct racial stereotyping, the term relates in some way to what Palin is and does, in that people feel (matter of opinion) that her recent actions and older interviews made her seem "brainless", and some conclude that part of the problem is that she is from a more remote, rural state "hick". Gates is a professor at Harvard who made some questionable decisions while facing a police officer in his home. There is nothing in "banana-eating jungle monkey" which relates in any way that I can see, except as a racial slur.

849.6. Rodney Scott
(08/01/2009 03:31 AM)

Is it "far less offensive" or do the targets just get "far less offended"? Next time you meet a 6-year-old, white or black, toss this racial slur at him and see if he doesn't laugh. Clinton and Carter, admitting they've been called hicks, probably relayed this in some story that ended with "so I tried to prove the guy wrong", not "that's when I realized some people hold unacceptable opinions about poor white people, and they must be punished, scared and muted". I admit some people have taught me what's offensive by uttering it and losing their job. Yesterday this guy was a cop, today he probably can't find another job, over an e-mail he sent that insulted somebody who never received the e-mail. Some guy who had insulted cops first. Every special interest group has some rein over this, but I can't think of the hillbilly equivalent. What do you call a redneck outside your company that will cost you your job? Hell, you can simply call them a "bigot" and THEY lose THEIR job! The end result is an unacceptable limitation on speech. Some groups can't argue with others cause they can't safely express their opinions. Minorities need protection, but rights are also trampled in overkill, and it might do this country some good to reassess who is truly a minority where. For instance, who truly has the power in, say, New York City or San Francisco? The Christian white male?

849.7. Ben Langhinrichs
(08/01/2009 03:45 AM)

@Rodney - I think I can safely say it is "far less offensive". You are certainly free to disagree. Given that the mayor of New York is a white male, albeit Jewish, and the mayor of San Francisco is a Christian white male, I hardly see your point.

849.8. Philip Storry
(03/08/2009 09:20)


"I can avoid the bigotry with a fictional past, and I realize that black people can't use lies, but gays can, and if they expect others to do it, I find them harder to defend."

My European mind boggles at this statement.

Buried as it is in a torrent about discrimination, it brings to mind two possibilities:

1. I gravely misread it.

2. Advice as to the wisdom of throwing stones when in glass houses.

I would certainly say that if you genuinely find that statement and the ones following it defensible, you should step back and ask yourself why you should feel qualified to speak evenly and fairly about discrimination.

I appreciate you may feel you have been discriminated against yourself, but that's not a valid defence. Eye for an eye is what leads us into blind conflict.

(This comment has been trimmed to avoid heated argument. Amongst the topics removed were: Majorities portraying themselves as minorities, a victim culture, fear in the media, and the use of newspeak techniques in modern day political discourse. None of these were directed at you per se, Rodney, so I decided to address just your comments. Still, they may be interesting topics for another discussion.)

849.9. Rodney Scott
(08/04/2009 01:47 AM)

Philip, I obviously enjoy heated arguments, so please send the entire statement to my e-mail - I promise to be more polite than I have to some opponents in the past (I'll need a day of travel tomorrow, but will get back to you Wednesday). Your "eye for an eye" indicates you think I have intentionally misled people. I have not. I'll happily send you links to court cases with the facts I quoted, and my trojan horse theory was what I thought at the time. But my mind is changeable with new information. I should warn you that some of my opinions about free speech, in this case, were shaped by my understanding that both Gates and officer Crowley have professional histories of helping African Americans. Plus Crowley was chosen to teach a course on racial sensitivity at the police academy, so if he's racist, indeed they have a problem!

849.10. Rodney Scott
(08/04/2009 02:19 AM)

I also do want to make it clear that my fear of discrimination rests in the city, not in my supervisor. I would not enjoy the job at all if I did not get along well with him, and he tries hard to do the right thing. The problem is that the city makes reverse discrimination seem, unfortunately, like "the right thing to do", which makes me avoid the risk.