Is Calling Someone an “Ape” Racist?

You’re an “Ape”

The Australian Football League (AFL) Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes, stopped midgame at the MCG to point out the 13-year-old girl (apparently a Collingwood supporter) after she called him an “ape”.  Security staff subsequently escorted her from the grounds.

Goodes, is both a dual Brownlow medallist and is considered one of the AFL’s most decorated indigenous players.

“To hear a 13-year-old girl call me an ape … it was shattering,” Goodes said.  Amidst the rest of his statement he also said that girl needed support and education.  Adding that:   “I’ve got no doubt in my mind she’s got no idea what she was calling me last night.”

The girl had later called Adam Goodes to apologise.

In an interview, she also said:  “I didn’t mean it in a racist way and I’m sorry to the club and the AFL.”

What About Context?

This raises the question, that whilst the “ape” comment may well have been intended as derogatory, was it necessarily racist?  Context obviously matters.  Yet had the comment been made to a non-indigenous player, would it have been considered a racial slur or racial vilification at all?

For a person to ape someone is to say that they are imitating someone in every way.  Yet this is unlikely to be interpreted as a racist remark.

Similarly, to refer to a redhead as a “ranga” is not an uncommon slang phrase.  It truncates and alters the word “orang-utan” – a type of ape – and yet it is not taken as racist.  It may either be derogatory or a term of endearment, subject to the context.  Though it’s seldom, if ever, viewed as racist.

Others may be called a “gorilla” or even “Kong” and this is usually done as a mark of physicality and strength.  It may be derogatory or not.  Again an ape, yet it need not be explicitly racist.  (Likewise with the phrase “monkey” which may be linked with agility and climbing ability.)

Racism and Mismeasuring People

That is not to suggest that non-Caucasians haven’t suffered in the past due to the misguided and racist views of Caucasians.  Far from it.  Stephen Jay Gould’s book The Mismeasure of Man, is replete with such examples.

In the 18th and early 19th century evolutionary scientists in Europe (and of European descent) believed that Tasmanian Aborigines were the ‘missing’ link between apes and humans.  They were very wrong.

Animal Crackers

People are often likened to animals in some way.  Taking it as part of a description, whether as an act of imagery or stating some supposed quality.  It may or may not be meant with a negative connotation.

He was eagle-eyed.

She had a flabby face with jowls like a pig.

What then, of say, someone calling a person from France a “frog” is that racist?

Yet has the very recent “ape” comment in Australia been blown out of proportions and context?  Is it that people ‘want’ to believe it was a racist comment?  Should no-one ever be referred to in some way as an animal, whether simile or metaphor, ever again for fear it may be construed as always being a racial slur?

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Feature Image Credits: Mobilegnome; Timellis09

  • Astro

    Western society is very touchy at the moment – Naming someone as a racist has become a tool for many from minority groups to get their own way.

    Did the young girl have racist intentions behind what she said, i doubt it very much. doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt the one she aimed it at though (ie: Goodes)

    But taking up your point about naming someone a ranga – of course it is hurtful to the person it is being aimed at – and if calling someone an ape is not allowed, then calling someone a ranga – should be forbidden too.

    I take one exception to how many Australian Indigenous sports players have taken up wearing the colours of the aboriginal flag on their mouth-guard – So it is okay for black people – indigenous or not, to proudly wear the symbol of being black, but if a white person does the same, then they are shunned in society. There are MAJOR double standards at the moment, that has to change quick smart. Being equal is not allowing one group (indigenous or not) to be allowed the freedom to do what they like, with flashing symbols of their skin colour – when the rest in the society has to follow the political correct path. What is good for the goose is good for the ganda. Black and white