The NBA, a league of 74.4% black men, annually honors Black History Month. This year, NBA players are donning warmup shirts with the insignia Black History Month across the front. The recognition is nothing new. It’s been going on for years, the NBA honoring the men who make up most of their labor force.
The Sacramento Kings, on the first night of Black History Month, had planned a t-shirt giveaway. The t-shirts were black in color with a purple monkey to honor the Chinese Year of the Monkey, which begins on February 8th.
Kings star, DeMarcus Cousins objected. This particular exchange was described on Facebook by former UCLA star and NBA player Marques Johnson, who happens to be the color analyst of the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I walk into the building and DeMarcus Cousins calls me over to an animated discussion he is having with Kings operations people. He ask me ‘Olskool, what yo think about this T-Shirt? Told him a little insensitive on 1st day of Black History Month.”
For those who don’t get what the beef is about. In southern regions, beginning in the 1800’s, black men were characterized as monkeys. It was one more level of dehumanization in an attempt to defend the practice of slavery. The portrait of men as monkeys, and not men, was interpreted as a slave institution not based in cruelty, and that enslaving humans, torturing them, abusing them, separating them from their families, murdering them, did not apply as a moral crime. How could it be sadistic or an affliction? They were animals after all.
Over time, black men as monkeys became a popular cultural categorization all over the world. Black soldiers in World War II, in active combat, were often asked by Europeans to show their tails. Centuries later, the imagery has not receded. In Europe, when black soccer players are responsible for the outcome of a game where their team wins and a home team loses, often there are bananas thrown at them from racists fans and they are serenaded by monkey chants.
Credit DeMarcus Cousins for knowing the history and standing up for it.
Chris Granger, president of the Kings said:
“Certainly we don’t want to offend anybody and we acted as soon as we heard the concern.”
photo via llananba