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language matters: black folks aren’t animals

January 28, 2019
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Over the weekend, a New York City police union drew backlash for their racist characterization of a professional football player after an alleged altercation with an NYPD sergeant. Authorities are alleging the Detroit Lions linebacker Trevor Bates acted “beyond that of a wild animal” when he punched the sergeant and refused to pay his cab fare in Queens. While no one is questioning the validity of the allegations against Bates, the language used to characterize him is clearly a racist one. Speaking on behalf of the Communities United for Police Reform, director Joo-Hyun Kang called out the NYPD’s description as being racist and pointed to a pattern of dehumanizing language the department and its affiliates have used against Black and brown citizens. Just the week before the head of the city’s officers’ union referred to a 16-year-old who was sentenced for dragging a police officer outside a car, causing critical injuries, a “mutt.”

“If the allegations against Bates, including not paying his cab fare are true, he should be held accountable. But the constant use by N.Y.P.D. unions of racist dog whistles to dehumanize and criminalize Black communities must be condemned, and end,” said Kang.

Attributing animalistic behavior and appearance to Black people is, globally, an anti-Black phenomenon used to dehumanize us. In the UK, Bollywood star Esha Gupta is facing similar backlash for describing Nigerian Arsenal F.C. player Alex Iwobi as a “gorilla.” Gupta, who is an ambassador for the popular soccer club, messaged a friend on WhatsApp during Arsenal’s match against Manchester United saying of Iwobi, “Solves our winger issues. I can’t see that gorilla faced Iwobi running down the flank again. He’s so bad ya,” adding, “It’s like evolution stopped for him. Didn’t change from Neanderthal to man.”

I don’t know about you, but describing a Black man as an animal for not yielding the results you wanted seems pretty racist. But like so many non-Black people accused of racism, Gupta offered a non-apology for what she describes as a mischaracterization on our parts social media post, “Guys, I’m sorry you thought it was racist. Was bad on my part, being a sports lover. Wallah never meant it. Sorry guys forgive the stupidity.” The post continues, “Well it was my fault. So gotta own up to my shit… sorry. It was us discussing our frustration during the game. Sorry as I didn’t realize it was directed towards racism. Laughed over spur of the moment, which was the games result guys. Been victim of racism myself before. But this is not something I’m proud of. It was a fault, sorry guys.”

Here’s a hint: stop referring to Black people as animals.