Monday, February 8, is the start of the Lunar New Year and, for Asian Americans of Chinese descent, a very big deal.
It’s also the Year of the Monkey, and it only happens once every 12 years.
Ninth in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, the Monkey is actually a much more exalted sign than you’d think. Dragon is often considered at the top, but each sign represented by an animal like a dog, rat or snake has worthy qualities.
Next time, when you’re waiting for your Chinese food, read the place mat.
The monkey, you will note, is considered to be clever and smart and seen as a symbol with an elevated, dignified status, practically royal. Many see the monkey as an auspicious symbol of great success in the year to come.
Sound like a slur to you? Not to me either.
Enter Sacramento Kings star basketball player DeMarcus Cousins.
Last week, Cousins was upset that the franchise was celebrating Chinese New Year by placing T-shirts on all the seats as a fan giveaway and as a gesture in celebration of diversity.
Cousins, the All-Star player on a team that has been struggling mightily since the last Year of the Monkey, objected to the T-shirts, saying it was offensive.
Especially coming during the start of February Black History Month.
Surprisingly some people agreed.
Time magazine reported: “DeMarcus voices his displeasure and to the Kings credit they pull the Monkey T-shirts,” Marques Johnson, who is now a Milwaukee TV analyst, wrote on Twitter. “Good move Kings. Year of Monkey Tees on 1st day of Black History Month not a good look. Thanks DeMarcus,” he wrote in another tweet.
This kind of thing shows how ignorance spreads in social media.
And what do you know, the Kings front office folded. The team removed the T-shirts to placate King DeMarcus.
Here’s what should have happened.
The Kings should have sat down with Cousins and explained that the Year of the Monkey is important to the largest Asian minority in the state, the second largest minority group after Latinos (African-Americans are third), and a big part of the fan base in Northern California.
The Kings then should have explained the monkey is no slur but is considered a reason for celebration.
The Kings shouldn’t have been bullied by the star of their own making. But that’s what happened.
As a teenager from Alabama, Cousins played just one year at Kentucky, was paid $7 million to go pro in 2009, and is now at a whopping $15.8 million a year. At age 26.
Who knows if he got a degree. I’ll bet he didn’t take an Asian American history class.
At this point, the Kings have too much invested in the man called Boogie to even bother with truth.
He can say boo, and they jump.
I’m not denying Cousins’ feelings. They are what they are. But if it’s based on ignorance, we can’t allow that.
When it’s Whites’ displaying ignorance, that’s bad. When it’s people of color misunderstanding each other, we can’t let that stand.
Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator who writes about race and society at http://www.aaldef.org/blog