I love it when people get offended at things that aren't offensive or for the wrong reason. The tabloids have been trying to create a storm in a teacup over a comment made by Roy Hodgson in the England dressing room at half-time. It seems that he quoted the punchline to a poor joke by advising his players to "Feed the monkey", whilst encouraging them to pass to a player who happened to be black. Which would be very offensive if he had said it in a certain tone of voice and maybe made some monkey noises and thrown bananas at him. Of course those things used to happen in broad daylight, for real, with no one complaining and thousands of people laughing. So it's a sensitive issue, and football is embarrassed by its past. But sometimes (as in this case) a monkey is actually a monkey. If you think every reference to a monkey means "black person" then you are racist. In fact it's probably illuminating of changing values that a man can compare a black man to a monkey without even considering the racial implications of that. Roy Hodgson is possibly the least racist man in the country. He didn't even consider that monkey=black man, which is the world we want to live in surely. We want to live in a world where monkey doesn't equal black man in anybody's mind and thus the people who are trying to turn a case where monkey doesn't equal black man into one where it does are in fact the arseholes here. Though I admit I have just set the cause to disassociate anuses from idiots back myself.
If he was just quoting the punchline to a joke and people didn't know the joke then it might have seemed like an odd thing to say, but it would have been much odder if anyone thought he was breaking off his team talk to just start chucking racial epithets at his players. I think you'd have to be a bit crazy to assume he was doing that. Not that we shouldn't be careful not to cause unnecessary offence, but in this case people would really have to be looking to be offended. As so often with humour it is the intent that is important. If you think his intent was to undermine one of his own players (and one that was playing well) then you have lost touch with reality.
The joke is rubbish, of course. Here is a version of it as told by the Mirror: “Nasa decided they’d finally send a man up in a capsule after sending only monkeys in the earlier missions.
“They fire the man and the monkey into space. The intercom crackles, ‘Monkey, fire the retros.’ A little later, ‘Monkey, check the solid fuel supply.’
“Later still, ‘Monkey, check the life support systems for the man’.
“The astronaut takes umbrage and radios Nasa, ‘When do I get to do something?’
“Nasa replies, ‘In 15 minutes – feed the monkey’."
The monkey is the high status one in this joke. If anything it's racist or speciesist against human beings. The monkey knows what to do and the human is there to serve him. It would be an odd joke to bring up if you were trying to make a racist point. Perhaps the people who are affronted are assuming that the astronaut is white and the monkey is a black man, in which case it is a racist joke, but one against white people. Or maybe they think it's racist because they're assuming that the astronaut is black and inferior to the monkey. Though in a sense, as racist jokes go, that would still be a step forwards as it involves a black man in an important job, but we are in such an equal society that his skin colour is never referenced. But he's still less competent than a monkey. It becomes confusing, right.
In truth I think the joke was initially a racist one. It doesn't make too much sense in its present slightly politically correct version. Why is the astronaut being overlooked in favour of the monkey? You could argue that it's trying to say that astronauts are stupid, but that's not really a stereotype that would hold much water. You have to be pretty smart and fit and competent to go into space. This joke is actually astronautist. In fact the joke, I believe, had an earlier incarnation where it was about the world's first Irish astronaut (and I am guessing in American that that pilot might have been Mexican or Polish). Now, at least, the joke makes more sense. It's saying that a monkey would be cleverer than an Irish astronaut. Oh ho ho ho, the 1970s, you really knew how to be funny. Again Roy Hodgson did not realise the joke had this racist undercurrent. He's a true naive everyman figure like Chance the gardener or Forrest Gump. For him a monkey is a monkey and an astronaut is an astronaut and the point of football is to give the ball to the best player so he can put it in the goal. I think he might be our greatest hope of football glory.
Alas humour isn't so simplistic that you can have a list of words that are unacceptable in any context. In fact even the most offensive words have a context which is acceptable, for example, "Using the word motherfucker is inappropriate in a primary school." This is especially true, of course, of words that have two meanings, like "monkey". A censor with a list of words and a stringent desire to enforce their censorship could easily ruin most of David Attenborough's TV output. Even though there are much bigger and genuine examples of racism out there that desperately need to be tackled, I don't think it is a waste of time discussing these smaller issues. People are confused (clearly) about what is acceptable and what is not. We should be constantly evaluating and questioning, and when someone with little understanding of comedy or manners gets upset about something that is not in fact offensive, it's good to let them know they're making a mountain out of a molehill. And even though moles are black I am not making a racial illusion there and even though people talk about moving the mountain to Mohammed I am not trying to cause religious strife either. There's enough genuinely unpleasant and offensive people out there to deal with, without having to start picking up on people who clearly don't mean any harm.