Neil deGrasse Tyson (YouTube)

Neil deGrasse Tyson uses science to destroy the age-old racist "monkey" slur once and for all

The science popularizer was asked to comment on the Australian rules footballer Adam Goodes jeered by racist crowds


Colin Gorenstein
August 5, 2015 12:10AM (UTC)

Adam Goodes, the Australian rules footballer jeered by crowds for his celebratory Indigenous dancing, became the topic of global conversation this month. Many of these conversations forced Australians to reexamine the country's race problem, and shortly thereafter, a social media movement under the hashtag #IstandwithAdam was born.

On Monday, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson appeared on a panel for the Australian Broadcasting Association's Q&A where he was asked to comment on Goodes and race relations today.

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Tyson, who said he wasn't at license to speak for Australia, offered, instead, a "cosmic" perspective on the news story.

"What we do in math is you separate the variables and what’s happening is all the variables are jumbled together and people are reacting but if you separate the variables, it can be revealing,” he said.

Tyson continued:

“For example, he is celebrating his score at the end of a game. Correct? I mean, during the game and he does it in a way that’s different from everyone else gesturally and, to me, that’s a form of freedom of expression, a freedom of speech. If you don’t like that, at some point you have to confess to yourself you’re not a fan of freedom of speech and so if you are going to do that, that’s a different country from what I understand Australia claims to be. That’s A.”

The astrophysicist then addressed an incident that occurred during the AFL's Indigenous Round in 2013 in which a 13-year-old was escorted from the grounds after calling Goodes an "ape." Tyson theorized that this was learned behavior -- that the girl had likely picked up this slur from "an environment where it'd been said before."

A recent news story supports Tyson's theory: The Independent reported Sunday that the mother of the 13-year-old was defending the usage of the racial slur and asking Goodes to apologize for singling out her daughter. She called his behavior "ridiculous."

"You know what she’s done, she’s selectively chosen things about apes that she thinks apply to him and not other things that would apply to people who are white," Tyson said. "For example, apes have hair all over their bodies. You have never seen a black person with hair all over their bodies. Black people are some of the least hairiest people in this world! Who are the hairiest? It’s white people! With hair on the back, out of the neck. And so if you focussed on hair then you could call white people monkeys, right. It’s all racist conduct.”

Watch the clip courtesy of Raw Story below:

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Colin Gorenstein

Colin Gorenstein is Salon's assistant editor of internet and viral content. Follow @colingorenstein or email cgorenstein@salon.com.

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