If you ask Twitter, Republican Ron DeSantis is obviously a racist. In a Fox News interview after his primary win Tuesday night, he said Andrew Gillum, the black nominee for governor on the Democratic ticket, was “articulate,” but that Florida doesn’t need to “Monkey this up.”
That's not a dog whistle. Or a human whistle for that matter. That's a bullhorn being carried by someone who calls themselves "Grand Wizard."
— Ben Philippe (@gohomeben) August 29, 2018
Uh Ron DeSantis just said FL shouldn't "monkey this up" by electing Andrew Gillum pic.twitter.com/nDPp3Hx7zc
— Steve Morris (@stevemorris__) August 29, 2018
It sounds bad. Maybe Ron DeSantis really doesn’t know there’s a long sordid history of comparing black people to monkeys. Or maybe he’s unaware that calling a black person articulate signals a belief that most black people aren’t.
Argue with me over whether that should be the case. The fact of the matter is that many people perceive it to be. (Nobody’s accusing DeSantis of being articulate.)
If DeSantis was hoping to avoid the racist label, his campaign staffers should have let him know.
But it’s possible the phrase “monkey this up,” isn’t racist at all.
In various contexts, phrases like, “monkey around,” “monkey business,” “monkey on your back,” and “more fun than a barrel of monkeys,” have been used with no racial undertones. None of these phrases are automatically racist, and neither is “monkey this up.”
A quick Google search and you’ll find a host of random others who have innocently used the phrase. In the DreamWorks film, Madagascar: The Big Squeeze, Skipper, the lead penguin tells private, who’s dressed in a an actual monkey suit, to “monkey it up a little” to create a diversion.
See, Twitter, this phrase did exist before DeSantis used it this morning.
But in a state where teachers are getting suspended for telling students not to date black students (except he used the N-word), or where a student takes a racially disparaging way of asking a date to prom, or where a principal emails staff saying white students should be in the same classes together, anyone running for office or working as a public servant (or literally everyone), should be sensitive to the racial context of their remarks, even if they’re intended innocently.
I don’t know if DeSantis is really racist who’s signalling to those afraid of putting a black man in power, or if he really is just that clueless about the meaning of the words he uses.
.@RonDeSantisFL spokesman: "Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd."
— Gary Fineout (@fineout) August 29, 2018
His campaign says he didn’t mean it as a racist comment, but context is everything. And when you’re a white Trump-favored candidate running against a black man in any race, it’s best to just stay away from words like “articulate” or any references to monkeys.