Monkeying About: A Roy Hodgson moment

Reading about Roy Hodgson’s ‘space monkey’ joke and how it has caused a furore reminded me of an incident in school about five years ago. I was walking through a corridor when a white year eight girl went past me with a little, and he was very little, black year seven boy who she had on ‘a lead’ (a piece of string attached to his school tie). In itself this was unusual enough, but she was encouraging him to follow her by cajoling him with the phrase: “Come on my little Monkey!” I stopped her immediately: “Excuse me,” says I, “What did you just say?!?” To which she replied innocently: “I said ‘come on my little monkey’, sir.” I looked at her and said: “You can’t say that, you can’t call him your little monkey!” The boy who looked very upset said to me: “But I AM her little monkey sir, and she’s taking me back to the zoo!” Now I was very flustered, a white girl with a black boy on a lead and her calling him a little monkey was surely a clear-cut case of racism. Yet they both looked at me so innocently, and I could tell they didn’t want me to spoil their ‘imaginative game’. I prevaricated, I muttered something about how you shouldn’t say such things, so be careful or something and I let them carry on. They went away with the joie de vivre of two little children playing a great game.

The innocence of the children makes me laugh but the event still disturbs. Should I have dealt with it differently? I wonder if I had reported it what the reaction would have been to the black and white words on the page away from the context of the actual event…

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