Here’s Why White People Should Not Call Black People “Apes”

Whitney Alese
5 min readMay 30, 2018

White people, I am going to take time today to help you out.

You cannot call Black people monkeys, apes, or any other form of primate. It is racist. That is why Black people across the globe raged about that H&M hoodie and why Netflix really should make some changes with it’s Sanrio show Aggretsuko.

No, it is not racist if someone calls you a monkey or an ape. It’s mean, yes, but it is not the same. Here is why:

This view of Black people as animals, essentially, is more than just a mean name to call someone. It has had violent, history altering, culture destroying effects upon people of the Africa diaspora, effects still viewed today as per the latest Rosanne tweet (that has, effectively, ended her show, and hopefully her career).

Where does all of this come from?

While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when Africans and those descended from them were labeled as subhuman, i.e. apes and monkeys, there are many comparisons so well embedded within history, culture and even in areas of science. Many can be blamed on some of the most casual observations (that we would now not even consider to be effective science) as The Conversation describes as:

  • the wide variety of great apes in Africa (because if there are so many apes on a continent, then the people living there must be close to them, right? Cue eye roll);
  • the “aesthetic distance” between White and Black people. Black people just look different from White people, and these differences where harped upon as a form, from the White perspective, of physical “otherness”. This otherness was viewed not just as diversity as one would see in many other species of the same race in different climates, but as a deviant in the worst way;
  • the higher esteem generally given to European civilizations as opposed to against African civilizations (off the top of your head: how many countries can you name in Europe as opposed to African ones?)
  • and above all the global trauma of hundreds of years of slavery in modernity, which embedded into the global consciousness those of Black skin as perpetual subhumans.

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Whitney Alese

Whitney Alese is a writer & podcaster, featured in WIRED Magazine (Sept 2020) & I-D Magazine (Dec. 2021), and NBC (Jan 2023). She is based in Philadelphia.