Justin Bieber’s new graffiti hobby has already landed him an official charge of vandalism for tagging a wall of the disused Hotel Nacional in Brazil. Now, the singer has been accused of racism because of a monkey he spray-painted that’s been likened to “Sambo” imagery — the terminology of which dates as far back as the 18th century, right through to Minstrelsy, Mammy Jars, Jim Crow and beyond.
The teen star is currently steaming through South American dates on his Believe world tour, but has recently taken up graffiti, now seemingly leaving ‘I was here’ souvenirs in each country he plays.
The image causing all the politically correct fuss was spray-painted by Bieber in Brazil on Tuesday (Nov. 5) and posted to his Instagram account on Thursday. It shows a larger-than-life black figure closely resembling a monkey and adorned with a crown, a gold tooth, gold chain, a gold nose ring and gold earrings. The singer captioned it, “This is my escape.”
Fox News reports some comments underneath the post registered disapproval. One poster wrote, “So f***ing racist holy s**t!,” another wrote, “he’s trying to be Chris Brown,” with another reportedly asking, “Does he think we’re all monkeys?”
Among the commentators who also think this specific image Bieber drew harks back to old, racist depictions of black people in less progressive times than today in order to reinforce dehumanizing views of them, was Complex.com.
While the said piece,”Does Justin Bieber Even Know What He’s Spray-Painting in Brazil?” did note the singer’s other Brazil graffiti — a penguin, various undefined shapes, animals, faces and words — suggests that it’s “unlikely that the 19-year-old was purposely drawing offensive iconography,” it still took issue with the black figure, kvetching about its “darker meaning.”
The Publicity Agency’s Glenn Selig, a crisis communications expert, told Fox he didn’t think Bieber intended any offence, but added, “I do believe that Justin Bieber ought to be more aware of how his actions impact others because failing to do so puts you and your career in potential risk (sic).”
Publicist Angie Meyer told the outlet, “Musicians, and artists use offensive language in their music all the time.” She added, “How is this any worse?”
Here’s a different view.
Taking note of the captions Justin attached to Instagrams of his Brazil graffiti — in one that addresss the Rio charge he wrote, “…I still suck but i have fun doing it”), another explains, “This is my escape,” another dared, “Who’s gon stop me haaannn.” Likewise, words such, “Respect Privacy,” “I’m off,” “18 days”— indicate clear tagging is a way for him to process, express, and release tour stress, his Truman-show like life, whatever else he’s got going on, and yes, there’s rebellion there too.
Considering Bieber probably knows diddly squat about historic racism and, as we all know, seems totally fascinated by monkeys even if he can’t take care of them, it’s staggeringly presumptuous to say his graffiti of one represents a person of color.
Quite apart from the fact Bieber demonstrates no indications of racist leanings whatsoever — and according to intellects like Sharon Osbourne and TMZ is even too immersed in Black culture, whatever that means — projecting centuries of racist overlays onto his spray-painted monkey is ludicrous.
Sometimes a Wallace and Gromit looking monkey rocking the kind of jewelry Bieber himself wears is exactly that; a fantastical, blinged-up monkey.
Calling it racist trivializes what racism really looks, sounds, and smells like.