- Monterey Bay Aquarium apologized after tweeting about an overweight otter.
- Someone pointed out the language was offensive.
- The aquarium described Abby the otter as “thicc,” which is a term that originated in African-American slang to describe a curvy body shape.
- The aquarium’s account then turned the tweet into a “learning moment.”
A tweet written to celebrate the plus-size body type of an otter backfired when someone pointed out some of the language in the tweet appropriated black culture.
Monterey Bay Aquarium on their Twitter account called Abby the otter a “thicc girl” and a “c h o n k” and used the phrase “OH LAWD SHE COMIN,” which has been popularized as a meme along with “chonk” to describe overweight cats.
Abby is a thicc girl
What an absolute unit
She c h o n k
Look at the size of this lady
OH LAWD SHE COMIN
Another Internetism ! pic.twitter.com/s5fav2gu09
— Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq) December 18, 2018
In a follow-up tweet, the account said Abby’s job is raising stranded sea otter pups – hence her size.
“She’s one of 6 resident females that train orphaned otters in the necessary skills to survive back in the wild,” it read. “There’s a lot more to this sea otter than meets the eye!”
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein said the tweet was offensive because the word “thicc” originated in African-American slang to describe a curvy body shape.
“It contributes to a hostile environment for Black people, including Black scientists,” she wrote on Twitter. “I’m certain that @MontereyAq didn’t realize that they were basically comparing Black women to animals by using AAVE [African-American Vernacular English] developed to talk about Black women’s bodies to describe an animal. But that’s pretty bad.”
I'm certain that @MontereyAq didn't realize that they were basically comparing Black women to animals by using AAVE developed to talk about Black women's bodies to describe an animal. But that's pretty bad, MBA.
— Chanda Prescod-Weinstein ????????♀️ ???????????? (@IBJIYONGI) December 19, 2018
Some people disagreed, saying, “it’s a f—ing otter,” and, “it’s just a meme.”
It takes extreme talent to be offended by
C H O N K
— Carter Jott (@Carters_Jots) December 20, 2018
I’m black and I have no issues with the memes. I have an issue with people like you making problems out of thin air. Your nonsense distracts from the real issues that our people are facing.
— Lee Luckett (@Elway7Sharpe84) December 20, 2018
The aquarium apologized 24 hours later, saying, “It has come to our attention that some of the references in this tweet are problematic and insensitive.” They posted the “learning moment” in the initial thread.
“If our tweet alienated you, please know that we are deeply sorry, and that we offer our sincerest apologies,” the tweet read. “If you follow our feed, we often reference popular memes to talk about the ocean. In this case, the memes used had connotations we were unaware of until now.”
In particular, several terms referenced originated from African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and specifically reference Black women's bodies. Using them in a sea otter meme without that background makes insinuations we never intended. We need to do better. 3/4
— Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq) December 19, 2018
Large animals are often met with glee online – Knickers the cow, for example, was described in a similar way last month for being rather a lot larger than all the other cows in his field – so it’s unsurprising that Monterey Bay Aquarium jumped on the bandwagon. Although they didn’t get it quite right this time, everyone reading the thread probably learned something they didn’t know before – it just wasn’t quite what they expected.
look at this absolute unit. pic.twitter.com/LzcQ4x0q38
— The Museum of English Rural Life (@TheMERL) April 9, 2018