A Twitter post intended to celebrate a funny photo of Abby, a “chonk” sea otter at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, instead stirred an online maelstrom of criticism, KNTV reports.
“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!” reads the original post Tuesday on Twitter.
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In fairness to Abby, however, aquarium curator of mammals Christine DeAngelo says it’s just the photo angle — Abby’s no heavier than other otters, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium post drew on online memes typically associated with photos of oversized cats, but KNTV reports that some say the phrases have an underlying association.
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a theoretical physicist at the University of Washington, replied on Twitter that some of the phrases originate from slang, or African-American vernacular English, used to describe curvy women. On Thursday, Prescod-Weinstein made her Twitter account private.
“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,” Prescod-Weinstein had written on Twitter.
Prescod-Weinstein also had written that the aquarium’s post “contributes to a hostile environment for Black people, including Black scientists,” adding “AAVE isn’t a meme for white consumption.”
“Our language, humor, and cultural references are borne from some of humanity’s worst atrocities,” wrote another poster on Twitter. “If you haven’t endured that pain, you can’t know where the faultlines in our expression are.”
“Stop appropriating AAVE and Black language to be “hip”. This isn’t cute but the otter is,” wrote another Twitter critic.
On Wednesday, the aquarium offered a four-part apology on Twitter.
“Hey everyone. It has come to our attention that some of the references in this tweet are problematic and insensitive. We’re posting here in the thread so that people who have engaged with this tweet will join us in our learning moment,” the aquarium wrote.
“If our tweet alienated you, please know that we are deeply sorry, and that we offer our sincerest apologies. 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,” the apology read.
Adding “we need to do better,” the aquarium concluded by thanking those who had raised objections to the original post.
Which prompted an online backlash against the backlash, as well as the aquarium for apologizing.
“It takes extreme talent to be offended by C H O N K,” read one Twitter post.
“Never apologise to the outrage mob or try to appease crazies,” Rita Panahi, an opinion columnist in Australia, wrote on Twitter. “Your otter tweet was funny & adorable.”
“Having to apologize for calling an otter fat is peak 2018,” a YouTube poster under the name Count Dankula wrote on Twitter.
But the apology also earned the aquarium some fans.
“Not only are your MBAquaruim tweets excellent, your apology is spot on,” read one Twitter post.
“What’s wrong with trying to listen to people when they say they feel disrespected by something? The response was mature,” read another Twitter post.
Abby, who is 11 years old, helps train stranded or orphan pups brought to the aquarium how to survive in the wild, the Los Angeles Times reported. She’s normally quite fastidious, and her unkempt appearance in the photo may be because she’d just woken up from a nap.