The stock photo, which differs from Union York’s, shows symbolic animals (Photo: Shutterstock / Photo Love).

York University academics have removed an image of three wise monkeys from their website because it uses racial stereotypes.

Animals, a cultural symbol of Japanese origin representing the proverb “see no evil,” “hear no evil,” and “speak no evil,” were presented on a website about an upcoming art history conference.

Conference organizers were concerned that the painting might offend people belonging to ethnic minorities, the university said.

A university spokesman said it was offensive because the website called for research that represented blacks, Native Americans and people of color.

In a statement reported by The Times, the scientists said upon reflection, we strongly believe that our first poster is inappropriate because its iconology proclaims a longstanding visual legacy of oppression and exploits racist stereotypes.

We bring this to your attention so that we can be held accountable for our actions and have the privilege of doing and being better.

The symbol was used in Japan in the 17th century. It became a symbol of popular Buddhist adage in the mid-19th century, before spreading to the West.

We’re still talking about people responding to misbehavior by looking the other way, although the term dates back to at least the eighth century.

The three monkeys are a popular symbol originating in Japanese culture (Photo: Shutterstock / Photo Love).

Dr Lucia Dolce, a specialist in Japanese Buddhism at SOAS, told the newspaper that the animals were positively received in their culture of origin and could not be seen as denigrating a culture.

That would be a mistake, because the monkey is a sacred creature. They are the machines of the deities.

In 2013, a court ruled that no reasonable person would interpret the use of the image of the three wise monkeys in a union dispute as racist.

In 2007, Unison accused four activists of insulting one of their bosses, who was black, after they used the image to criticise management for ignoring their concerns.

A York University spokesman said the Japanese symbol of the three wise monkeys was used to represent a lecture for graduate students on body sensations and also appeared on a document calling for research for the conference in a number of areas, including documents representing blacks, Native Americans and people of color.

It was felt … that a monkey, which had been used derogatorily in the past, could be offensive in this context, even though this was not the intention of the organisers, and so the image was removed.

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