Sometimes, for whatever reason, a writer can really put his hoof in it. Take, for example, Nathan Myer’s description of Otis Hope Carey, an indigenous Australian surfer:
‘With his apeish face and cowering hair-curtains, I expect little more than Cro-Magnon grunts from his mouth. I am caught off guard by the clarity and eloquence of his speech.’
Astonishingly, this was published. Any editor worth her (or his) salt should have picked this one up and put a big red line through it. Just put the keywords together into these easy equations :
‘apeish face’+ likely to emit ‘Cro-Magnon grunts’=pretty insulting to anyone
‘apeish face’+ likely to emit ‘Cro-Magnon grunts’+indigenous Australian=Why don’t you just go poke a red, raw, angry nerve?
Even when the young man you have insulted seems pretty cool and has said elsewhere, ‘I don’t give a fuck what you say about me unless it’s positive.’ Everyone has their limits.
A single red line and a little thought would have prevented this from become a legal matter.* A moment’s empathy wouldn’t have been wasted either.
If people of indigenous descent take personally Australia’s history of putting Social Darwinism into bloody practice, then good on them. For those wondering about the extent of the cruel attacks made on Aboriginal communities, check out the measured and scholarly assessments made by Lyndall Ryan and Raymond Evans in Passionate Histories (2.8 MB and free!) for Tasmania and Queensland respectively. Or check out the Conniston Massacre (1928) for a brief snapshot.
History matters, and we live with the consequences long after the events.
And for the record, Otis Carey is actually quite good-looking. Well out of my age band though.
* ‘cowering’ needs a red line too, and ‘WW’ next to it; but that’s a side issue here.