One evening I happened to be out with an Asian friend, and bumped into this famously rude academic at a bar. He offered to buy a drink “for you and your monkey”. My friend was appalled. So was I. But because this chap was in a position of privilege (not directly; my friend and I were at different colleges to him, studying different subjects to the one he taught) I felt unable to do more than look appalled.
I know that I should have had the wit to at least say, “That really isn’t cool.” Frankly, I should have reported the remark to his college authorities, who I fear would not have been at all surprised, and might just possibly have taken some action. (Years later, he was removed from the Cambridge entrance interview process after mocking an applicant about her geographical origin.)
There are a lot of things that I am embarrassed about in my past, but I am particularly ashamed that I failed to stand up for my friend on this occasion. I would like to think that I would respond better now. I fear that for my friend it was probably just another bloody evening of being insulted by white people. (I am glad to say that my friend is now thriving as a leading commentator on terrorism and security issues in their home country.)
The famously rude chap died recently. I was struck by the affectionate tone of both the official obituaries and in the online comments I saw from other friends of mine who had been taught by him, though almost all also admitted his character flaws. I am glad that he had a positive impact on some people’s lives. But I am afraid I will remember him as an arrogant racist.
If you think you may know who I am referring to, you are probably right. I don’t plan to say any more than this.