I was reading a book about the North Pole by one of my (previously) favorite travel writers. Her tone is generally thoughtful, but also glib. And her topic was of great interest to me.
You know there’s a “but…” coming, right?
She’s writing about an explorer in Siberia. She says that the cold nights had him “snuggling up” to his “native boy.” She is trying to be funny, and she does lampoon the class pretensions of the explorers.
However, the “native boy” was most likely a man. He was probably a guide. He was likely not compensated properly or respected. But my main focus here is the word “boy.”
During Jim Crow times, African American men were called boys by white people. It was a way to make the African Americans seem somehow lesser than their white counterparts. It continued the perception that African Americans weren’t quite as smart or mature as white people, that they needed guidance.
Can you imagine calling a 50-year-old man a boy?
I thought not. Strike that one from the list too. And copyeditors: don’t assume “boy” means a young man. Double check every time.