Footnote That Never Went Away: A Complaint and Explanation (Footnote Printed in Error Suggested an Ethnic Slur)

By Iacovetta, Franca; Quinlan, Michael | Labour/Le Travail, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Footnote That Never Went Away: A Complaint and Explanation (Footnote Printed in Error Suggested an Ethnic Slur)


Iacovetta, Franca, Quinlan, Michael, Labour/Le Travail


THE CO-PUBLICATION of Labour/Le Travail, 38 (Fall 1996) and Labour History, 71 (November 1996) was a theme issue on Australia and Canada and included an article we wrote with Ian Radforth entitled "Immigration and Labour: Australia and Canada Compared." While writing the essay was an entirely positive collaboration, the final publication--due to one editor's oversight--has become a source of considerable discomfort. It has entirely to do with an anecdote that appears in footnote 11, which describes Quinlan's great grandfather, an Irish engineer who immigrated to Australia, and then concludes: "After working at this trade for some time he became a brewery cart driver--with predictable consequences!"

The final three words, which some readers might interpret as an ethnic slur against the Irish should never have appeared. We have accepted Greg Kealey's apology for the error, but we nonetheless find ourselves in the unenviable position of telling readers that no ethnic stereotyping of the Irish was intended. We offer an explanation of what happened.

Labour/Le Travail failed to follow up on Iacovetta's request--made emphatically in a fax sent last summer--to eliminate from the "final" draft of our paper the anecdote in question--which Quinlan had added while expanding a section on the 19th-century Irish in Australia. In Iacovetta's view, the anecdote, as written, amounted to an ethnic slur that drew on stereotypes of "the drunken Irishman," and she insisted it be removed. She contacted Kealey, who told her the matter would be addressed, by which she assumed that Quinlan would be contacted and the note (or offending words) removed. Since the collaboration to that date had been an entirely positive one, she had assumed that Quinlan would oblige. When she heard no further, she assumed the matter resolved. (Neither a copy-edited version of our paper nor "page proofs" were ever made available to us.)

In turns out, however, that Quinlan had never been contacted by Kealey--and the footnote appeared. As a feminist immigration and labour historian who has devoted part of her scholarly and political life to writing about racism against "white ethnics," Iacovetta was furious and embarrassed by the presence of an essay she had co-written that included what in her view was a slur against the Irish. That the article focuses on anti-immigrant racism in the organized labour movements of Canada and Australia was doubly ironic.

It was only after the article appeared, and Iacovetta immediately requested an apology from the editors, that Quinlan himself was finally informed. …

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