The un-American senator
THE BEST POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION of Sen. George Allen’s twice pointing at an Indian American videographer at a campaign rally and sneeringly calling him “macaca” is that, in the words of Allen’s own spinmeisters, the Virginia Republican and putative 2008 presidential contender was just playfully combining the words “Mohawk” (to mischaracterize the cameraman’s haircut) and, well, “caca.” As an Allen staffer explained to the National Journal’s Hotline blog, he was “an annoyance.”
That’s the best spin, mind you. The worst -- and more believable -- is that “macaca” is an Americanized version of the similarly pronounced French racial slur “macaque,” which literally refers to a species of stub-tailed monkey, but is figuratively used to insult North Africans and other people with dark skin. It’s the French equivalent of “darkie,” making all decent people who hear it shudder. Allen’s mother is French, from the North African country of Tunisia. He speaks the language well.
Here’s what a smiling Allen said to his laughing supporters Aug. 11: “This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He’s with my opponent. He’s following us around everywhere. And it’s just great.... Let’s give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” The object of Allen’s ridicule was in fact born in the United States, but the senator’s Confederate-tinted understanding of this country apparently has no room for people of color.
Allen grew up not in the “real world of Virginia,” but on the tony Palos Verdes Peninsula. There, despite his French mother and Midwestern father (who coached the Rams), Allen developed a curious affectation for what he imagined to be the mores of the South. He began a lifelong embrace of Confederate symbology -- lapel pins, bumper stickers and, until recently, flags -- while exhibiting some worrying behavior toward African Americans.
According to a damning May profile in the New Republic, Allen once spray-painted something like “Burn, Baby, Burn” on his own high school just before the mostly black Morningside High basketball team from Inglewood came to play Palos Verdes High. Since taking public office, Allen has decorated his workspace with a noose hanging from a tree, opposed dedicating a federal holiday to Martin Luther King Jr., and now employed a vile slur to attack a political opponent.
There is no room for that kind of racism in American politics. We’re not in the habit of telling Virginians how to vote, but an Allen defeat this November would send the right message to race-baiting politicians: Welcome to America. Now go home.