Allen And The “Macaca” Incident (Video)
For someone that is typically derided as, er, not that worldly, Sen. George Allen is sure being given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his knowledge of really obscure ethnic slurs. At a recent campaign event, Allen referred to a Webb campaign operative named S.R. Sidarth that was sent to videotape the event as “Macaca or whatever his name is.” Macaca, according to The Washington Post, “is…considered a racial slur against African immigrants” in some “European cultures” according to “several Web sites that track ethnic slurs.”
In other words, it is a slur but we had to be told it is slur by the people that track all the slurs from around the world.
And apparently I’m in trouble too because the other day I ordered a Whopper at BK and “whopper” is an ethnic slur (according to the list of ethnic slurs) in Denmark for “a female American tourist” that’s “usually overweight.”
Get my drift?
Here’s video of Allen’s remarks so you can judge for yourself. But it seems to me that Allen called Sidarth “Macaca” because he had no idea what his real name was.
I’d also add that it doesn’t make much sense that Allen knowingly dropped an ethnic slur against the person videotaping him for his opponent.
In addition, Atrios is also making a big stink about Allen’s remark to Sidarth of “welcome to America and the real world of Virginia” and implying that Allen doesn’t see Sidarth as an American because he has dark skin. But again, if you watch the clip carefully, prior to making the “America” remark, Allen says that his opponent is “living inside the beltway” and thus seems to be implying by the “America” remark that the real America is found outside the beltway–coincidentally, exactly where Allen’s event happens to be convening. It’s not exactly an uncommon reference from politicians, after all.
UPDATE (James Joyner): Little in this incident makes sense to me.
Allen’s explanation is hard to swallow:
“Asked what macaca means, Allen said: “I don’t know what it means.” He said the word sounds similar to “mohawk,” a term that his campaign staff had nicknamed Sidarth because of his haircut. Sidarth said his hairstyle is a mullet — tight on top, long in the back.”
So, Allen didn’t know the name and decided to make one up on the spot that reminded him–but presumably nobody in the audience–of “mohawk”? That’s just absurd. Especially since, Jane Hamsher (who knows something about racial slander) points out, Sidarth’s haircut doesn’t at all resemble a mohawk. [UPDATE 8/16: Actually, that appears to be a dated photo. Chad Dotson has a photo of Sidarth wearing . . . a mohawk. More here.]
Then again, the Post‘s reporting here leaves much to be desired.
At a campaign rally in southwest Virginia on Friday, Allen repeatedly called a volunteer for Democrat James Webb “macaca.” During the speech in Breaks, near the Kentucky border, Allen began by saying that he was “going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas” and then pointed at S.R. Sidarth in the crowd. “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,” Allen said
Now, isn’t it interesting that WaPo doesn’t capitalize “Macaca”? After all, Allen’s clearly using it as a name, not a descriptor. If Allen had said “Mohawk” rather than “Macaca,” it’d still be capitalized in that context. Putting it in lower case, though, makes it seem more as if it was being used as a slur.
Ditto the headline: “Allen Quip Provokes Outrage, Apology – Name Insults Webb Volunteer.” It’s not the “quip” that’s supposedly insulting but rather the name.
This, too, is rather silly:
“I think he was doing it because he could, and I was the only person of color there, and it was useful for him in inciting his audience,” said Sidarth, who videotaped the event for the Webb campaign. “I was annoyed he would use my race in a political context.”
So, let’s assume Allen routinely refers to black people as “macaca.” How many people in Breaks, Virginia (“near the Kentucky border,” the Post helpfully notes) would get that reference?
And this is downright comical:
Steve Mukherjee, a spokesman for the Washington chapter of the Association of Indians in America, said Allen’s comments were “hurtful,” and he chided the senator for not being more sensitive. “The world is so volatile and so delicate,” Mukherjee said. “You have to be careful what you say and how you say it. The U.S. is no longer black and white.”
Asked what macaca means, Mukherjee said: “What it means, I don’t know. But it’s going to cause him some grief.”
So, a non-black from India is “hurt” by a racial slur for blacks common in “some European cultures” even though he doesn’t know what it means? Then again, Sidarth isn’t black, either.
Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, Jeffrey Feldman does some research and finds that if you type the search [“nigger” + “macaca”] into Google, it will return results with a racist context. Imagine that!
The politics of grievance never fail to astound.
UPDATE (James Joyner): Several commenters and a Democrat friend via email suggest that, given Allen’s heritage, he almost certainly knew what “macaca” meant. I would agree.
Greg is right when he says that it “doesn’t make much sense that Allen knowingly dropped an ethnic slur against the person videotaping him for his opponent.” The only thing that makes any sense to me is that this was much in the same vein as Dick Armey’s infamous “Barney fag” moment a few years ago, with his subconscious brain overriding his control in a free-flowing moment.
UPDATE (James Joyner): WaPo has a companion editorial piece entitled, “George Allen’s America – Whom it includes, and whom it doesn’t.” The money graph:
The idea that holding up minorities to public scorn in front of an all-white crowd will elicit chortles and guffaws? (It did.) The idea that a candidate for public office can say “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia!” to an American of Indian descent and really mean nothing offensive by it? (So insisted Mr. Allen’s aides.) Or perhaps the idea that bullying your opponents and calling them strange names — Mr. Allen twice referred to Mr. Sidarth as “Macaca” — is within the bounds of decency on the campaign trail?
This is outrageous posturing from a news outlet that is supposed to be providing objective coverage of the campaign. It is plainly absurd to suggest that Allen’s bantering with Sidarth was pandering to bigots in the crowd. He was teasing a cameraman from the opposition campaign there to spy on him. Further, Greg is right that the “real world of Virginia” is a Red State/Blue State – outside the Beltway/inside the Beltway reference, not a racial one. And, again, even if Allen new what “Macaca” meant (probable) and intentionally used it as a slur (highly unlikely), it’s virtually inconceivable his audience did.