Allen Apologizes (Again) for Racial Insensitivity

About three weeks ago, I offered some advice for Senator George Allen: “He’s going to have to open up and provide a convincing backstory to explain how a California boy grew up with such a fondness for the Confederacy and cowboy boots.” He is finally starting to do just that.

Allen, 54, said he did not see racial overtones in the Confederate flag. He said he was a rebellious youth and viewed the banner as a “symbol against authority.” As a history major at t he University of Virginia in the early 1970s, he said, he also began to see the flag as a proud heritage symbol for those with ancestors from the South who fought in the Civil War. “What I appreciate, and wish I had sooner, is that that symbol, which for me was fit for simply rebelling against authority, and for others was fit for pride in heritage, was and is for black Americans an emblem of hate and terror, an emblem of intolerance and discrimination,” he said.

[…]

Allen, the son of a legendary football coach of the Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Rams, suggested that his football background may have numbed him to some racial complexities. “On football teams and every team sport, you don’t care about someone’s religion, race or their ethnicity,” he said. “All you care about is if that person can help your team. Can he block, punt, pass or kick. It’s a true meritocracy… and it’s that meritocracy that you see on a football field and on a football team that we should aspire for in our society here in America.”

He’ll have to do more of this if he’s going to win back swing voters in time for re-election, let alone become a viable contender for the White House. Still, he’s doing the right thing. While Josh Marshall dismisses this, not unreasonably, as “Macaca Apology 3.0,” those not already inclined to vote for the Democrat may be persuadable. Indeed, the early returns are looking good:

Allen’s 35-minute speech received polite applause and gracious reviews from the educators. “I am pleased that he is acknowledging he made a mistake and talking about it,” said Ralph Reavis, president of [Historically Black -ed.] Virginia University of Lynchburg. “I’m an educator. If he says he’s learned from this, I accept it.”

David Nash, an official at the National Institutes of Health, said, “I think he’s a good guy. We, as African Americans, have to get beyond these Democrat-Republican things and deal with the real issues before us.”

If Allen can convince people that he’s “a good guy” and not a closet racist–both of which I believe to be true–then he’s back in the game.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2006, Campaign 2008, Race and Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Allen, 54, said he did not see racial overtones in the Confederate flag. He said he was a rebellious youth and viewed the banner as a “symbol against authority.” As a history major at t he University of Virginia in the early 1970s, he said, he also began to see the flag as a proud heritage symbol for those with ancestors from the South who fought in the Civil War.

    Did not see racial overtones in the flag??!?!?!

    This is both an indictment on Allen’s intelligence and that of UVa’s history department. How in the world could someone get an undergraduate degree in history at one of the (supposed) top universities in the country and not recognize the fact that the confederate flag was deliberately employed precisely as a response to civil rights demands by Blacks?

    Furthermore, how could one see it as a “symbol against authority” in the early 1970s when those in power in the south were precisely the ones advocating it as a symbol of sustaining their power?

    Additionally, the fact that allegedly his history classes are what made him see the flag as “a proud heritage symbol” is troubling. Academics are supposed to explore multiple sides of issues like this–perhaps he was asleep during those lectures.

  2. Anderson says:

    And the noose thing–what the hell is up with that?

    At this point, I think I’d like to see some evidence that the guy’s *not* a pig. What’s so great about Allen, again?

  3. DC Loser says:

    I don’t buy Allen’s story about him using the Confederate battle flag as a sign of rebellion in the early 70s. In the early 70s, Virginia was just beginning to integrate its schools. Here’s the background to the movie “Remember the Titans.”

    Plot Summary for
    Remember the Titans (2000)
    Suburban Virginia schools have been segregated for generations, in sight of the Washington Monument over the river in the nation’s capital. One Black and one White high school are closed and the students sent to T.C. Williams High School under federal mandate to integrate. The year is seen through the eyes of the football team where the man hired to coach the Black school is made head coach over the highly successful white coach. Based on the actual events of 1971, the team becomes the unifying symbol for the community as the boys and the adults learn to depend on and trust each other.

    In the early 1970s, two schools in Alexandria Virginia integrate forming T.C. Williams High School. The Caucasian head coach of the Titans is replaced by an African American coach from North Carolina. Tensions arise when players of different races are forced together on the same football team. Many of these tensions are eased during the two-week training camp in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When players returned to Alexandria the players found the city in turmoil due to the forced desegregation of the high school. As the season progresses the team’s success caused the community to accept the changes. After the Titans’ perfect season, the team and the city were closer than ever.

    If Allen wanted to rebel in the early 70s Virginia, he should have joined the NAACP or the ACLU.

  4. madmatt says:

    Then the man is almost as stupid as GWB if he couldn’t see how blacks might be offended by support of the confederate flag and nooses.

    As for meritocracy america, I guess that explains why he wants to exclude blacks, hispanics, gays, scientists, women, children (but not fetuses they might be useful), the poor, the disabled, or the under educated. Lets get the biggest dumbest white guys we can find and then put them in charge seems to be his wish as shown by his love of the CCC and his desire to get their support!

  5. DC Loser says:

    I’ll add to my earlier comment…

    …unless, of course, Allen was rebelling against integration and all that it stood for?

  6. James Joyner says:

    Remember: Allen grew up in California and only moved to Virginia in 1971, when his dad took a job as the head coach of the Washington Redskins. He didn’t know the backstory and, my guess anyway, is that the type of kids who were at UVA in those days were sufficiently well off as to, at very least, be quiet racists.

  7. CalDevil says:

    Ever watch Lynyrd Skynyrd videos on VH1 Classic? Almost all of them have the Confederate Flag as an onstage backdrop.

    There are lots of folks born in the 50s or 60s who never considered any racial overtones to the flag’s display until it became a cause celebre in late 90s.

  8. cian says:

    James’ advice, and his happiness that Allen is following it, is either naive or horribly calculated. To any independent voter suitably attired in his thinking hat, Allen’s Macaca comment, his fondness for confederate memorabilia, the noose swinging from a tree (a tree!) outside his office, and his photo opportunities with white supremacists, are obviously a means to sow up the good old boy vote. The apologies are a sop to the hatless few who may, just may (hell its worth a shot) be fooled by the ‘pure heart’ bull.

  9. James Joyner says:

    cian:

    Neither you, I, nor anyone in Allen’s audience that day had ever heard the word “macaca” before, let alone presumed it was a racial slur.

    Nooses typically swing from trees. In addition to being used by the Klan to terrorize and murder black people, that was also a means used throughout much of the country’s history to deal with criminals. Indeed, while I don’t have any statistics at my fingertips, I’d wager that the vast majority of people who died in a noose were criminals, not victims of terrorist groups.

    The Confederate battle flag, aside from the connection of the Civil War with slavery, had little to no racial connotation until the late 1960s. It was a symbol, to many white Southerners, of resistance to what they viewed as an oppressive government. Indeed, even in the late 1960s and beyond, it had that connotation to most of those who displayed it.

    That it became associated in the minds of non-Southerners and most black Americans with the KKK and other racist groups is unfortunate and, ultimately, a good argument for no longer displaying it. To a Californian transplanted to a prestigious Southern university in 1971, however, there’s no reason to presume it had any connotation other than rebellion.

  10. cian says:

    James,

    Thanks for the reply.

    While the number of African Americans lynched in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s have, by some, been seriously exaggerated, the number of those that did take place ‘typically’ involved a tree, a noose and a couple of white guys much like the good old boys Allen allowed himself to be photographed with (who were they again?) and you managed to avoid mentioning in your reply.

    While I’m certain your eloquent slap down of my original post is historically correct, what we are really dealing with here is the ‘wink and elbow’ language of racial hatred.

    Those that need to know get the message behind the word, flag, and noose, but all can be explained away as simple nostalgia for a by-gone age.

    I think most swing voters understand this, particularly when the kind of apology he gives depends on the kind of audience he is addressing (with a wink and smirk if its white; dripping with false sincerity if its mixed).

    I take it you’re not in the swing vote category.

  11. DC Loser says:

    Of course we know we shouldn’t judge one’s fitness for public office by their past actions. No Republican would ever question John Kerry about his Vietnam War activiies, right?

  12. McGehee says:

    Of course we know we shouldn’t judge one’s fitness for public office by their past actions.

    Unless, of course, the candidate tries to make those past actions the major reason why people should vote for him…

    John Kerry

    That would be the one.