The Macaca Fracas

On this, India's Independence Day, it's worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on our heritage and spare a minute for those folks who toiled so we could enjoy swaraj (freedom). This applies for the diaspora too. Where would we be in the USA without the Civil Rights movement, for example? However, as Thomas Jefferson said, "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance" and, as we keep getting told, there are those who envy us our freedom. In this particular case though, said enviers are right here in the USA and in positions of power. Case in point: Virginia Senator George Allen (R). The Washington Post has the details:

Democrat James Webb's Senate campaign accused Sen. George Allen (R) of making demeaning comments Friday to a 20-year-old Webb volunteer of Indian descent.

S.R. Sidarth, a senior at the University of Virginia, had been trailing Allen with a video camera to document his travels and speeches for the Webb campaign. During a campaign speech Friday in Breaks, Virginia, near the Kentucky border, Allen singled out Sidarth and called him a word that sounded like "Macaca."

"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. We're going to places all over Virginia, and he's having it on film and its great to have you here and you show it to your opponent because he's never been there and probably will never come."

After telling the crowd that Webb was raising money in California with a "bunch of Hollywood movie moguls," Allen again referenced Sidarth, who was born and raised in Fairfax County.

"Lets give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia," said Allen, who then began talking about the "war on terror."

Here's the video as captured by Sidarth:

Bear in mind, this is a standing Senator of the United States! Initially, the Allen campaign tried to pass off the remarks as a reference to Sidarth's hairstyle. Not so fast. It's an ethnic slur specifically aimed at North Africans. And Allen's mother is of European and Tunisian descent, so he certainly couldn't claim ignorance of its implications.

So, why did Allen do this? Jeffrey Feldman over at Daily Kos comes to this conclusion:

In a few words: George Allen used a white power word in his stump speech. And he did it on purpose.

Why he did it is a question I cannot answer. There cannot be more than a handful of people in Virginia who could have understood this term. Perhaps there were some in the audience? That is hard to say. Perhaps he has used the word 'macaca' before in similar situations that have not been caugh on tape? Also hard to say. Perhaps 'macaca' is a word that he uses normally in his private life, but that he typically does not incude in his stump speeches? Difficult to answer that question.

Whatever the case may be, journalists, voters and elected officialsin Virginia have ample reason to ask George Allen an extended series of questions about this incident.

It is fair to say that if a sitting U.S. Senator is identified as using a word identified as part of a broader white power vocabulary--that is cause for serious alarm.

Today, the Allen campaign issued a classic non-apology apology:

"In singling out the Webb campaign's cameraman, I was trying to make the point that Jim Webb had never been to that part of Virginia – and I encouraged him to bring the tape back to Jim and welcome him to the real world of Virginia and America, outside the Beltway, where he has rarely visited. I also made up a nickname for the cameraman, which was in no way intended to be racially derogatory. Any insinuations to the contrary are completely false.

"Yesterday, I apologized to anyone who may have offended by the misinterpretation of my remarks. That was certainly not my intent ...

"I never want to embarrass or demean anyone and I apologize if my comments offended this young man. Even though he has signed onto my opponent's campaign, I look forward to seeing him on the trail ahead.

Translation: If anyone in the media misunderstood why I made up a racist nickname for the cameraman, it's your fault. And if you were offended, it's your problem too.

Thanks a lot, Senator. I think you just stepped into a huge pile of caca there. I wonder what Republican stalwarts like Dinesh D'Souza, Ramesh Ponnuru or Bobby Jindal have to say about this one.

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- August 15, 2006 8:53 PM // Diaspora , Politics