Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Time to Cut Out the 'Macaca' -- Sen. George Allen Goes Native: For those who haven't heard yet, or seen the video, the incumbent U.S. Senator from Virginia, George Allen really stepped in it this weekend. He was addressing a gathering of Republican supporters in rural southwestern part of the state, but decided to note, in his remarks, the presence of a supporter of Allen's electoral opponent, Democratic candidate James Webb. The Webb supporter, identified as S.R. Sidarth, filmed the whole sorry episode. Allen turned to Sidarth, who is apparently quite obviously of South Asian descent, and 'christened' him "Macaca." Then, he added, "Macaca...welcome to America." In between, Sen. Allen stated that his opponent was meeting with "Hollywood movie moguls." The long and short of it is that Sen. Allen is knee-deep now in "macaca."

Obviously, the most insulting part of this sorry display was the demeaning way in which Allen addressed Sidarth. There is a debate raging on the 'Net about whether Allen knew that "macaca," or a very similar word, is a racial slur used by French colonials in North Africa. There is reason to believe he might, since Sen. Allen's mother is herself a French-Tunisian Jew. The public furor has overlooked another part of Allen's show that is almost as offensive: Allen's reference to "Hollywood movie moguls," often just a barely disguised code for the 'Jewish media elite.'

As Rob Corddry said on the Daily Show,"I'm not sure what macaca means, but it sure as sounds racist." The real disappointing part was the Allen fudge factor. Allen is claiming that he was telling the Webb campaign worker to carry his message back to the candidate. That message was "Welcome to America, welcome to the real world of Virginia!" It's almost plausible. If you back up the tape far enough, it seems Allen was starting to address Webb. The thing is, he tells the crowd to "welcome Macaca." Then he adds the "welcome to America." So, it's more likely that Allen really was directing that statement to Sidarth, the Webb campaign worker with the camera. This is just the worst kind of pandering to base prejudices that Allen must think the voters in rural Virginia all have.

To my mind, the "welcome to America" line, is at least as disgusting as the "Macaca" filth. I can't know -- and neither can anyone else -- that Allen is aware that "macaca" is, or sounds like, an actual ethnic slur. As I said above, some have suggested that the word is heard in Tunisia, such that Allen's French notoriously flamboyant mother might have spoken it around the Allen mansion. There's no way to know that's true -- I'm not even willing to certify that this is a word that has had significant currency.

But, the "welcome to America" line," directed at someone of South Asian descent, is the worst caricature of the xenophobic, ignorant, redneck American. It's such an absurd thing to have said that its hard to believe that Allen said it -- it's just so hard to believe a U.S. Senator could have said something so stupid and disgusting (now that Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond have passed on), that I'm almost willing to believe he was speaking to his opponent, via Sidarth's camera. The scary thing is stupidity is often rewarded in politics -- witness the last 2 Presidential elections.

There is a rather ironic aspect to Allen's comments about Webb himself. The Senator says Webb is with "Hollywood movie moguls," implying that Webb doesn't meet or know real Virginians. As if Allen didn't grow up around Hollywood movie moguls and their children? I guess if anyone would know how far those people are from real, salt-of-the-Earth Virginians, it would be George Allen. After all, he grew up around them. Now, he may have grown up among the Hollywood set, but he wasn't really of them, right? After all, he had that stupid Confederate flag license plate on his Mustang.

Though it has been overlooked in media stories on the incident, Allen's linking his opponent to "Hollywood movie moguls" may have been the most disgusting moment on the tape. It didn't hit me any of the five times I watched the video -- I guess because I'm not generally wired to think like that -- but "Hollywood movie moguls" is often a code word for 'Jews' -- or, specifically, the so-called 'Jewish media elite.'

I'm not about to accuse Sen. Allen of being anti-Semitic himself. A Wikipedia entry on Allen that states his mother is of French-Tunisian Jewish origin. I didn't realize that this subset existed, but Henrietta is usually a Jewish name, so I'll buy into it. So the Senator's mother may be Jewish -- even if he wasn't raised in the Jewish faith, the Senator then would be regarded as Jewish by members of the faith. In any case, despite his regular appeals to Christian conservatives, I'm not going to even suggest that Allen might harbor some anti-Semitism of his own.

In fact, to be clear, I have not accused Senator Allen of being a racist himself -- or a bigot, of any kind. When I reflect more on the "Hollywood movie moguls" comment, I realize that Allen was engaged in the worst, basest kind of pandering -- pandering to perceived prejudices and attitudes among the locals.

It's true that people in that corner of Virginia don't have much contact with Jews. There is (or, at least there used to be -- when I was in law school in that neck of the woods) a small congregation in Roanoke - one temple that served the entire region. And there are an awful lot of people who could fairly be called 'bible-thumpers' -- at least for our purposes here. It's also true that there are very few South Asians in that part of the country. And it's true that there are more than a few ignorant, redneck-type bigoted people in that area.

Most people in that part of the state, as most people everywhere, just aren't that close-minded. Allen's greatest offense here is his pandering to his own prejudiced conception of people in rural Virginia. He thinks he's being folksy and he's using code words for Jews and foreigners...and he doesn't see how awful that is. I believe Allen really stepped in some nasty "macaca" here. I doubt that he buys into that crap himself, but he doesn't seem to have a problem using it to appeal to the baser prejudices that he thinks these rural folk all have.

To me, that's the real issue here. And, the more I reflect on it, the more it disgusts me.

If you want to know more about James Webb, his campaign website is:

If you want to see the video for yourself, it's on the Washington Post's site, on the page with the paper's article on the episode.

No comments: