Allen apology: a steaming pile of macaca

So by now you probably heard that Virginia Senator George Allen is in all kinds of hot water for making racist comments at a campaign rally a few days ago. I’m not going to mince words and I’m not going to tap dance. I grew up in the culture that George Allen was courting, and I know race-baiting when I see it. He can deny his intent ’til the cows come home and I ain’t buying.

First, let’s review:

Now, according to MSNBC:

Mr. Allen, who is considering a presidential run in 2008, came under heavy criticism for the remark, which Mr. Sidarth captured on video and allowed the Webb campaign to post on the internet. As the controversy refused to die down, Mr. Allen on Wednesday called Mr. Sidarth to apologize.

The MSNBC story notes that the controversy has done Allen no favors in the polls, although it’s hard to know how reliable that information is. As North Carolina learned during Jesse Helms campaigns, any time race is on the table (which is another way of saying “any time Jesse Helms is on the ballot”) you have to factor in the closet racist vote. If Jesse went into election day dead-even in the polls, he was probably good for a 5% win, as people who were ashamed to admit their prejudices to a pollster were able to get their nigger-hating on in the privacy of the voting booth. (If the language offends you, good – these are the words they use when they think you’re one of them and their aren’t any blacks or liberals or wetbacks or Jews or towelheads or gooks or Macacas around.)

George Allen might have apologized, but he got his message across loud and clear to Virginia’s voters, a goodly number of whom speak the code and all of who understand it. I have no illusions that he’s a genius, but even he has to be smart enough to know that when you look right at a camera and break off a macaca, you’re going to get covered. Whether he misunderestimated the power of the backlash remains to be seen, but at one level the Virginia Senatorial contest has now become a referendum on ugly race issues.

And if I’m his opponent, I’m going to take that up that gauntlet and run for the end zone like it’s the last political football on Earth (mixing metaphors like a Northeastern Liberal race-traitor every step of the way). I’m going to the voters with a clear message: this election is about what we are and what we want to be. I’m going to bank on the votes of everyone who’s ever been on the wrong end of racism and the state’s educated urban progressives and take my chances on the final math. If I win, it’s a mandate to move the state up into the 1970s, and maybe even beyond. If not, I have laid bare the butt-ugly truth, and getting the racist out from under the hood where all can see him is an invaluable service to perform for your state.

Allen’s current lead over Jim Webb is in the vicinity of five points. I’m not sure what the closet racist factor is in Virginia these days, but let’s call it 5% until we prove otherwise. That means Webb has a 10% deficit to make up and the clock is ticking.

We’ll be watching.

:xpost:

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6 comments

  1. I was just pointing out earlier today that VA’s laws forbidding black and white marriage weren’t repealed until 1967.
    And I believe the popular phrase now is ‘dune coon’.
    ~M~

  2. wow. i guess i’m pretty clueless. i couldn’t figure out what the hell you were talking about with the macaca comment until i read the msn article. i didn’t even know it was a racial slur. i guess that whole world is just too weird for me to understand, let alone keep up with. it’s too complicated for me to figure out.
    group A is allowed to use racial slur X when refering to people in group A. but if group B uses the exact same racial slur X to describe people in group A, it’s racism. i’ve never understood it and i don’t think i ever will. i’m not saying that this is what happened above. i’m just pointing out one of the many things that confuse me about the whole issue.
    another is humor. i grew up in hawaii, where racial jokes were kind of accepted while i was growing up. andy bumatai and frank dilima were pretty much known for it (dilima actually came to my high schoool to give a talk). in hawaii, “portagee” jokes were like polish jokes here, chinese = jew, etc. they were all the same jokes, only the races/cultures/nationalities were changed. i guess mencina on comedy central is doing the same thing. hell, half the stand up comics i hear now bring up race. now, someone explain to me why is ok for certain people to tell certain jokes while others can’t? it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. if the point of this kind of humor is to point out the absurdities in stereotypes, shouldn’t everyone be able to do it?
    music has some of the same issues. rap is the most obvious one. i wonder if i would get my ass kicked if i started singing something by NWA on kareoke night.
    when i finally DO recognize racism, from either side of any of the racial divides, i feel equal parts anger, frustration, and confusion. maybe i’m just naive.

  3. There are certainly gray areas and plenty of places to be confused. I’m not likley to bring the whip down this hard in a fuzzy case. This one was fairly blatant. Talking about race and joking about race in an environment where we’re all in on the gig is a very different thing from looking somebody in the eye and busting off an epithet (whether a common one or one that’s a little more inventive).

  4. Your reply angered me a great deal.
    But, then I calmed down. I realize that too few people have actually spent time thinking about this issue, and that (in most cases), that’s probably not their fault. Being oblivious is a virtue in much of American society.
    As any semanticist will tell you, semantic weights (that is, what a word really means along several continuums) vary considerably from person to person. They also vary considerably with context.
    Say I’ve been your friend for years and I walk up to you and say, “Ubertramp, you ol’ son of a bitch!” You may give me a hug, call me a fat bastard or whatnot, and we might go off and have a friendly beer together.
    Now, let’s say you open your door in a parking lot and knock some paint off my car. I leap from driver’s seat, face flushed, and scream at you, “You son of a bitch!”
    See the difference. You might have reason to fear a physical confrontation in case #2, but not in case #1, even though the words are the same.
    Another issue with semantic weights is “cause to fear.” Commentators get it very wrong when they talk about taking offense. Offense is nothing. Fear is everything.
    Say you’re Jewish. Someone like Mel Gibson says that the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Does that give you cause to fear? It should. It’s that kind of talk, and those sorts of thoughts, that have spilled seas of Jewish lakes and rivers and seas of Jewish blood for at least 1.5 millenia. Specifically, it’s that kind of talk from Christianists that has been the most dangerous.
    Now, let’s say a Jew makes the comment, “Christians are responsible for all the wars in the world.” The principle is the same, of course. It’s an egregious broad brush application of negative traits to a wide population. As a statement, it’s reprehensible. But it is not morally equivalent to the same statement by a Christian against a Jew.
    When was the last time the Jews ganged up and slaughtered Chrisians, accused them of poisoning wells, expelled them from their nations without their property, or killed them en mass and turned them in to soap? Never. If a Jew were to say something like this, it simply does not evoke the same degree of fear in the subject group.
    Allen went in front of a nearly all-white audience in a part of Virginia where many towns, as late as the late-1960s, still sported signs that said, “All negroes had better be out of town before sundown.” He went in front of that audience and ridiculed a man of color who, if media reports are accurate, is more accomplished at his age than Allen ever was or could have hoped to be. Then, Allen implied that he, Allen, was a better American and better Virginian.
    People of color have every reason to be very afraid of Allen and his ilk.
    That’s the difference.
    JS O’Brien

  5. Re: Your reply angered me a great deal.
    I’m not entirely sure why my response ticked you off. That wasn’t my intent at all. All I said was I didn’t understand it. And believe me, it’s not because I don’t think about it. I think about it every day. I still don’t understand it.
    I have a student who is interviewed on a monthly basis by the feds just because of the country of origin on her passport. She only lived there for about four years, but it’s going to follow her the rest of her life. And if you knew what I did for a living, you’d see that it has the potential to be even worse than it sounds.
    I said I grew up in hawaii. What I didn’t say was I was one of only two white kids in my school…and the other one was my little brother. I used to get into so many fights the principal had to let us leave school 15-20 minutes early just get home without fighting (we had to walk about a mile to get home). When I asked my mom why everyone seemed to hate me there, she said it was because I had blond hair. Eventually, we moved away for a few years, but if i would have gone to the same high school my mom went to, the one in the same district as my elementary school, I’m not so sure I would have survived long. A couple of raids in student lockers turned up fire arms in my senior year. I might have been ok because of my athletic abilities, but I wouldn’t count on it.
    On top of that, I consider myself a pretty low key wiccan. I wear a pentagram and an acorn around my neck on a silver chain every day. But I work in a very christian university. I had to sign a statement that said something like “I agree to follow all christian ideals as taught by Jesus and defined by” the church running the school. Being true to myself, my response was “yeah, these are all wonderful ideals and all, but they aren’t necessarily christian.” I was half convinced I’d be fired on the spot.
    Granted, I haven’t had to worry about getting hurt since elementary school, but I think I understand at least a LITTLE about fear.
    All I was trying to say was, I just don’t understand the whole concept of prejudice, whether it be through words or actions. I didn’t understand it when i was in elementary school, and i don’t understand it now.

  6. Re: Your reply angered me a great deal.
    Sorry. I misunderstood. I work around a lot of conservatives who are convinced that any attempt to censor their right to be flaming bigots is “politically correct.”
    Sorry about your having to fight your way through school. So did I, but for different reasons. And, like you, I survived by playing sports. Which is not a good reason to play sports. But you already know that.
    What you don’t get is that human beings are probaby wired to fear the familiar in unfamiliar guise. Things that look human, but have different colored skin or different features, or who speak differently or who act in ways that defy social norms as we know them, are inherently scary. Some of us override that fear with reason. Some don’t. And the fear can be heightened from childhood by parents and other authority figures.
    I’m glad you don’t get it. It makes me a bit more hopeful for the human race.
    JS O’Brien

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