According to the Washington Post, Senator George Allen, the 2008 presidential contender with an ugly history of exploiting racial issues, has described his senatorial opponent's non-white staffer using a word meaning monkey:
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.
"Let's 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"...
According to the Post, "macaca" refers to a type of monkey (actually a genus; "Makaka" is a town in South Africa). It's hard to see how there's an innocent explanation for this. This isn't a case where Allen misspoke or mangled his phrasing - he used an obscure term twice. Why would he do that unless "macaca" has some particular meaning behind it? In addition, the statement "Welcome to America" is highly offensive given that Sidarth is non-white.
The Allen campaign offered a preposterous defense of "macaca":
[Allen campaign manager Dick] Wadhams said Allen campaign staffers had begun calling Sidarth "mohawk" because of a haircut Wadhams said the Webb staffer has. "Macaca was just a variation of that," Wadhams said.
Somehow, "macaca" is a variation of "mohawk"? That claim makes no sense -- the words are completely different (other than starting with the letter m) and have no conceptual relationship.
Also, why did the Post let Wadhams defend Allen? Error-prone candidates like Allen are often allowed to hide behind their staff rather than talking directly with reporters. Only Allen knows what he meant -- he should have to explain himself.
The claim that "macaca" is a variant of "mohawk" reminds me of Allen's 2005 claim that the noose he hung from a tree in his law office in the early 1990s as "more of a lasso," even though nearly every media report describes it as a noose and Allen and his staff referred to it as such all the way through 2004.
In short, Allen's very long list of racially insensitive actions has grown again. He's twice referred to his opponent's non-white campaign staffer using a term that means monkey, hung a noose from a tree in his law office, displayed a Confederate flag on numerous occasions from 1967-2000, featured the flag in his first statewide television ad in Virginia, signed a Confederate Heritage Month proclamation that described the Civil War as "a four-year struggle for independence and state's rights," opposed the 1991 Civil Rights Act, opposed creating a holiday for Martin Luther King, voted against changing a racially offensive state song, and initially defended Trent Lott after he praised Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat presidential candidacy.
Do you want a man with that resume as President?
Update 8/14 6:08 PM: In comments, SomeCallMeTim notes that Atrios has posted a n alleged picture of Sidarth pulled from a Kos comment thread, and the person in the picture did not have a mohawk at the time it was taken. Also, Atrios notes that the term "macaque" -- the English name for monkeys in the macaca genus -- is an established racial slur that is pronounced similarly to "macaca" (one of the pronunciations is ma-käk).
Update 8/14 8:13 PM: More on Sidarth's haircut from the Associated Press -- it sure doesn't sound like a mohawk:
Whether the University of Virginia senior's haircut--closely cropped around the temples and above the ears, but otherwise full--qualifies as a Mohawk is open to interpretation. Sidarth said he does not consider it a Mohawk.
Update 8/15 10:25 AM: Allen apologized in an interview with the Post last night, implausibly claiming that he didn't know what the word meant and that it was a derivative of mohawk:
Reached Monday evening, Allen said that the word had no derogatory meaning for him and that he was sorry. "I would never want to demean him as an individual. I do apologize if he's offended by that. That was no way the point."
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.
Allen said that by the comment welcoming him to America, he meant: "Just to the real world. Get outside the Beltway and get to the real world."
If he doesn't know what the term means, why did he use it twice?
The Post also ran an editorial on "George Allen's America" today that sums everything up nicely:
"MY FRIENDS, we're going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas," Sen. George F. Allen told a rally of Republican supporters in Southwest Virginia last week. "And it's important that we motivate and inspire people for something." Whereupon Mr. Allen turned his attention to a young campaign aide working for his Democratic opponent -- a University of Virginia student from Fairfax County who was apparently the only person of color present -- and proceeded to ridicule him.
Let's consider which positive, constructive or inspirational ideas Mr. Allen had in mind when he chose to mock S.R. Sidarth of Dunn Loring, who was recording the event with a video camera on behalf of James Webb, the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat Mr. Allen holds. 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?
We have no inkling as to what Mr. Allen meant by "Macaca," though we rather doubt his campaign's imaginative explanation that it was somehow an allusion to Mr. Sidarth's hairstyle, a mullet. Mr. Allen said last night that no slur was intended, though he failed to explain what, exactly, he did have in mind. Macaca is the genus for macaques, a type of monkey found mainly in Asia. Mr. Allen, who as a young man had a fondness for Confederate flags and later staunchly opposed a state holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has surely learned too much about racial sensitivities in public life to misspeak so offensively.
Mr. Sidarth, who is 20, is a senior at U-Va.; he graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax after compiling an excellent academic record. He is thinking of applying to law school. He may be forgiven if his week-long foray on the campaign trail with Mr. Allen has left him with a bitter taste. "I think he was doing it because he could, and I was the person of color there and it was useful for him in inciting his audience," Mr. Sidarth told us. "I'm disgusted he would use my race in a political context."
We don't blame him for feeling that way. But really, by mocking Mr. Sidarth, Sen. George F. Allen demeaned only himself.
Update 8/15 12:17 PM: TNR's Ryan Lizza notes a connection between the ethnic slur "macaque" and Allen's background:
Not only is macaque apparently a French slur used to describe North Africans, Allen would have good reason to know it is. His mother is French Tunisian (yeah, that's in North Africa), and Allen speaks French.
Update 8/15 8:47 PM: The AP suggests that there is a contradiction between the back story for "macaca" given by Wadhams and the one provided by Allen:
On Monday, Allen spokesman Dick Wadhams said the name "Macaca" was a variation of "Mohawk," the nickname Allen campaign staffers gave Sidarth for his partially cropped haircut. Allen, however, said Tuesday that he made up the name himself.
Here's the key quote from Allen's statement to CNN:
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.
Update 8/16 9:33 AM: Sidarth's haircut was vaguely reminiscent of a mohawk -- here's a picture from today's New York Times article on the controversy:
Postscript: It's also amusing/disturbing how Allen bashes his opponent for raising money from a "bunch of Hollywood movie moguls," given that he was raised in the "exclusive cliffside community" of Palos Verdes in a "palatial home with sweeping views of downtown Los Angeles and the Santa Monica basin." Allen makes President Bush's faux rancher act seem authentic.