Are you up on your macaca and how Republican Senator George Allen from Virginia became known as “Senator Macaca” on the campaign trail for re-election?

Senator Macaca

Depending on how it is spelled, the word macaca could mean either a monkey that inhabits the Eastern Hemisphere or a town in South Africa. In some European cultures, macaca is also considered a racial slur against African immigrants, according to several Web sites that track ethnic slurs.

As you read and watch Senator Allen in action and defending himself, I would like to know if you think this is a warranted death by a thousand cuts from his own psyche or is this an undeserved end for a Senator seeking re-election?

Do we evaluate people by their actions or their words? Can we separate hate into the past and look forward into the present? Are our actions and deeds bound together for all of eternity?

Senator Allen says he made up the term “macaca” and had never heard the word before he “made it up.” Others have stepped forward to accuse Allen of using “The N-Word“:

One of the two old acquaintances, Christopher Taylor, now an anthropology professor at the Birmingham campus of the University of Alabama, said he heard Mr. Allen use an epithet to describe African-Americans in the early 1980’s. Mr. Taylor, who is white and was then a graduate student at the University of Virginia, said the term had come up in a conversation about the turtles in a pond near Mr. Allen’s property.

Mr. Allen, Mr. Taylor said, told him that “around here” the only people who “eat ’em” were African-Americans, whom he described with the notorious epithet for blacks. Separately, Dr. Ken Shelton, who was a football teammate of the senator at the University of Virginia and who is also white, said that while in college in the early 1970’s Mr. Allen often used the same racially charged term.

Mr. Shelton, whose account was first reported Sunday night in the online newsmagazine Salon, said Mr. Allen had told him that he had moved to Virginia “because the blacks know their place.” Mr. Shelton, a radiologist now living in North Carolina, said that on a hunting trip Mr. Allen had sought out the home of an African-American and affixed the head of a dead deer to the mailbox. He also said Mr. Allen had called him Wizard, for Robert Shelton, who used the title as a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Senator Allen denies ever using “The N-word.”

Some claim Senator Allen’s alleged Racism was embedded in him long ago.

But insinuations of racial insensitivity have hovered in the background of the Allen campaign ever since The New Republic reported last spring that he had worn a Confederate flag pin in his yearbook picture…. Mr. Allen, who is Presbyterian, grew angry at a reporter’s question about whether his mother had been born Jewish.

Mr. Allen later said that after the question came up, his mother told him for the first time that her family was indeed Jewish. His subsequent statements about the matter — attesting that he still ate ham sandwiches, for example — appeared awkward, even to fellow Republicans…. In addition to the pin in his high school yearbook picture… he later displayed a Confederate flag on his living room wall.

As governor of Virginia, he declared a Confederate History Month without reference to slavery. He made a cameo appearance as a Confederate officer in the film “Gods and Generals.” And he once opposed the creation of a Virginia state holiday to memorialize the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Is this an appropriate topic for discussion during an election campaign or not? Are the words and actions of a candidate fodder for international public debate or not?

30 Comments

  1. In this case, Allen’s namecalling of someone directly to his face while at a political event warrants discussion. The guy also said “welcome to America” to an American guy born in Virginia.
    A democracy protects minorities. A racist bigot like Allen should not be representing the people.

  2. Thank you for bravely stepping into the fray on this touchy matter, Daedalus.
    Do you not believe Senator Allen when he said he didn’t know the meaning of the word “macaca?”
    I have heard some defend his use of “The N-word” as being the “status quo” for men his age growing up in the South. The problem is, he grew up in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. where his father was the head coach for the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins.

  3. Give me a break, this is being blown so far out of proportion it isn’t funny, but what should I expect in this election cycle that the Democr*ps are hell bent on gaining power back in Congress so they can attempt to Impeach President Bush and cut and run from Iraq. When Democr*ps call Republicans names you all laugh and think it is just the funniest thing.
    [Comment edited by David W. Boles]

  4. Jon —
    Please do not curse on this blog or call names on this blog. You read our comments rules here:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/policy/
    Which Democrats have called Republicans names and what were the names used?
    Can you please provide a link to an established news source so we can read the name calling in context?
    In what proportion is the use of “macaca” and “The N-Word” acceptable to you?

  5. Karvain! It’s been forever since you’ve posted a comment and I thank you for popping in on a Saturday night to talk about this important issue.
    You’re probably right if Allen had just said, “Okay, I did some dumb things before when I was a kid, but I’m a man now” he would have been forgiven.
    When he denies the ghosts of his past they take tremendous joy in haunting him.

  6. I am always reading everything on this blog. You have good people here who make a good circle of friends. I comment when I can but only when I have time to go back and forth some. I don’t want to be a comment thrower who tosses and runs and doesn’t respond back to what you say.
    When he is cornered he comes off like a fearful, timid, man who becomes the child his father never wanted him to be and that hurts some.

  7. It’s never too late to recant but he waited too long to salvage his political career. He will never be president. Even if he recants later he’s gone too far now in being too long silent.

  8. McCain is more interested in protecting the senate majority than worrying if Senator Allen is wrong or not. He’s also playing nice with Senator Allen’s conservative base for 2008. No good political deed goes forward without a hidden agenda.

  9. Not a problem. I don’t like it more people here aren’t talking about it. Race and prejudice and mean stuff can kill a conversation, I suppose, even though they’re all a part of us. Anyway… now I’m out and on my way and I will try not to be such a silent stranger here.

  10. I have no sypathy for politicians who say stupid things on camera or anywhere else.
    It’s not uncommon for the opposition to follow a candidate around with a camera. Actually, it’s pretty common practice. A candidate should know that and accept it.
    A candidate should always be in control of what he or she says in public and in private. Stuff “slipping out” is a view into the inner working of the candidate’s mind.
    If what is reported about Sen. Allen is true, the man shows a lack of understanding and complete racial insensitivity.
    It’s too bad older people in positions of power in both parties don’t repent of their past sins so that they can teach acceptance and humility to the younger generations. If Allen said what is claimed he said, he should apologize.
    There are probably a lot of old-time pols who need to apologize for demeaning remarks and activities.
    It’s too bad we don’t have a day where all the old politicians from the South could get together and publically apologize for their past misdeeds and associations with evil organizations.
    It’s not just Sen. Allen who is in the Senate and has done and said evil things against fellow human beings.
    Sen. Robert Byrd was a leader of a terrorist organization that perpetrated great evil against African-Americans. I don’t know if Byrd did anything — back in those days people turned a blind eye. If we caught an terrorist leader today, we’d hold him accountable for what his underlings did.
    From Wikipedia’s Senator Robert Byrd entry:

    In the early 1940s, when Byrd was 24 years old, he joined the Ku Klux Klan, which he had seen holding parades in Matoaka, West Virginia, as a child, his father having also been a Klan member[4]. Byrd was unanimously elected to be the leader, known as the Exalted Cyclops, of his local chapter. [5] Byrd, in his autobiography, attributed the beginnings of his political career to this incident, although he lamented that they involved the Klan. According to Byrd’s recollection, Baskin told him, “You have a talent for leadership, Bob… The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation.” Byrd recalls that “suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities. I was only 23 or 24, and the thought of a political career had never struck me. But strike me that night, it did.” [6] He participated in the KKK for a period of time during World War II, holding the titles “Kleagle”, which indicated a Klan recruiter, and “Exalted Cyclops”. Byrd did not serve in the military during the war, working instead as a welder in a Baltimore shipyard, assembling warships.

    Byrd later said in the great tradition of non-apologies common to racists:

    Byrd has also referred to his Klan membership as a mistake of his youth. In 1997, he told an interviewer he’d encourage young people to become involved in politics, but: “Be sure you avoid the Ku Klux Klan. Don’t get that albatross around your neck. Once you’ve made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena.”

    It’s time for anyone in positions of power to publically apologize for their racist remarks or activities.
    It doesn’t matter if they are Democrat, Republican, or Independent.
    Repent Sen. Allen.
    Repent Sen. Byrd.
    Everyone else who has done anything similar: Repent!
    It’s also time for voters to stop accepting half-hearted apologies from pols because they are able to “bring home the bacon” for their districts.

  11. Outstanding message, Chris!
    Senator Allen’s defenders use Senator Byrd to defend Allen — however, Byrd has recanted his past mistakes, admitted he was wrong, and urged future sons and daughters not to make his same — but Senator Allen has admitted nothing. He says he never did or said any of the things he is accused of doing so where is the horizontal, or even vertical, relationship between Byrd and Allen if Allen is innocent?

    Since posting an item pointing out that, contrary to Washington legend, Strom Thurmond never renounced his segregationist past, Chatterbox has been inundated with rude e-mails. The theme of these e-mails is: What about former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd? Byrd, a Democrat who still represents West Virginia, belonged to the Ku Klux Klan when he was a young man. Past membership in the Klan is heavier moral baggage than past advocacy of segregation. But Byrd, unlike Thurmond, renounced his youthful participation in a racist cause. See, for example, this exchange with CNN’s Bernard Shaw in Dec. 1993:
    Q: What has been your biggest mistake and your biggest success?
    A: Well, it’s easy to state what has been my biggest mistake. The greatest mistake I ever made was joining the Ku Klux Klan. And I’ve said that many times. But one cannot erase what he has done. He can only change his ways and his thoughts. That was an albatross around my neck that I will always wear. You will read it in my obituary that I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2075662/

    An attorney for the family of former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina confirmed Monday that in 1925, when he was 22, Thurmond fathered a child with a black teenage housekeeper.
    Thurmond, the longest-serving senator in U.S. history, died in June at age 100. His daughter’s story was published Sunday by The Washington Post.
    Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a 78-year-old retired school teacher in Los Angeles, California, revealed her relationship to the former segregationist after decades of silence.

    http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/12/15/thurmond..paternity/

  12. Hi David,
    I just saw an interesting story in the New York Times:
    “In Tiny Courts of N.Y., Abuses of Law and Power.”

    It is tempting to view the justice courts as weak and inconsequential because the bulk of their business is traffic violations. Yet among their 2.2 million cases, the courts handle more than 300,000 criminal matters a year. Justices can impose jail sentences of up to two years. Even in the smallest cases, some have wielded powers and punishments far beyond what the law allows.
    The reason is plain: Many do not know or seem to care what the law is. Justices are not screened for competence, temperament or even reading ability. The only requirement is that they be elected. But voters often have little inkling of the justices’ power or their sometimes tainted records.
    For the nearly 75 percent of justices who are not lawyers, the only initial training is six days of state-administered classes, followed by a true-or-false test so rudimentary that the official who runs it said only one candidate since 1999 had failed. A sample question for the justices: “Town and village justices must maintain dignity, order and decorum in their courtrooms” — true or false?

    I wonder if anyone has had any experiences with that court system?
    It’d be interesting for a New Yorker to write a post about their experiences with the justice courts.

  13. i don’t know much about this politician, so i am basing this comment on what i read in the post. a couple of things come to mind.
    first – because politicians purport to represent others in a public forum, the things that fly from their lips is fair game for scrutiny. the manner in which a person expresses himself verbally speaks a great deal to his character. and we all must take responsibility for the things we say. once one says something one can never take it back or pretend as if it never occured.
    second – as an outsider i also just think it is up to those individuals he represents to decide what sort of representation they wish to have. and, that, i suppose speaks to values.
    this may be way out there in left field, but that is what i think, sitting here, north of the 49th parallel.

  14. Well said, velvet!
    I agree we are responsible for what we say and if we make a mistake, own up to it and then move on!
    Senators have more of a national representation than Representatives. I understand those they serve elect them but it seems to me a Senator is held to a higher standard — fairly or unfairly — because there are only 100 of them compared to 435 in the House.