George Allen’s Bad Luck

It is not just a matter of what Allen says, but very much a matter of how he says it. He has singled out one member of the audience, a 20-year-old volunteer whose ethnicity already distinguishes him in a former bastion of the Confederacy. Allen is smiling. He is enjoying himself. It is exceedingly difficult to see Allen as doing anything other than connecting with the crowd by attempting to humiliate another human being — to make him feel like an outsider, like he doesn’t belong, like he will never belong. “Let’s give a welcome to macaca, here,” the senator crows. “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.”–Michael Scherer, Salon.com

I’ve been following the George Allen controversy with some interest because I’m fascinated about where people draw the line and say, “Okay, yes, that’s racist.”

I mean, what does it take?

Macaque is a French slur against North Africans and Allen’s mother, according to Josh Marshall, is French Tunisian. It’s possible he heard the term all the time and thought it was just an all-purpose nonsense word for people who are out of line. I used to use ‘honyock’ that way.

But I don’t have a history like Allen. I don’t have a “flag collection” of which the Confederate flag is the only one I displayed (until outrage caused him to take it down). I never had a noose hanging from a tree in my office. I can tell you that I didn’t know ‘honyock’ was a slur and you might believe me. (Check out the article “Pin Prick” in The New Republic back on May 8th of this year for more on Allen.)

You might believe me less if you discovered that my mom speaks Hungarian (she doesn’t, as far as I know).

I don’t know. I keep thinking about how Rob Huddleston over at Tennesseans for Allen says, “Which begs the question – is it a slur if people of above-average diction have to consult a dictionary?” and how irritated that makes me.

Is it only a slur if everyone knows it? I mean, I could be wrong, but I don’t guess Huddleston is that fascinated by the trappings of white supremacy. So, there could be ways that white supremacists refer to non-whites that Huddleston doesn’t know. That doesn’t mean they aren’t ugly slurs; it just means that Huddleston isn’t hanging out with white supremacists in order to find out all the latest ways of making sure non-white people know you think they’re closer to monkeys than they are to being human.

But, if he did, he might find that white supremacists here in the U.S. do call non-white people macaques. Over at Original Dissent*, I found N.B. Forrest** using it back in 2003 and no one asks him to clarify when he said–“And the macaque has taken full advantage of this privilege.”

So, as Huddleston sits around trying to decide “to crucify or defend George Allen,” I recommend he think on this. Does he really believe that a man with a French Tunisian mother and a fascination with the ‘fuck you’ side of the Old South had never heard the term ‘macaque’ and had no idea it was a slur against non-white people when he chose it to refer to a non-white person?

It’s just my opinion, but I find it nearly impossible to believe that Allen has such bad luck that, when he looked over at that guy, the first thing that innocently popped into his head was a bunch of gobbledy gook that just happens to also be a term racists love. That’d be some bad luck, indeed.

*I was going to link to this, but y’all, I have enough problems with the white supremacists raising my nephew. I just don’t need to bait them into coming over here. You have Google. Find it your damn self.

**I assume y’all know that the original Nathan Bedford Forrest was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, but in case you don’t, that’s the allusion.

Damn it, Carter, I wanted to be the one with the insightful post about Allen.[

8 thoughts on “George Allen’s Bad Luck

  1. I hate to say a single good word about Mel Gibson, but Allen does make him shine in comparison. First he denied he said it, and said he was saying "mohawk." Then he said he didn’t mean it. Then he made one of those "I’m sorry IF I offended someone" kinds of apologies. At least Gibson came out and said "I said horrible offensive things and it was wrong and I’m sorry I did so."Man, I hate weasels.

  2. I can’t tell if Sarcastro’s being ironic or not. Here’s Webb’s campaign bio etc — offered with the proviso that if your press guys can’t make you sound like you walk on water, you’ve hired the wrong fellas:http://webbforsenate.com/biography/The Old Dominion could do far worse.Incidentally, I was doing some research on the conflations of apes and African-Americans (and Irish…) in legal writings as part of a project on how science is used in the law. You’d really be astonished at how frequently 18th and 19th century jurists casually referred to blacks as "orang-outans" and such like. Thomas Jefferson, in his *Notes on the State of Va* absurdly speculated that blacks might breed with apes in Africa; a cavalcade of opinions from Northern and Southern venues (some on Irish immigration, some on slaves as property, some on things seemingly unrelated to slavery) dropped in side notes about the ape-like features and behaviors of blacks. My next research stop is to the history of anthropology, so I won’t opine on whether this was "state of the art" science at the time or not (I’ll let you know.)The point here, however, is not that "gee, these images sure are durable and isn’t that yuck." The point is that Allen’s a lawyer; he got his degree from the University of Virginia. He’s read all this stuff in his casebooks at law school. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he calls a dark-skinned seemingly foreign man a monkey and he knows the legal history behind his words. He knows the hateful implications and he knows the regimes that these words have supported and he knows — clearly — the connections between the treatment of immigrants and the treatment of slaves under American law. He’s a pig-ignorant throwback. No excuses on this one.

  3. Why would someone running for a dignified (ahem) office not just say something like "this young man here" instead of using a slang term,unless, of course, he meant to use this term, and used it specifically for this reason and perhaps a bit because he was a bit ticked off at being "followed" by his opponent. Virginia is a tough state, what with the Jerry Falwell contingency and all. I just don’t see this word choice as bad luck.

  4. So, in Virgina it is considered part of a long enshrined tradition of our Founding Fathers to call dark-skinned people "monkeys". Apparently, so is pandering to the hicks.Like I said, with no irony, Jim Webb should be in the Senate. The good people of Virginia will undoubtedly prove me an orang-outan.

  5. That’s right, America. It takes two different blogs to contain all the facets of Sarcastro–one giant funny asshole of meanness and fuckerly behavior, the other soft-hearted thoughtful well-meaning daddy blogger–but here at Tiny Cat Pants, for the low price of zero dollars, you can have the both wrapped up in one commenter. Why go anywhere else?

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