With Washington’s football fortunes already floundering after one meaningless preseason game, our focus today is on George Allen and the Redskins.
But make no mistake: This is no nostalgia trip back to Washington’s good old days, when the capital’s pols, pundits and workaday scribes cheered as one for the old football coach and his team that won behind an offensive line called The Hogs.
Today we take a hard look at the newest racial slur controversy in politics — and also tell a tough truth about an old slur that won’t go away.
Sen. George Allen, R-Va., the son of the old coach who chose politics over football, just found a way to follow in his dad’s footsteps — by making himself famous for his own offensive line. He repeatedly referred to a young man of Indian heritage by making up a name for him — “Macaca” — which many Web sites say means a monkey.
It happened while the proudly conservative Allen was campaigning for re-election as senator this fall — a first step toward his real goal: To be your next president.
Allen began his talk at a rural outdoor rally in Break, Va., the old fashioned way: “My friends, we’re going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas. And it’s important that we motivate and inspire people for something.”
At that moment, Allen inspired himself to ad lib. He pointed at a dark-skinned, 20-year-old man of Indian heritage whose job it is to videotape Allen’s speeches for Democratic challenger James Webb, a standard campaign practice. The young man, S. R. Sidarth, was born and raised in Fairfax, Va., and is a senior at the University of Virginia.
“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,” Allen. He went on for 55 seconds and, as his audience began to laugh and whoop, Allen led them in belittling applause for his dark-skinned fellow Virginian, whom he treated as a foreigner. “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” Allen used that to segue into his topic du jour — “My friends, we’re in the midst of a war on terror … ”
Later Allen maintained he did not know what “Macaca” means. But Google knows _ most Web sites say it is a monkey in Asia and Africa. Some Europeans use it as a racial slur about African immigrants. Allen later tried the explanation that Macaca sounded like “Mohawk,” which could refer to Sidarth’s haircut except he doesn’t have one. Instead, he has a cut known as a “mullet” — short hair on the top and sides and in front, but long in the back.
Allen has had past controversies due to an infatuation with the Confederate flag. Initially, Allen’s campaign said he had nothing to apologize for. Later, as controversy erupted, he apologized.
All of that is pathetic and contemptible. Why, when cornered, do politicians play dodge ball with the truth and toss us explanations that are insultingly phony? Does anyone think that if the Webb campaign’s videotaping job were being done by a white Anglo-Saxon protestant that the senator still would have repeatedly called him by a made-up name of “Macaca” and treated him as a foreigner? Of course not. Allen looked out, saw a dark-skinned face, and off he went, discriminating at first sight.
Which brings us to one more tough truth about skin color. We cannot claim to be racially color-blind when we still surround ourselves with skin-color vestiges from the bad old days. It is time for straight-talk about the football team the senator and I both cheer for — the Washington Redskins.
Now, I’ve never felt team nicknames such as “Chiefs” and “Braves” must go; they don’t malign and denigrate, they honor and celebrate. But “Redskins” can only be about the red color of skin. That’s the way the English language works. We would never countenance naming a team the Whiteskins, Yellowskins, or Brownskins.
St. John’s University solved the same problem years ago by changing their “Redmen” to “Red Storm.” I like that. Washington can federalize it: Washington Red Storm.
But if we in Washington really are ready to tell tough truths, we can choose between two kindred, candid alternatives: Washington Red Ink; Washington Red Tape. I’ll go first.
Strike up the band: “Hail to the Red Tape!”
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)