“Macaca” takes on “white nigger” and wins in a landslide.
A few years ago the newly-elected mayor of Washington, DC had to dismiss a member of his staff for using a racial slur in a policy-planning session. The white Caucasian of Anglo-Saxon descent was speaking to his colleagues when he dropped the N-bomb, shocking everyone in attendance. They immediately demanded that this individual be fired, despite his profuse apologies for using the offensive word. Under great pressure the man offered his resignation, which the mayor accepted, putting an end to the controversy.
With justice served and sensibilities restored, the government of Washington, DC returned to the people’s business, secure in the knowledge that racism would not be tolerated in any form, shape or manner. Only there was one small thing about the incident that didn’t quite fit the paradigm. You see, the offensive word that was used was “niggardly,” which is found in dictionaries everywhere, and means stingy or parsimonious. It was in use in the English language several centuries before the similar-sounding racial slur came into being.
But you see that didn’t matter, because the ignorant, uneducated employees of the Washington, DC government didn’t know that. And because they didn’t understand that niggardly was a perfectly acceptable word to use when discussing budgetary matters and public spending, it became a racial slur. To add insult to injury, the white Caucasian of Anglo-Saxon descent who dropped the non-N bomb apologized to everyone for offending them with the use of that term. He should have known they were too stupid to understand the English language, and used a more appropriate word to communicate the fact that the DC government was running out of money, and it was about time that someone started to implement sensible spending policies.
Now fast-forward a few years. A sitting U.S. Senator used an actual racial slur in a public setting. This isn’t a case of a similar-sounding word misinterpreted by a thirty-year-old bureaucrat with a fourth grade education. The guy actually said it! This makes him unfit for public office, and we ought to join the chorus of voices demanding his immediate resignation. To tolerate activity like this is completely unacceptable whether the man apologized or not, and whether he professed that it was only a slip of the tongue that does not represent his true feelings about people of color. If we opened his bedroom closet I’m sure we’d find white sheets and a hood, because once a man reveals his true character by his words and actions, no amount of “explaining away” can erase the stain of his past.
I’m speaking here, of course, of Senator Robert Byrd’s use of the phrase “white nigger” on Fox Television in 2001. You all remember the chorus of condemnation that followed Byrd’s racist utterings on national TV? Funny, neither do I. You see, this man who was the Exalted Cyclops of his local KKK Klavern, who voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and who is the only US Senator to have opposed both black Supreme Court nominees, is a Democrat. So he gets a pass.
But Republican Senator George Allen referred to a young man of Indian descent as “Macaca,” and for this there is no forgiveness. Forget about the fact that until a couple of weeks ago not a single human being in the United States knew what a “Macaca” was, or even how to spell it. George Allen is a racist who routinely uses racist words to denigrate non-white Caucasians of Anglo-Saxon descent. And for this he must be defeated at the polls.
The root of all our problems, I contend, can be traced to the day that we collectively decided that “colored people” was an insult (even though the NAACP is still called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), but “people of color” is just fine. Try explaining that to a friend of mine from England who to this day still can’t understand why a preposition (or lack thereof) makes you a racist or not.
So when I hear someone describe me as a “neo-con” without having the slightest idea what that actually means (it just sounds “harsh”), or throw around words like Marxist or “Jeffersonian Republican” with absolutely no idea what they are talking about, I think back to the glory days of American history when sanitation engineers were garbage men, para-professionals were hired help, and racists were people who judged other people by the color of their skin. Today, those who don’t immediately separate human beings on the basis of skin color, sex and religion are called “racists,” while those who categorize every person by their race/sex/religion/gender preference are said to be the enlightened ones.