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August 16, 2006

Illiteracy At The Washington Post Becomes George Allen's Problem (Correction: But He Seems Now To Have A Bigger Problem)

I'm not a particular fan of George Allen, and, if I'm being honest in my cynicism, I don't mind an opponent to my boy, Rudy Giuliani, being scuffed up a little.

Correction/Update: More than scuffed up a little, it turns out. It seems "macaca" has, according to several commenters, a fairly well-known usage as a racial slur.

Original post continues, unaltered, except for the update before the jump.


But a lot of idiocy is being currently generated by Allen's reference to a Democratic stooge as a "macaca," as it has been rendered phonetically, taken to be a mispronounciation of "macaque," a sort of small monkey from Borneo.

As the Democratic stooge was of Indian descent, this is being taken as evidence that "Republicans call anyone slightly darker than pale 'monkeys.'"

Here's the Washington Post's very literate editorial board having no idea what the word may mean, and suspecting racism:

"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.

Well, I happen to know what he meant, because I've, well, read some books once in a while and happen to have a pretty good memory. It means "stooge" or "puppet" or "errand boy." That sort of thing. An operative in the pay of someone else is a "macaque."

Or Not: Several readers, including IreneFingIrene, agree with this definition provided by RiverRat:

Macaca (Portuguese), A short handled whip used by the cart of wagon drivers. It's also a used as a racial epithet in Brazil for negroes.

The French and Belgium colonialists in West Africa probably picked it up from their Portuguese predecessors.

Dog8myhomework adds:

t isn't made up racism. Macaca is used worldwide as a racial slur - thanks to the French in Africa. And guess what? Allen's mother is French and from Northern Africa, but it's entirely possible that he never heard the word in his life and this is just some very remarkable coincidence. Yeah, that's it.

Ummmm... I, uh, didn't know that.


Look, the big news in this post was that I read a short story once. And actually it was kind of long, almost a novella. And I finished it.

Let's not get sidetracked with trivialities, okay?

Anyway, it should be said the WaPo are still illiterates, because, if this is the definition of the word that hangs him, they were still just making shit up with that "macaque" monkey-crap.

Original post continues past the jump.

I suggest that the very concerned editors of the Washington Post seek out Peter Matthiessen's "Lumumba Lives," described here, and also available in one of those Best American Short Stories collections from around 1988 or 1989. It's the kind of homecoming family drama I dig, the kind that has to do with spies and assassinations and other fun stuff.

Read this little story of a "Foreign Service" worker (i.e., CIA operative) in Africa coming home to reunite with his father in New York State.

Then you will see him arguing politics with his father, from whom he is estranged. Both hate each other, more or less, and disagree on pretty much everything having to do with international politics.

One argument they have is about Patrice Lumumba, an African leader who was a stooge of the Soviets. The Soviets liked this on-the-payroll revolutionary so much they named a university after him. Either the son or father (forget whom) calls Lumumba a "stooge of the Soviets," while the other argues that a leader favored by the US (forget who) was a "stooge of the CIA."

Except they don't say stooge.

They say "macaque." Probably because macaques are dancing monkeys, trained to perform on a master's command, though I have no idea if that's the correct derivation, and I doubt that George Allen does, either. More generally it means "stooge" or "puppet," which is the meaning Allen obviously intended -- the videotaper was a stooge or goon of the Webb campaign.

Anyway, I know I'm just a lowly blogger and all, and I don't know one tenth as much as the scary-smart editorial board of the Washington Post knows, but I would suggest they go down to the library and pick up this kinda cool little story, to find out what "macaque" means in this context. I don't think Matthiesson made up the term himself. I'm pretty sure it's been used before, and since.

We have no inkling as to what Mr. Allen meant by "Macaca"... Macaca is the genus for macaques, a type of monkey found mainly in Asia.

Well, I'm sure there's no way a big newspaper has access to some kind of extensive, expensive electronic search engine -- like, I don't know, the Cadillac of search engines or something, or at least, say, the Lexus of search engines -- that can find references to "macaques" or anything and determine the word means "stooge" or "puppet."

So that's why I'm here, just doing my little part.

I grant you, this is a fairly obscure meaning of an already obscure word, but I thought that's what "multiple layers of painstaking editorial fact-checking" were for -- to nail down things like this before rushing to call someone a racist.

Peter Matthiessen, "Lumumba Lives." And it's actually not even a half-bad little story, either. Every time you're getting too deep into that queerbait father-son estrangement crap, something cool happens, like a bird getting shot with a rifle.

BTW-- I'm going from memory here; I read that story in 1990 or so and have never really thought of it since.

I don't have access to Lexis/Nexis (obviously, neither does the Washington Post), so hey, there's even a chance that I'm wrong, and the word "macaque" isn't used in that story to mean "stooge."

I don't think I am, though. Look it up, Washington Post. Just consider it an unconfirmed tip, free of charge, from me to you. Don't be afraid to spend the, um, zero cents it costs you to run the Lexis/Nexis search; you're already paying for the service anyway. Probably should have done that before calling someone a racist in print, but, hey, again, I'm just a lowly blogger. What do I know.

"Multiple layers of painstaking editorial fact-checking."


I'm still waiting for us to finally get one level of half-assed editorial fact-checking. That would put us far ahead of the game.

digg this
posted by Ace at 05:59 AM

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