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August 29, 2006

Message to the People: Welcome home, monkey!

Cal Thomas is either crazy or … well, crazy! Why? Because he seems to really believe Andrew Young’s comments about some Jews, Koreans and Arabs who have operated businesses in black neighborhoods was more racist than Virginia Sen. George Allen calling a man a monkey (see Thomas’ Aug. 22 commentary, “Who’s Racist Now?”). Yes, a monkey! I’m not kidding.First of all, former King protégé Andrew Young is in hot water. When asked by the Los Angeles Sentinel about representing Wal-Mart (Young has recently headed a group to help improve the chain’s public image in minority neighborhoods) even though they force a number of mom-and-pop stores out of business, Young responded, “Well, I think they should; they ran the mom-and-pop stores out of my neighborhood. But you see, these are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans, and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.”To be sure, Young (like many, but not all, of the old civil rights icons) is a capitalist whore — this time for Wal-Mart. No pass from me on that even though he resigned in the midst of this controversy because, in his words, he “didn’t want to become a distraction from the main issues.” But I digress.On to Allen, who called a man a monkey in public. Again, I’m stone cold serious! During an Aug. 14 campaign rally in Breaks, Va., Allen pointed out S.R. Sidarth, an Indian-American volunteer from the camp of opponent James Webb. Sidarth, a 20-year-old University of Virginia student, was serving as reconnaissance for Webb — taping Allen rallies and looking for chinks in the senator’s political armor. This is a common campaign practice. Before a totally white audience (not including Sidarth), Allen … well, as my friends from home would say, Allen “tripped the hell out.”  “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 said, as his supporters began to laugh. After saying that Webb was raising money in California with a “bunch of Hollywood movie moguls,” Allen said, “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” Didn’t seem to matter to Allen that Sidarth was actually born in Virginia. Allen, ironically, was born in (of all places) … California. As most Republicans do, Allen then began once again playing on American fear and hatred with talk about the so-called “war on terror.”Now, here’s the problem — as it turns out, “macaca” or “macaque” (literally a type of monkey) is a rather nasty racial slur originally used by Francophone colonials when referring to native populations of North and Sub-Saharan Africa.In “The Troubled Heart in Africa,” Robert Edgerton recounts that later, in the Belgian Congo, colonial whites called Africans macaques and insisted that they had only recently come down from trees. The term sale macaque (filthy monkey) was also occasionally used. Edgerton says the word is still used in Belgium as a racial slur referring to Moroccan immigrants or their descendants.Among other things, Allen’s camp and his supporters have claimed he didn’t even know what “macaca” meant and he was just teasing Sidarth. Problem — maybe Allen did know. At a recent University of Virginia commencement, Allen was introduced by the wife of his collegiate French professor who bragged that his performance in French was “excellent.” Hmmm. It gets better. In Tunisia, “macaca” is used as a racial slur against black Africans, similar to the way “nigger” is used here. By Allen’s own admission, his mother is a French colonial born in … Tunisia. As they’d say on “The Sopranos,” “Ohhhhhh!”Young’s comments, while stinging, certainly have some historical and contemporary merit, which should not be ignored. I know we went through it in my neighborhood. That’s not to say all Jews, Koreans or Arabs are exploiters or bad people. Some have, however, and still do, function in poor black neighborhoods as Young asserted. That’s not racist. That’s real.Agree with me or not, is that claim worse than calling a man a damned monkey? Wow! Republicans must be cool with it. Not only have they tried to explain it away — Allen is still the front-runner. Yep. Welcome to America … monkey!Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools. Dr. Ricky L. Jones is associate professor and chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at U of L. His LEO column appears in the last issue of each month. Contact him at blackvanguard@hotmail.com