click to enlarge
Our toddler daughter's black eyes ignite with delight, and excitement crackles the air like lightning at midnight. Her contagious joy usually involves games where she gets to scream: "Me, too! Me, too!" At bedtime reading, she sets up dolls around her and sits in the middle, listening with her "friends." Like most 3-year-olds, our daughter desperately wants to belong.
No wonder I agonized over the Virginia Senate race for months before the election, and specifically, the infamous "macaca" comment by Sen. George Allen. Our adopted girl, with an Asian, black and white heritage, looks similar to the lad Allen called macaca. Given the history of Allen, with his Confederate lapel pin in high school and his hanging-noose desk ornament (a heritage of hate), his slur was not to be taken as an isolated gaffe.
Allen postured on and on, arguing that he made up the macaca word. What Allen wouldn't admit was that the word macaca was the slang local whites used for blacks in North Africa, where his mother grew up. Also, Allen's mocking tone toward a dark-skinned lad, welcoming him to America, was clearly an insult. Many in his party winked and nodded, minimizing his actions, but for me this confirmed a latent racist ideology Allen identifies with and tacitly supports.
His initial anger when denying his own minority Jewish past until it couldn't be hidden any longer also points to his latent racism.
There is no better example of a modern racist. You'd have to go back to George Wallace and Strom Thurman to see such brash examples of racist politicians. And what impact could Allen's insults have on his political decisions?
Let's not forget the great Southern tradition of segregation was supported by an underpinning ideology of racial derision and inequality. Hate groups such as the KKK and public lynchings were a radical outgrowth of that environment. Allen's actions, however, presented an epic opportunity for Virginia. Having lived in the former capital of the Confederacy for almost a quarter century, I've heard many times that the Civil War was not about slavery. No, it was about states' rights. I've heard assertions there were more race riots in the North during the Civil War than in the South. Those red herrings aside, the last time I checked, Selma, Ala., was in the "Heart of Dixie." The freedom riders of the '60s did not travel north to St. Paul, Minn. And Jim Crow laws, institutionalizing segregation and suppressing black votes, existed in Southern states. Massive resistance (including closing our public schools rather than integrate) was implemented well into the 1960s in Virginia with the complicity of the highest elected office in our commonwealth.
Also in the '60s, Southern racists fled the Democratic Party in response to President Lyndon Johnson's civil-rights support. These "Dixiecrats" morphed the old Republican Abe Lincoln party of abolitionists into a Southern Republican party linked today with the preservation of white-male prosperity and power.
Of course there's been progress. More blacks have entered the middle class, instilling values of education into the next generation. Since she was a tiny month old, our daughter has had a Ukrop's grandma and a host of caring employees, who each week embrace her with open arms, wanting details of her life. In keeping with the strict mores of the time, I doubt a multiracial child would have had such a warm reception from businesses in a different era.
Still, though, I know too many Southerners hiding behind polite gentility who are in serious denial about this region's painful racial legacy.
While most folks have learned it's not politically correct to make racist remarks to folks of color, being white, behind closed doors, I've witnessed many racist thoughts and actions through either supposedly innocuous jokes or the overt judgments of someone's actions based on the color of their skin. I believe a great man once said it was not the color of the skin but the content of character that mattered. That lesson is still lost on some.
But in Allen's defeat the majority of Virginians finally tossed off the historic yoke of a racist legacy. They threw Allen under the metaphorical bus, because merely chastising him to the back of the bus with a close win was not enough. Virginia sent a clear, undeniable message to the rest of America that "wink-and-nod discrimination," long dogging Southern culture, is dead. For some Republicans who view the GOP as a "big tent," this election was an opportunity to be inclusive, to live their rhetoric. I rejoice in the Senate outcome, for my precious daughter and all children who yearn to belong.
Someday, no matter how much I try to protect my child, she will feel the knife-cut of racism. Unlike her two older biological white brothers, she will have a greater hill to climb if we continue to elect leaders who exhibit tacit yet powerful displays of serial racism.
Allen said all along his campaign was not about one issue. I disagree strongly. If the inherent dignity and worth of all people is not believed by our leaders, the future of the South will continue to be mired in its racist legacy.
Allen's defeat pretty much rules out his run as a serious presidential candidate. The big, mainstream paper in this town coddled him, minimizing his recent racist remarks at every turn, even as it pounded on Webb for comments he made 30 years ago and clearly reversed course on.
But if Allen should try to get the nomination for president, the national media will expose him early on for the racist he is. With all his baggage, Sen. Allen doesn't stand a chance to be president in a country as diverse as America. "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." SStephen Marusco is a businessman who lives in Midlothian.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.Click here for more Forum