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Friday, August 9, 2013

August 9, 2013: Back to Virginia: Macaca, Revisited

[Two years ago, when the boys and I last traveled to Virginia, I wrote a series of blog posts about some of the state’s AmericanStudies connections. We’re headed back to my home turf in a week, so here’s another series on Virginia histories and stories. Add your Virginian takes for a weekend post that’s for AmericanStudies lovers, y’all!]
On another way to look at a defining recent moment.
In the final post in that 2011 series, I wrote about George Allen’s “macaca” moment as an exemplary one, not only in terms of that particular election but also as an illustration of changing trends in the state and nation overall. I wrote then that President Obama had won Virginia in the 2008 election, becoming the first Democratic candidate to do so in decades; he did so again in 2012, making clear that those political trends have continued. As with many other formerly solid “red states,” changing demographics and communities, among other shifts, have put Virginia in play—and as I wrote in that post, the “macaca” moment concisely highlighted both the political and the demographic trends (as well, of course, as the power of the intertubes to influence 21st century politics and society).
If all those trends have helped define the last half-decade or so in American political and social life, however, an honest assessment compels me to add another and far more pessimistic complement, and also one evident in the “macaca” moment: that overt racial and ethnic bigotry has made a comeback over those same years. I’m not arguing that there’s any more such bigotry today than there was a decade ago, but I would say that the bigotry has come to the surface more easily and consistently in recent years; that the gradually increasing sense of shame which seemed to be associated with racism has, in many cases, apparently given way to a kind of warped pride, a perspective that the speaker will no longer let “political correctness” dictate his or her views. Nowhere in this clearer, to my mind, than in the responses to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial—or even in the simple fact that so many American conservatives are overtly rooting for Zimmerman to be found not guilty (a position, I will admit, that seems inescapably tied to Martin’s race).
S.R. Siddarth, the young man to whom Allen was referring, was the American-born son of Indian immigrants, and Allen’s “welcome to America” nonsense was thus quite distinct from anti-black racism such as that directed at Trayvon Martin. But having been on the receiving end of daily Tea Party emails for many years, I have to say that one of the most defining elements of those messages is a profound equivalence between a wide variety of ethnic “others”—President Obama, Muslims, the New Black Panther Party, illegal immigrants from (in most such narratives) Mexico, and, frankly, all those who seem by the color of their skin, their linguistic or religious heritage, their ancestry, their identity to occupy a space outside of what Allen called “the real Virginia.” The truth, of course, is that all such Americans have been a part of Virginia for (at least) decades, and are only coming to define its reality more fully as the 21st century evolves. But as they do, a substantial community of Americans seems increasingly comfortable calling them, well, “macaca.” And that’s a national problem, and one we had better start acknowledging and addressing.
Crowd-sourced Virginia connections this weekend,
PS. So what do you think? Responses to the week’s posts? Other Virginia connections you’d highlight and share?

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