It is a real sign of hope that there is more to be lost than gained from overt racism (at least) in American politics, even in Dixieland. Former senator George Allen’s foot-in-mouth routine brought to light a particularly anachronistic epithet. India’s IBN shed some light, Nov. 9—although we caught a small inaccuracy:
S R Sidarth deserves a medal from the Democratic Party. S R Sidarth who? Sidarth is the young volunteer who trailed Republican Senator from Virginia George Allen for the campaign of his challenger, Democrat Jim Webb. Sidarth, who was born in Fairfax, Virginia, videotaped Allen’s campaign. He was doing that in August when Allen still enjoyed a substantial lead over Webb, when the Republican singled Sidarth out and called him a ‘macaca’. You can watch that video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r90z0PMnKwI — or here:
Now, Macaca was originally used by Belgian colonizers of the Congo to describe the native. The word is derived from the macaque monkeys and was obviously a racial slur. Actually, for lovers of comics, Captain Haddock uses that term in Tintin in the Congo.
Allen apologized to Sidarth, gave interviews to the Indian-American media, but he couldn’t recover.
Sidarth is symbolic of the strong political participation among second generation Indian-Americans who are present at the grassroots at virtually every campaign.
In fact, during these elections, the leading Indian-American candidates at the federal or state level were second genners like Bobby Jindal, Raj Bhakta, AJ Sekhon and Satveer Chaudhary.
They have been proactive and given a political face to a community that is still tiny is demographic terms.
And they act quite unlike their seniors, first generation Indian-Americans – doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, hoteliers, convenience store owners, other professionals – who have made their millions and donate generously to the Democrats and Republicans in exchange for photo-ops and the ability to name-drop. Very few have leveraged the cash into real influence. Even within the Bush Administration, the changemakers have been the young Indian-American staffers who populate Washington DC.
Unfortunately, the older brigade would also rather spent ten of thousands of dollars on a political notable who gives them a smile and a pat on the back rather than supporting candidates from within their community who have a chance at the elections. Raj Bhakta is one example of how that works. This Pennsylvania Republican who contested for the House of Representatives had an opportunity to double the number of Indian-Americans in the Congress to two. He received support from some Indian-Americans like Vikram Chatwal, another second genner and a hardcore Democrat whose family is close to the Clintons. But when Bhakta, who is half-Gujarati, went to a convention of Indian motel owners to raise funds, he was ignored.
But, expect to see a lot more of these young political hopefuls. Many of them are working closely with Democratic presidential hopefuls such a Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Then there’s Ro, a lawyer who grew up in Pennsylvania. In 2004, a novice, Ro Khanna took on veteran Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos in California during the party’s primary. He lost but made an impact. He is now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s Indian American Leadership Council. He could be a Congressman in 2008 or 2010 either when Lantos retires or if a district is gerrymandered to his advantage. Gerrymandering is a peculiarly American act of redrawing the contours of a district to the political benefit of a particular party. Of course, you need to be in power to get that done. And that promise of gerrymandering apparently came from a certain Democrat called Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi will be the next Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
This certainly reveals a lot about the atrocious legacy of European colonialism and its genetic links to good ol’ American redneck racism. But it is very unlikely that a cracker like George Allen ever read the very European Tintin series—and we doubt the Tintin connection altogether. Even the most amateur Tintinologist knows that Tintin in the Congo came out in 1931, while the habitually drunk and epithet-slinging Captain Haddock did not even enter the series until the release of The Crab with the Golden Claws a full ten years later. And while Tintin in the Congo was a blatantly racist piece of propaganda for Belgian colonialism (so much so that Tintin creator Hergé later came to regret having produced it), it does not use the word “macaca”—or at least the English translation (released only posthumously as a special collector’s edition, as Hergé tried to have the work supressed) does not. And while Captain Haddock’s litany of colorful insults include plenty of racist constructions (coconut, anthracite, Zapotec, etc.), he never spouted “macaca” at anyone—again, at least never in the English translations. We think IBN’s Anirudh Bhattacharyya got this angle from the notoriously inaccurate Wikipedia.
See our last post on the media culture wars.