Allen apologizes, but for what?

The Republican senator says he doesn't know what "Macaca" means.

Published August 15, 2006 1:50PM (EDT)

For Virginia Sen. George Allen, saying "sorry" seems to be the easy part. Explaining why you're saying it -- well, that's a little harder.

Just hours after his campaign manager said he had "nothing to apologize for," Allen has now apologized for referring to one of his opponent's campaign volunteers -- a young American of Indian descent -- by the name "Macaca." "I would never want to demean him as an individual," Allen tells the Washington Post. "I do apologize if he's offended by that. That was no way the point."

So what was the point? Allen's not so clear on that. Allen doesn't seem to dispute that he called S.R. Sidarth "Macaca" -- the videotape is pretty conclusive evidence on that point -- but he can't seem to explain why he used the word. "I don't know what it means," he tells the Post.

As we noted yesterday, "Macaca" could be a reference to Sidarth's hairstyle; Allen's campaign staff considers it a mohawk, while Sidarth apparently thinks of it more as a mullet. "Macaca" could also be a reference to a kind of monkey or a town in South Africa. Or, as the Post and others have found, "Macaca" could be a racial slur sometimes used against African immigrants.

But for Allen, we're to believe "Macaca" was just a word -- a collection of syllables, really -- that just fell out of his mouth without meaning, in the same way that the Confederate flag in which he used to wrap himself was just some stitched-together reminder of history that the California-born senator found interesting.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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