A couple of weeks ago, Rachel Maddow asked on her show why there has not been a “macaca moment” in this year’s election cycle. If you recall, in August 2006, during a highly contested race for a senatorial seat in Virginia, Senator George Allen made a disparaging comment aimed at a 20-year old South Asian staffer working for Allen’s opponent. Allen said, “Let’s give a warm welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” Macaca is a racial slur and Allen was forced to apologize for using the term. He also lost his Senate seat and, although he was rumored to be the GOP frontrunner for the presidential nomination, Allen has essentially disappeared from political life.
These were serious ramifications for a popular GOP candidate who used a little-known racial slur during a campaign event. Why have we not seen similar consequences for those who have used far worse language? Is it because such language is common-place?
SAALT recently released a report that chronicles a selection of xenophobic comments by public officials and candidates targeting the South Asian community. The report is long. And somewhat shocking. Way too many people are using their public platforms and their access to the media to alienate and denigrate our communities.
In addition to general disparaging comments by public figures alienating minorities, many have made comments specifically targeting South Asian American candidates. This year, 6 candidates of South Asian decent are running for Congress and 1 is running for Governor. A recent story on NPR discussed the complicated political landscape in which these candidates are running. Priya Murthy, SAALT’s Policy Director, was interviewed for the piece and made clear that these candidates face unwarranted challenges because of their ethnicities. Raj Goyle, candidate for Congress in Kansas, was referred to as a “turban topper” and Nikki Haley, candidate for Governor of South Carolina, was called a “raghead” in the months leading up to the mid-term election.
Although political candidates and officials do sometimes apologize later for xenophobic and racist comments, the short-term political gains they win amongst their bases seem to outweigh for them the criticism they receive for lacking moral leadership. The apologies are much less covered in the media, are often forced and do not betray any remorse or understanding.
A recent article in ColorLines discusses SAALT’s report in an election season where candidates are running for “Best Immigrant Basher and Most Opposed to Mosques.”
Check out our report and tell us what you think.