The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

MACACA BLUES: Well, Senator George Allen of Virginia has lost his bid for re-election, and while it is safe to say that this year almost any Republican would have had their share of troubles, I think most everyone can agree that Senator Allen’s problems stemmed from his use of the word macaca. You may not know what a macaca is, and very frankly, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that the good Senator doesn’t, either. This is one of the reasons why he lost; if he’d knew what the term meant, he wouldn’t have used it. So then, you ask, if those of us here at The Passing Parade are so altogether smart, just what the hell is a macaca then? I hadn’t a clue, but it appears, if we believe the good folks over at Wikipedia, that macaca is indeed a racial slur, and what’s worse, it’s a Belgian racial slur.

By this, I do not mean that it is a slur directed at Belgians in particular or Belgium in general; Belgians are very nice people, I am told, and they make great beer and exquisite chocolate, and they are the proud inventors of the French fry, for which gift a grateful humanity should always remain thankful. There is a great deal of medieval architecture in Belgium, or so I read in the travel books, and it rains a lot there as well, averaging 33.5 inches of rain a year, and it is cloudy for much of the year, so when you go to enjoy the beer and chocolate and see the medieval architecture, do not be surprised if the architecture is a bit soggy. I will venture to guess—I have never been to Belgium so I cannot say this for certain—that, given the abundance of precipitation, Belgium is, in all likelihood, a country with a significant mold problem. So, to return to our premise, and the constant reader will note that I managed to return to the premise in the same paragraph in which I left it, which I feel is indicative of a vast improvement in The Passing Parade’s digressionary skills; macaca is not a word you would use to describe a Belgian—it is a word Belgians used during their colonial past.

That Belgium has a colonial past often surprises people. The phrase, the Belgian Empire, strikes the uninformed listener as rather oxymoronic, causing the same sort of mental whiteout you might feel when hearing the terms fat-free mayonnaise or Democratic tax-cutter, and yet, strange as it might seem, there was such a thing as a Belgian empire. Belgium had one massive colony, the present day Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is the former Zaire, which is the former Congo (Kinshasa), which is the former Congo (Leopoldville), which is the former Belgian Congo, and none of which is identical with the Congo (Brazzaville), which borders the Congo and all of the aforementioned places, but was a French colony, not a Belgian one. Movie fans will remember that Brazzaville is the place where Rick and Captain Renault escaped to at the end of Casablanca, and Brazzaville is also where, in 1944, the Free French announced that French colonies could forget about independence after the end of World War II. I’ll bet they’re still chuckling about that one in Hanoi. Those French, what great kidders they are, they just slay me! We will skip over the sorry history of Belgian imperialism, which you can read about in Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, an excellent book and one that I recommend highly, and only say that the Belgians ruled the Belgian Congo in much the same way that Tony Soprano collected outstanding loans from deadbeats, except Tony didn’t slice the deadbeats’ hands off if they couldn’t come across with the vig; King Leopold and his merry band of malevolent Belgians, on the other hand, had no such qualms about cutting off the other hand, and sometimes a nose or an ear as well, just to break the monotony.

In any such venture, of course, it helps if you can convince yourself that, by virtue of your skin color or your religious beliefs or your aristocratic station in life or your political ideology, you are a wholly superior being to the rabble you are so callously oppressing, and should not therefore trouble yourself with the suffering you are causing large numbers of people who never did anything to you in their lives. As they are inferior to you, you may dismiss them and their suffering from your mind with a contemptuous remark, and so the Belgians did just that. Macaca, as you can read for yourselves in Wikipedia, is a name derived from a species of monkey; French-speaking Belgians in the Congo, and for those of you who don’t know this, Belgians come in two handy linguistic varieties, Dutch speaking and French speaking, used the term to describe the indigenous population of their unwilling colony.

I do not know where the good Senator first heard the term macaca, or why he decided to use it to describe a South Asian, who were never, at any time, a part of the Belgian Empire, but I think I feel the revulsion of all real Americans at the sight of an United States Senator using a French racial slur to insult a member of an ethnic minority when there are any number of perfectly good American racial slurs he could have used instead. What is worse, at least from my standpoint, is that technically the Senator did not use a French slur, if by French we mean a slur in use in France, but rather a somewhat cut-rate slur from a francophone minority in a otherwise Dutch-speaking country. If we are to import our slurs, I see no reason why we must import them from the Brussels B-list when we could have gotten a slur just as good or better from Paris. No one, after all, aches to see the newest Brussels fashions or wonders what the next wave in Belgian cinema or literature will be. Let’s face it: when Georges Simenon died and took Inspector Maigret with him, the rest of us stopped caring what happened in Brussels. For most Europeans, Brussels is a place where bureaucrats congregate in large numbers like down on their luck gigolos around a rich American widow, the better to find new and more obnoxious ways of making life as miserable as the Belgian climate. For most Americans, Brussels is a place associated with vile tasting vegetables your mother wanted you to eat because they were good for you. This is always a crock; my mother wanted me to eat carrots because they would improve my eyesight, and today here I am, myopic, presbytopic, and astigmatic all at the same time. I’d be wearing bifocals now too, if I weren’t too cheap to pay for them.

In any case, the misadventure of the soon to be former Senator from Virginia proves one thing above all other things…well, that’s a pretty broad statement, isn’t it, even without the blonde, so let me rephrase and say that it proves one thing almost over a lot of other things that could be just as important, but probably aren’t; if you must dis, dis American. In our politically correct times, the old-fashioned American slur will deeply appreciate the work (since the rise of PC American slurs have had no end of trouble making ends meet) and when you use the slur, everyone listening will know what you’re talking about. The tide of people calling their public libraries trying to find our what you meant will cease, which the librarians will appreciate, since librarians love political correctness and dislike having to repeat ethnic and racial slurs, and the resultant controversy will center on what you said, not on what you said and what did that mean, anyway? Clarity is a virtue, and if you must be insulting, it never hurts to be clear about who it is you’re insulting. Answering why anyone would be so stupid as to use any kind of racial slur during a political campaign, however, remains a Rosicrucian mystery and will probably remain one for as long as we all shall live.


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