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George Allen was regarded as a future presidential contender until a racial slur and subsequent YouTube clip derailed his political career. But would his fate been any different if he uttered the word “redskin” at an American Indian operative?
The long-standing debate over the name of Washington’s football team is back in the news after the team’s recent success, Thursday’s symposium at the National Museum of the American Indian in which panelists called for change, and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, said he thought the team should change its name.
“It is very, very, very offensive. This isn’t like warriors or chiefs,” Cole told Roll Call, “It’s not a term of respect, and it’s needlessly offensive to a large part of our population. They just don’t happen to live around Washington, D.C.”
At the crux of the debate is whether the term “redskin” is offensive or now more synonymous with the football team than anything else. But when the term is used in another context, it would likely be viewed in a very different light.
Back in 2006, then-Sen. Allen referred to a young, Asian-American tracker as “macaca” as the incident was captured on video. That November, the Republican lost to Democrat Jim Webb by less than half of a percentage point in race that wasn’t decided until after Election Day. The year before, Allen was featured on the cover of National Review, tossing a football, as a future presidential contender.
So what would have been the fallout if the Democratic tracker was an American Indian and Allen looked into his camera, pointed his finger, and said, “This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Redskin, or whatever his name is?”
The easy answer would be that it would have been at least as bad for Allen as the actual incident. It’s fair to say that “macaca” is a more obscure and less obvious slur than “redskin” and would have likely had a similar viral effect.
On the other hand, Allen was running in Virginia, which is full of Redskins fans and Allen’s family has deep ties to the team; his father was head coach in the 1970s and brother is the current general manager (although not in 2006 when George was running for re-election).
Because of those factors, it’s possible that Allen would have survived because of the commonwealth’s tolerance for the term. But hearing the term “redskin” used in a different context, would have at least woken people up to the offensiveness of the term.