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The controversy around Virginia Senator George Allen, and a comment he made towards the East Indian descended aide, SR Sidharth, of his campaign rival, calling him a "Macaca", a word that he claimed to be a mangling of "Mohawk". The complete details of what he said, and the various explanations for his remark have been top news items.

The most immediate question of course was whether Senator Allen was throwing a racial epithet at the aide. There has been at least some explanation that he was simply mangling a reference to the man's haircut. Some news reports have also pointed out that Allen, who was born in California, was "welcoming" Sidarth to Virginia, a state that Sidarth had been born and raised in.

But what I have not heard, so far, is a discussion of what is perhaps the most ridiculous part of the speech: the reference to the "Real World" of Virginia. (The line in the speech is Welcome to America and the Real World of Virginia). The fact that the silliest part of the speech was not mentioned shows a hole in American values and culture that has grown so large that people forget it is there.

The problem with what Allen said was not that it was racist, or inaccurate, or hypocritical. The problem is that the quality he uses to describe Virginia is "Real". He doesn't say that Virginia is beautiful, or prosperous, or joyful, or rich, or healthy, or morally superior. Instead, Virginia is "Real". The fact that it is "Real", he seems to be suggesting, makes it something that is superior without qualification. Allen probably didn't know about Sidarth's academic and athletic record, but if he did, it would perhaps make sense to pull out "realness". It is something that even a student who got a 1550 on his SATs, maintained a 4.1 GPA, and played football for his high school football team really can't debate.

An entire side issue could be raised about what that "Realness" is. Although a rural past might be nostalgically recalled, the state of Virginia, like most other states, is fairly urbanized, and most of the larger employers are either government agencies or various retail outlets. In Buchanan County, where the speech was made, the largest employers are the government and some actual industrial concerns.

But even if we were to suppose that the people of Virginia lived perfectly "real" lives, lives of tradition and rugged rural living, why exactly is that a matter of great superiority? Certain aspects of the Republican party seem to be joining with some of the more annoying hip-hop artists and some of the more badly interpreted writings of Martin Heidegger in enshrining "realness" as the primary good. To call it the "primary good" is even to misspeak, since "the real world" doesn't need to be "good", it just needs to be "real". And this is the part of the speech that bothered me the most: that instead of speaking of the grandeur, the beauty, the excitement, the accomplishments, or anything else about Virginia, Allen merely said that it was "Real" and seemed to think that was all that needed to be said.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/24/AR2006082401639_pf.html
Is an account of Sidarth's upbringing.
http://www.vec.virginia.gov/vecportal/lbrmkt/top50/top50.cfm Is a nifty tool that lets you search the largest employers in Virginia, either as a whole or by county.

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