Macaca (term)

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Macaca is a term used on August 11, 2006 by Republican George Allen to describe a field operative of his Democratic opponent Jim Webb during the 2006 United States Senate election in Virginia.[1] The field operative in question was following Allen at all public events with a video camera[2]—a form of political opposition research known as "video tracking."

Allen alleges that "macaca" was gibberish that he improvised during the moment,[3][4] and he claims to have been surprised by the subsequent controversy.[5] Allen's opponents claim that "macaca" was intended by Allen as a racial slur, as it is the scientific name of a genus of monkeys.

Spelled as "Makaka," the word could also refer to Makaka, South Africa.[6][7][8]

Allen's opponents claim that comparing people of color to monkeys and other animals is a common ethnic slur among white supremacists. Allen's opponents also point to 19th Century texts from the Belgian colonization of the Congo, in which European colonists used "macaca" pejoratively against native Africans. Allen had no personal ties to the Congo, Belgium or Portugal. Even in 19th Century Belgian Congo, it is unclear how widespread the term was used.

The term "macaca" was unfamiliar to most Americans at the time. Allen claimed to have improvised the syllables as gibberish.[9][10] His critics speculate that he may have learned the term "macaca" from his mother, a Jewish woman who was born in French Tunisia and spent most of her life in Europe and America.[11]

Attempts to prosecute or defend Allen's motives or knowledge of the history of "macaca" have been speculative. Whatever Allen's knowledge of the history of "macaca," it was not the Senator's first race-related controversy. Allen was also accused of using racial slurs in college and has supported the Confederate flag.

Relating to the Allen controversy, "macaca" was named the most politically incorrect word of 2006 by Global Language Monitor, a nonprofit group that studies word usage.[12] The word was also a finalist for the American Dialect Society "Word of the Year" that same year.


According to Robert Edgerton, in the Belgian Congo, colonial whites called Africans macaques—implying that they had lived in the trees until the Europeans arrived. The term sale macaque (filthy monkey) was occasionally used as an insult.[13] In the ceremony in 1960 in which Congo gained its independence from Belgium, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba gave a speech accusing Belgian King Baudouin of presiding over "a regime of injustice, suppression, and exploitation" before ad-libbing at the end, Nous ne sommes plus vos macaques! (We are no longer your macaques!), as the Congolese in the audience rose to their feet cheering. Lumumba was reportedly still stung by being called a sale macaque by a Belgian woman years earlier.[14]

"Macaca" is a direct translation for "female monkey" in Portuguese language. The translation for "male monkey " (English) is "macaco" (Portuguese). In Portugal and Portuguese speaking countries, racists often call black people "macaco" or "macacos" (plural form) as an insult, because of their African origins. "Macaco" is also the Portuguese generic word to designate any kind of ape.[15]

In the Adventures of Tintin written by Belgian writer-artist Hergé, Captain Haddock uses the term macaque as an insult, along with other random terms.[16] In a 1994 essay, literary scholar Patrick Colm Hogan discussed the racist symbolism surrounding the name Makak, the protagonist in Derek Walcott's 1967 play Dream on Monkey Mountain.[17]

English gossip columnist and convicted drug dealer Taki Theodoracopulos referred to Bianca Jagger, who is of Nicaraguan origin, as macaca mulatta in 1996. Theodoracopulos has frequently used racial slurs in his published work.[18][19] Note that Macaca mulatta is the scientific name for the Rhesus monkey. The photographer Marc Garanger recounts the use of Macaque as a slur against Algerian women in a 1990 issue of Aperture magazine.[20]

2006 Virginia Senate race[edit]

The failed re-election campaign of Republican U.S. Senator George Allen of Virginia generated much controversy after he used the word macaca in reference to an Indian American. On August 11, 2006, at a campaign stop in Breaks, Virginia, near the Kentucky border, George Allen twice used the word macaca to refer to S. R. Sidarth, who was filming the event as a "tracker" for the opposing Jim Webb campaign. Prior to this, the term was almost completely unknown in the U.S.

This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent... Let's give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.

Sidarth is of Indian ancestry, but was born and raised in Fairfax County, Virginia. Allen's mother, born Sarah Lumbroso, is of French Tunisian descent and commentators have suggested that she may have learned the pejorative during her childhood and introduced it to her son. Even though Allen claimed that he made up the word and said that he did not understand its derogatory meaning, a media outcry erupted following his use of the term. After two weeks of negative publicity, Allen publicly apologized for his statement and asserted that he in no way intended those words to be offensive.

The term "Macacawitz", referring to the September 2006 discovery of Allen's Jewish heritage, was coined by conservative pundit John Podhoretz as a headline for a post in the National Review blog "The Corner".[21] A field organizer for Democratic Congressional candidate Al Weed resigned after she used the term in email to supporters of Weed.[22]

The controversy created by Allen's use of the term contributed to his unexpected loss to Webb.[23]


  1. ^ Craig, Tim; Michael D. Shear (August 15, 2006). "Allen Quip Provokes Outrage, Apology". The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 2, 2011. 
  2. ^ New York Times
  3. ^ Quotes from Allen in the Huffington Post
  4. ^ Aimes Tribune
  5. ^ Washington Post
  6. ^ Craig, Tim; Michael D. Shear (August 15, 2006). "Allen Quip Provokes Outrage, Apology". The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 2, 2011. 
  7. ^ Google Maps
  8. ^ Washington Post
  9. ^ Quotes from Allen in the Huffington Post
  10. ^ Aimes Tribune
  11. ^ Media Matters
  12. ^ The Global Language Monitor » Politically (in)Correct
  13. ^ Edgerton, Robert B. The Troubled Heart of Africa: A History of the Congo, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2002, ISBN 0-312-30486-2, pp. 180-181
  14. ^ Edgerton, p. 184
  15. ^ Portuguese - English dictionary Infopedia
  16. ^ (French) List of Captain Haddock's insults, French Wikipedia, wiki revision of 10 August 2006
  17. ^ Hogan, Patrick Colm. Mimeticism, Reactionary Nativism, and the Possibility of Postcolonial Identity in Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain. Research in African Literatures Vol 25 Iss 2 (1994): 103-19, p. 103
  18. ^ Taki, Mick's Little Madam, Sunday Times, September 8, 1996
  19. ^ The Guardian leader 21 October 2004
  20. ^ Carole Nagar. "The Unveiled: Algerian Women, 1960", Aperture no. 119 (Summer 1990) p.4
  21. ^ Podhoretz, John (2006-09-19). "Felix Macacawitz". The Corner. National Review. Retrieved 2006-10-30. 
  22. ^ Craig, Tim (2006-10-05). "Democratic Organizer Quits After Calling Allen 'Macacawitz'". The Washington Post. p. B02. Retrieved 2006-10-30. 
  23. ^ Craig, Tim (February 6, 2008). "The 'What If' of Allen Haunts the GOP Race". The Washington Post. 

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