Exchange Between Allen and TV Reporter on His Heritage

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The text of the exchange between Sen. George Allen and WUSA (Channel 9) reporter Peggy Fox at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce debate Monday in Tysons Corner:

Fox : Senator Allen, you have said several times that you made up the word "macaca" when referring to S.R. Sidarth, the young man of Indian heritage born and raised in Fairfax County who attends your alma mater. But the word is a racial slur in French-influenced African nations, most notably Tunisia. Your mother's Tunisian -- are you sure you never heard the word and if you were just making up a name, to call Sidarth, why not just call him John, something that -- rather than something that sounds derogatory. Was it because he looked different?

Allen : I hope you're not trying to bring my mother into this matter. I have said, and I'll say it once again, I made a mistake. It was a thoughtless moment. I have apologized for it, as well I should. I had never heard that word before, from my mother or from anyone else. If I had any idea that in some parts of the world, for some cultures, that this would be an insult, I would never use that word, because that's not who I am, that's not how I was raised, it's not what I believe in.

Whether it was from my father's football teams, where he had people from all different parts of the country and different backgrounds -- you don't care about, on football teams or on sports teams, what someone's race or religion is or ethnicity is, all you care about is whether they can help the team compete and succeed. And that's the meritocracy that we should aspire to in our country. And if there's one lesson that I learned more than from anyone else it was my mother, whose father was incarcerated by the Nazis in World War II. And of all people in my life who told me about tolerance and not judging people by their religious beliefs or their ethnicity or their race, it is my mother.

And so I made that mistake, I will of course do better, I'm sorry I said it. Nonetheless, there was no intent whatsoever to insult that young man or anyone else. It is not who I am and that is why, by the way, state senator Bennie Lambert, an African American, Democrat, endorsed me last week because he knows my record in making sure this is a land of opportunity for all and especially helping out minority-serving institutions.

Fox : May I ask a follow up? Following the macaca episode, the Jewish press published a story on the Internet that explored your possible Jewish ancestry on your mother's side. You've been quoted as saying your mother's not Jewish, but it had been reported her father, your grandfather Felix, whom you were given your middle name for, was Jewish. Could you please tell us whether your forebearers include Jews, and if so, at which point Jewish identity might have ended?

[Booing from the audience]

Allen : I'm glad you all have that, you have that reaction. You know what our first freedom in this country was? Freedom of religion, where people's rights are not enhanced or diminished on account of their religious beliefs. Thomas Jefferson was the author of that. As we try to stand up a free and just society, that's the first pillar of a free and just society. And to be getting into what religion my mother is, I don't think it's relevant, whatever one person believes, whatever their beliefs may be, is not relevant. So I'd like to ask you, why is that relevant? My religion, Jim's religion, or the religion beliefs of anyone out there. [applause]

My mother's French Italian . . .

Fox : Honesty.

Allen : . . . with a little Spanish blood in her. And I was raised as she was, as far as I know, raised as a Christian. But if you really need to get into such matters . . .

Fox : . . . Honesty, that's all.

Allen : Oh, that's all? That's just all? We need, we need to get this country together. And I respect your right to ask questions. But let's ask questions about issues that really matter to people here, in Virginia, such as how we're going to bring this country together, make us more secure, a land of opportunity. And I'll tell you one other thing, preserve our foundational values, and one of those values is freedom of religion and not making aspersions about people because of their religious beliefs.

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