“I am macaca.” This was the essay that S.R. Sidarth, Salon’s “Person of the Year,” used in his application for the University of Virginia political science class called Campaigns and Elections taught by the very partisan Democratic professor Larry Sabato.
But before you dismiss such a statement as merely a flippant comment, consider that this was the entire essay. Yes, if you “are macaca” you can enter this professor’s class, which is so popular that only in one in four students gets in (and I don’t think any essays referring positively to the Federalist papers would win). Professor Sabato was quoted in Salon as saying, “’When you have the right stuff, you don’t need to brag. A simple declarative sentence will do.’”
S.R. Sidarth was the young man who volunteered for Democratic candidate Jim Webb, now about to be sworn into the Senate. Sidarth displayed “the right stuff” when his camera caught George Allen calling him “macaca.” Therewith ensued an analysis of the etymology of the word by the best liberal minds in the media. When it was determined that it was a racial slur “in some parts of the world,” Allen was undone.
A Washington Post profile, “Fairfax Native Says Allen’s Words Stung,” lauded the honors student and revealed that young Sidarth got his start in high school by contributing $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Sen. Joseph Lieberman. This landed him an internship.
Such exaltation of initiative on the part of Sidarth made me momentarily feel ashamed that I did not write a check for $2,000 as a high school student. Nor was I able to earn a 4.1 grade point average at my public school; we were so poor we could not earn above a 4.0. But Sidarth was able to do it at his exclusive private school. This phenomenon—maybe it’s extra points for “community service” or for being macaca--could explain why college students ask me if they can do something for “extra credit.” Had I done all that maybe I could have made a name for myself as a 20-year-old as he did. Maybe if a political opponent had jokingly referred to me as a “dumb Polack,” lumping all Slavic people together (as often happened), I could have written an essay simply stating, “I am Slav.” I would just let the pundits look up the word and trace it back to “slave.” I could have made something of the fact that Americans (even sensitive Democrats) often confuse Slovenia with Slovakia. Instead, I was stupid enough to clean toilets, wait on tables, sling drinks, and trudge through snow-filled vineyards with clippers to pay my way through the community college. But then again I was not at Sidarth’s 4.1 g.p.a genius level.