Another Look at the Allen Controversy

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Sen. George Allen (R-VA) is in a tight race with challenger Jim Web, even after reports questioning Allen's record on race. But commentator John McCann suggests we should look at the bigger picture. Note: This segment contains language some might find objectionable.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Virginia Senator George Allen is still going neck and neck with challenger Jim Webb even after reports that Allen may have a spotty record on race. But commentator John McCann suggests we should look at the bigger picture.

JOHN MCCANN: With apologies to Fred Rogers, I give you the closing verses to a remix of Won't You Be My Neighbor?

(Soundbite of song “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”)

Mr. FRED ROGERS (Actor):(Singing) Would you be mine? Would you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor?

MCCANN: (Singing) Won't you please? Won't you please? Please, won't you be my nigger? Hi, nigger.

Here's the problem. Rapper 50 Cent kicks those lyrics and we're talking about a hot new single on the music charts. Or Chris Rock could fold it into one his stand up routines and be labeled a comedic genius.

But let white dudes like Jay Leno and David Letterman try to get away with that on their late night shows. Man, we'd be looking at race riots, which might happen if Senator George Allen follows President Bush and moves in to the White House in 2008. Conspiracy theories will abound sure enough at the specter of a guy whose apparent penchant for races slurs is becoming legendary.

As you know, Allen, a Virginia Republican, again finds himself beating back barbs suggesting that calling folks by their name is really difficult for him. Voices emerging from the woodwork say the former University of Virginia quarterback not only threw tight spirals but also lobbed n-bombs around white teammates when referencing black people.

Hey, I ain't got nothing to hide. There were times during my formative years when I uttered cracker. And I wasn't talking about saltines either. But does that make me racist I mean just because I've said such words? Gee, I hope not. And I hope Allen's use of the n-word doesn't make him one either, although he has made his case more difficult to prove.

This is the same guy who referred to a political opponent's campaign volunteer as a macaca, a type of monkey and considered an ethnic slur in some circles. I'm not defending Allen, but one of the things that take issue with is that critics bringing up this n-word references from the 1970's. Seems mighty political to me. But what's more appealing are the American people who are more offended by the alleged racial slur than by the fact that somebody is lying.

Well, some are calling Allen a racist for using the n-word. Both the senator and his supporters say such vocabulary never was part of his verbal arsenal. But both sides can't be right. Yet do we even value the truth anymore?

Now let's say Allen actually did use the n-word in the past. And if that alone disqualifies him from seeking an elected position, then every black politician who's ever used the n-word, even in the colloquial way African-Americans refer to each other, is, too, unfit for public office.

There are those who'd argue that Letterman and Leno are using the n-word means something different than when Chris Rock lets it fly. But who am I as a black man to take a word and hold it hostage?

So join me in my campaign to a place the sickening my nigger references with something more endearing.

(Singing) Won't you please? Won't you please? Please, won't you be my neighbor? Hi, neighbor.

Man, Mr. Rogers had it right the whole time.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: John McCann is a columnist for The Herald Sun in Durum, North Carolina.

(Soundbite of song “Wont You Be My Neighbor?”)

Mr. ROGERS: (Singing) It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood. It's a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? It's the neighborly day in this beauty wood. It's a neighborly day for a beauty. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you. So let's make the most of this beautiful day. Let's put together - we might as well say would you be my? Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor?

CHIDEYA: This is NPR News.

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