Senator Accused of Racial Gaffes Draws Support From HBCUs - Higher Education


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Senator Accused of Racial Gaffes Draws Support From HBCUs

by Charles Dervarics

Despite facing allegations of racial insensitivity during his 2006 re-election campaign, U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., continues to draw support from some African-Americans — particularly for his support of historically Black colleges and universities.

Seeking his second Senate term after serving as governor of Virginia, Allen is in a tight re-election race with Democrat Jim Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan who switched party allegiances due to his opposition to the war in Iraq. Polls show the two candidates in a virtual tie weeks before the Nov. 7 election.

Allen came under fire for using the word “macaca” to describe a Webb operative — a 20-year-old University of Virginia student of Indian descent — who was shadowing the senator’s campaign. After several days of fierce criticism, Allen apologized to the student for using the word, which describes a type of monkey and is viewed as a racial epithet in some countries.

Since that incident, several of Allen’s former college football teammates at UVa have come forward to say that Allen regularly used the “n-word” during his days at the university in the early 1970s. Allen has denied making the comments.

Even with the stumbles, however, Allen continues to draw some support in the African-American community, and the senator prominently cites his support for HBCUs.

“I am grateful that the George Allen of 2006 is the same friend and ardent supporter that he has been to HBCUs over these many years,” says Virginia Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, a Democrat who has endorsed Allen.

Lambert says the senator has made mistakes but is a lawmaker sensitive to the needs of African-Americans. The state lawmaker says he supports Allen for re-election because Allen has “delivered on [his] promises to support Virginia’s historically Black colleges and universities.”

In Congress, Allen is chief Senate sponsor of the Minority Serving Institution Digital and Wireless Technology Opportunity Act, which would authorize $250 million to expand Internet and technology services at HBCUs and other minority-serving colleges.

The full Senate approved the bill in July 2005, but it has yet to clear the House of Representatives. One House panel has approved the measure, but it still is awaiting action from the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Allen’s work has earned him support in the Black college community. During a recent visit to Hampton University, president William R. Harvey praised the senator “as a long and consistent supporter” of HBCUs who visited Black colleges even before his election as Virginia governor.

In a statement distributed by the Allen campaign, Harvey says, “I have always found Sen. Allen to be an advocate for technology on our campus and a champion of that cause.” During his visit to Hampton, Allen announced a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for Hampton’s Center for Laser Science and Spectroscopy program.

Despite his support for HBCUs, Allen has faced criticism for other elements of his public service record. He had opposed a state holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and some civil rights advocates have questioned his affinity for displaying the Confederate flag. But Allen has co-sponsored a resolution urging the Senate to formally apologize for never approving anti-lynching legislation.

Ronald Walters, a political scientist and director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, says Allen has some African-American support in the state, but it remains limited.

“He’s had a few endorsements, but that’s not reflective of the African-American population in Virginia,” he told Diverse.

Webb “probably” will win the majority of the Black vote in November, according to Walters. Up to 80 percent of Black voters may back Webb, given their traditional support for the Democratic party.

But that may not have a major impact on the race, he says, since Blacks represent only about 17 percent of the state’s voters. Statewide polls released in mid-October showed the race as a dead heat.



© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com

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