Politicians Need to Stop Masking Racist Comments with Humor

People have to recognize the underlying message in politicians’ jokes.



Politicians such as Sen. Graham should not be using their platforms, especially in serious situations such as congressional hearings, to attempt a career of stand-up comedy.

Politicians need to learn to monitor their humor, as xenophobic comments made by them only further exacerbate the inequality that is coming to define American society.

Consider South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s remarks during the Congressional Hearings for the Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. While on the Senate floor and being filmed and broadcasted by multiple networks, Sen. Graham questioned Justice Barrett on whether Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional, was really a super precedent. Sen. Graham, a supporter of Justice Barrett, used this to make a point, saying she was able to confirm it’s precedent because she is “not aware of any effort to go back to the good old days of segregation via legislative body.”

Unsurprisingly, a Republican saying “the good old days of segregation,” on live television was met with backlash. While obviously sarcastic, the Senate floor is not the place to introduce humor, especially when one is representing a state that is notorious for its poor race relations and history of racism. Defending his statement, Sen. Graham told reporters it “blows [his] mind that any rational person could believe [he] was being serious.”

Despite asserting that the statement was “dripping [with] sarcasm,” Sen. Graham should understand that there is a time and place for such humor. While there could be arguments on how what he said is so disgusting it should not qualify as a joke, what’s of utmost importance is that politicians such as Sen. Graham should not be using their platforms, especially in serious situations such as congressional hearings, to attempt a career of stand-up comedy. By making light of serious issues such as racism and segregation, he devalues the injustice that has spanned the entire history of our country and still persists to this day.

What was surprising to many is that these comments came only days after Sen. Graham came under fire for saying in a televised event that Black people and immigrants “can go anywhere in [his] state, so long as they are conservative, not liberal.” Once again, he classified the statement as a joke, but many twitter users failed to recognize this, with one constituent tweeting “Truth hurts sometime [sic] but it’s true!!”

Sen. Graham isn’t the only one who needs to monitor his verbosity. All politicians should recognize the harm supposed humor can cause as it is an issue that crosses party lines. Democratic Senate candidate from Arizona, Mark Kelly, made a racist joke two years ago while speaking to a group of boy scouts. A retired astronaut, Kelly explained coming back from space can have strange effects on the body, saying that when his brother Scott Kelly, who is also an astronaut, returned, he was, “halfway between an orangutan and a howler monkey. We’ve even changed his name to Rodrigo. He lives in the woods.”

Labelling monkeys with a traditionally Hispanic name is, though an attempt at humor, a sad impression to make on young boys. A politician from a state on the border that has a large number of immigrants should be more sensitive to humor that offends. By allowing our government officials to say offensive things and letting them use humor as an excuse, we are only prolonging the history of racism and sexism ingrained in our country’s history.

Though the constituents in a politician’s party are the ones that elect officials, those elected must still continue to represent the entirety of their district, state, or even country. By veiling xenophobic comments with humor, our country cannot mend the growing gap and polarization between ideologies.