Those who can joke about the days of Jim Crow are every expletive that immediately comes to mind.
Senator Lindsey Graham was widely criticized on Wednesday for referring to the "good old days of segregation" at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. When approached by reporters, however, Graham insisted that the comment was "dripping in sarcasm."
"It was with deep sarcasm that I suggested that some legislative body would want to yearn for the good old days of segregationism," Graham explained. "The point that I'm trying to make, there's nobody in America in the legislative arena wanting to take us back to that dark period in American history and for my opponent to suggest that says far more about him than me."
The sanctimony continued.
"I want to make sure that everybody in my state moves forward," Graham said while emphasizing that almost a third of his constituents are Black. "And in terms of that statement, it blows my mind that any rational person could believe that about me." Lindsey Graham not only feels it's okay to "sarcastically" reference segregation and the Jim Crow era, but that it's irrational for anyone to take offense to such trivializing.
The other problem with Graham's mindlessness when discussing racism is that it extends beyond this quip.
Last weekend, during a debate with Jaime Harrison, Graham's Democratic challenger in South Carolina, Graham made the following claim: "If you're a young African American... you can go anywhere in this state, you just need to be conservative not liberal."
By that Monday, a viral clip of the statement had been viewed on Twitter 6.3 million times. Much like the "good old days" of segregation reference, this, too, drew plenty of rightly earned jeers. However, the full context of Graham's claims admittedly warrants wider consideration. Not by nearly as much as some have argued, though.
Graham's comment was made near the end of a much longer response to a question about whether Graham has met with members of the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Do I believe our cops are systemically racist? No. Do I believe that South Carolina is a racist state? No," Graham said. "To young people out there of color, to young immigrants, this is a great state. The one thing I can say without any doubt. You could be an African American and go to the Senate, you just have to share the values of our state."
Lindsey Graham is a southern white man in his 60s. Spare me this nonsense. And if he's too busy begging for spare change to deal with his challenger's massive fundraising haul, he should have asked a campaign staffer to give him a few notes about the history of policing, the state of South Carolina, and the current data about police brutality.
Yes, Graham was making a comment about holding statewide office, citing the success of Senator Tim Scott and former Governor Nikki Haley, but truncated quote or not, "I care about everybody. If you're a young African American, an immigrant, you can go anywhere in the state, you just need to be conservative not liberal" is still plenty patronizing enough to cause offense.
This was a question about the Black Lives Matter movement, and true to form, the Republican trotted out his Black friend. However, note that after all of this, Graham goes on to acknowledge that, yes, Scott has faced police racism, too, including from U.S. Capitol Police.
Now, what good did sharing that experience do for Scott in convincing his Republican colleagues to care about police brutality and discrimination? They did lend verbal support to Scott's Senate bill -- the one that would strongly encourage cities to stop using chokeholds but wouldn't ban them outright. At the time, Senator Kamala Harris said of the bill, "We cannot proceed with what they're offering. It's empty. It's empty."
I find Tim Scott's bill to be about as useful as Lindsey Graham's sense of humor.
As for Haley, this is the same person who said in an interview last December that the Confederate flag was about "service, and sacrifice, and heritage" until Dylan Roof "hijacked" it. I could never want it that bad to tell such a lie.
Haley has quite a history of pacifying bigots and their symbols in the interest of political advancement. And while that has gone swell for her thus far, she will soon see its limitations whenever she makes it official that she wants to be the next presidential nominee of the party that made a white supremacist chauvinist who's been serially accused of sexual assault its cult leader. Hardy har.
Meanwhile, Graham's invocations of each are only meant to deflect from the reality that no matter who you are or what you believe, if you are Black in this country, a cop can kill you and likely get away with it.
If Graham had real consideration for that plight Black people face — even Black conservatives — he might have considered Jonathan Price. In spite of being known for being a Black conservative, Price was shot four times by police officers in Texas earlier this month as he tried to break up a domestic dispute.
"The situation was resolved before law enforcement arrived, according to witnesses," S. Lee Merritt, the attorney for Price's family, told CNN. "Why this officer still felt the need to tase and shoot Jonathan is beyond comprehension."
I know why, and I imagine Senator Graham knows, too. If he never wants to explicitly state as such, so be it. But when asked about that reality for Black people in America and the movement it has spawned, how can you say such a stupid thing and then proceed to days later say "good old days of segregation." This humor comes at our expense — including his Black BFF in South Carolina.
Lindsey Graham using sarcasm to address that level of subjugation is inhumane, intolerable, and unforgivable.