South Carolina state senator Jake Knotts (R) called both the President and a South Carolina gubernatorial candidate “ragheads” on an internet talk show yesterday.  The slur is typically used against people of Arab descent, or other people who happen to wear turbans or headdresses.

‘We already got one raghead in the White House,” Knotts said. “We don’t need another in the Governor’s Mansion.’

So if you’re a bigot like Knotts, and the South Carolina GOP comes calling, how do you try to get out of this situation?  Shroud it in a humorous context.

S.C. GOP chairwoman Karen Floyd called on Knotts to apologize, which he did late Thursday.

Knotts said his comments were meant as humor.

“My ‘raghead’ comments about Obama and Haley were intended in jest,” Knotts said in a statement. “Bear in mind that this is a freewheeling, anything-goes Internet radio show that is broadcast from a pub. It’s like local political version of ‘Saturday Night Live.’

“Since my intended humorous context was lost in translation, I apologize. I still believe Ms. Haley is pretending to be someone she is not, much as Obama did, but I apologize to both for an unintended slur.”

So it’s okay, as long as it’s a joke?  Ridiculous.

Fear is clearly dripping from Knotts’ statement.  For Knotts and his good-ol’-boy club (he’s close allies with Andre Bauer, the Lt. Governor, and a Republican rival of Haley’s for the gubernatorial nomination), the thought that a female candidate, who happens to attend both Sikh and Methodist church services, could beat them is maddening.  Drunk with temporary power (it disappears along with the receding “white, working class” vote), anything goes in their politics, and so they perceive difference as a threat.

But Knotts and Co. won’t wade that deeply into this.  They’ll settle for the “It’s supposed to be funny. Laugh!” routine.  Yet, they have no ability to understand that their form of cheap humor derives from the privilege they have as white men, who had access to and rode the waves of a friendly system right into office.  And because of this very system, people like Haley and Obama had to fight harder to succeed, handling daily questions about their abilities based on something they couldn’t control.

We need a politics that values the different stories we all have as Americans.  Knotts has one of those stories.  Unfortunately, because Knotts telegraphs that he values cheap humor and dirty politics over a more noble approach to politics, we’re left with a disgusting joke and the senator managed to alienate millions of people across the country.

Bottom line: humor does not grant you immunity to make oppressive statements.

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