CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – South Carolina Sen. Robert Ford is now defending what many have called racial comments.
In a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee meeting Tuesday, Ford used the term "brothers" to describe African-Americans who are not willing to do hard work. When asked Wednesday whether the word "brothers" should have been rephrased, Ford said, "When I say brothers, I meant my brethren in America."
During Tuesday's meeting, Ford said that in South Carolina, stricter illegal immigration laws would hurt the state because blacks and whites don't work as hard as Hispanics. The Charleston Democrat provoked nervous laughter after he said "brothers" don't work as hard as Mexicans.
Ford added that "the brothers are going to find ways to take a break. Ever since this country was built, we've had somebody do the work for us."
He then said whites also don't work as hard, calling them "blue-eyed brothers."
"I made brothers a broad brush for Americans who are now citizens, and now we need to give the Mexicans the same opportunity," he said. "I still can't understand how they're going to misconstrue that and talk about race. Ain't got nothing to do with race."
Senator Ford says he's against the bill because he wants "Mexicans" to come to the US because they work hard and American citizens will not.
"Most of us who understand the lingo, we understand the brother lingo or the sister lingo. It wasn't taken out of context. And even if he was referring to the general population, it would still be inappropriate," NAACP President Dot Scott said.
It's not just the NAACP speaking out after senator fords comments. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says the real issue is the illegal immigration reform bill, but it's being overshadowed because of this.
At the ACLU, Victoria Middleton says it's the bill that should be seen as potentially racial.
"We know in other states bills like this have promoted racial profiling and that's our big concern. Overall this bill is very problematic because it's unnecessary. We already have laws on the books requiring compliance with immigration law," Middleton said.
State Representative Wendell Gilliard, who often works alongside Senator Ford, says Senator Ford did not single out African Americans in his comments, but he disagrees with the statement Americans in general are unwilling to work hard.
Ford spoke to Live 5 News reporter Nicole Johnson in a phone interview Wednesday to address his comments.
"I made it clear. In fact I said blue-eye brothers, African American brothers, Chinese brothers. I made that clear. It's in the transcripts," Ford said.
During the discussion on illegal immigration reform, Ford said he was the only person in the meeting who believes "Mexicans have the right to be in this country."
Ford then continued to explain that throughout history there have always been immigrant groups who moved to America, willing to do hard work.
"Starting with the pilgrims when they came to America they brought with them indentured servants, people to do the hard work," Ford explained.
"Right after that they brought in slavery for 300 years, African slaves 300 years in our country. Right after slavery ended we brought in Chinese workers to build railroads, and that lasted for maybe 35 years," Ford continued. "Once they became citizens the next group of people we brought in were Eastern Europeans to work in the industrial industry in this country, and now it's the Mexicans' chance to become American citizens. They are doing the hardcore work."
Ford says even if the country allowed Mexicans to become citizens, "Right after they become Americanized, we're probably going to have to bring in some more workers to do the hardcore work."
The executive director of the state GOP called on Ford to apologize Tuesday. The leader of the state NAACP called Ford's wording unfortunate and said everyone has positive and negative traits. NAACP President Scott says she would not expect to get an apology from Senator Ford.