If you have to preface your remarks with a mention of your “black best friend,” you’ll probably regret saying what comes next. Don Yelton, a former North Carolina Republican official, was compelled to resign Thursday after tossing around racial slurs during an interview with The Daily Show, doesn’t.
“It’s supposed to be something wild about that comment,” Yelton told msnbc Friday. “It’s supposed to be a comment you say before you slam the blacks or something. I don’t know what the rules are, I don’t play by society’s rules.”
During his appearance on the Daily Show Wednesday, Yelton said he didn’t care if North Carolina’s strict voter ID law “hurts a bunch of lazy blacks who wants the government to give them everything.”
“The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt,” Yelton told The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi. North Carolina’s recent voting law, one of the strictest in the country, is currently being challenged in court on the basis that it makes it deliberately makes it harder for minorities to vote. At least one state, Texas, has argued in court that election laws are constitutional if they disenfranchise voters on the basis of party affiliation rather than race, an argument voting rights advocates find absurd.
“I’m not backing down from anything I said. I want to make that clear,” Yelton added Friday. “The last time I checked, this is America. And the last time I checked, we have the right to have an opinion.”
Moments before he made the remarks on The Daily Show, Yelton had told Mandvi that “one of my best friends is…black,” briefly pausing for effect. Yelton recalled how in his youth, “you didn’t call a black a black, you called him a nigra.” (Actually, today the polite thing to do is to refer to people by their names). Yelton also offered the observation that “a black person uses the term ‘nigger this, nigger that,’ and it’s okay for them to do it.”
Discussing North Carolina’s voter ID law, Yelton said “if it hurts a bunch of college kids who’s too lazy get off up their bull-humpus and get a photo ID so be it. If it hurts the whites, so be it, if it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks who wants the government to give them everything, so be it.”
Yelton reiterated on Friday that the North Carolina GOP was overreacting because The Daily Show is meant to be a parody show. Asked which of his remarks were in jest, he said he stood by them but felt they were taken out of context. He also said he felt like he was being stereotyped by people outraged by his remarks.
“They asked me what I thought racism was, and I said when an ‘n’ can call an ‘n’ an ‘n,’ and that’s not considered racist. That’s a double double standard in today’s world It’s also hypocrisy,” Yelton said. ”It’s offensive to me that that could be said by a black person and not be considered racist, and when it’s said by a white person it is racist. That’s offensive to me. Either it is or it isn’t.”
Buncombe County Chair Henry Mitchell said that he had asked Yelton to resign after conferring with the North Carolina state GOP officials, who were also upset about the official’s appearance. Yelton resigned Thursday on a local radio show. Yelton said Friday of the Republican Party, ”I’ve had enough of their political correctness and their inability to let people say what they think.”
For the local party, the feeling appears to be mutual. “We don’t need people like that speaking and representing the Republican Party,” Mitchell said, adding that Yelton’s comments “were totally offensive and unacceptable, and didn’t reflect the Buncombe County Republican Party or the state party.” (Yelton was initially identified on The Daily Show as an “executive committee chair,” he is a chair on the county GOP executive committee.)
“What this guy thinks is legally irrelevant,” says Rick Hasen, a voting law expert and law professor at the University of California-Irvine. “If you found anyone in the legislature talking like him, it would be of legal significance.” The impact, Hasen says, is more likely to be political than legal, serving as a rallying cry for Democrats opposed to voter ID laws.
“After he was kicked out of the Republican Party they welcomed him back with open arms,” Fisher says. “They obviously thought he had something important to say.”
Yelton says the bipartisan criticism of him in Buncomb County is just proof he’s on the right track. “I’m an independent and I say what I think, and I expose what’s wrong every time I see it, and it don’t matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican.”