What you heard:
Jeff Sessions, an Explainher fave, questioned the legitimacy of a Hawaiian federal judge. Then, when faced with backlash for his comments, he complained that “no one has a sense of humor anymore.”
What it is:
Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General of the United States; you can read all about the racist Kreacher here.
The questioning came in response to the judge’s blocking of the Administration’s second attempt at a Muslim ban. Sessions, apparently upset that the judicial system had the gall to exert its Constitutional powers, had the following to say: “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States…”
Derrick Watson, the insulted federal judge, was born in Hawaii to a banker and local policeman. After attending Harvard and Harvard Law, he worked at a private practice in San Francisco before becoming a federal prosecutor in California and later his native Hawaii. He headed the US Attorney’s Office in Hawaii from 2009 to 2013; he left that position after the Senate unanimously confirmed him to the bench of the US District Court for the District of Hawaii.
A “sense of humor“, as defined by Jeff Sessions, is what you have when you laugh at racist, sexist, denigrating-in-various-ways comments instead of calling them out as racist, sexist, and/or denigrating-in-various-ways. This sense of humor is shared by many older white men.
What it means:
In a surprise to no one, the Trump administration continues to question the authority and legitimacy of anyone who challenges it, including federal judges exerting their Constitutional powers. This questioning is most significant when the challenger is a person of color, a woman, or really anyone who doesn’t fit within the white male Christian power paradigm.
What could happen:
Statements like this are a prime example of how those who hold power in the current paradigm seek to retain it. Disdain for “political correctness” or claims that “no one has a sense of humor” anymore are an excuse to continue the age-old tradition of keeping people of color and women in what’s seen as their “place” and perpetuating stereotypes about them. After working so hard to bake these assumptions into the fabric of society, it’s easier to delegitimize them and infringe on their rights.
Asserting that a federal judge’s ruling is less legitimate because he happens to be a native Hawaiian (read: not white) serving in Hawaii (read: a formerly independent, not white nation with its own cultural identity) is racism: nothing more, nothing less. The fact that it came out of the mouth of the US Attorney General is horrifying. How can a man, who doesn’t consider a judge from “an island in the Pacific” to be capable of doing his job because of his heritage, be capable of serving without bias as Attorney General of this nation?
For the past 250 years, white Christian men have held power in this nation; they’ve held power elsewhere far longer. Claiming they are smarter, naturally better, more well-suited to governing is a tactic that’s been used from the invasions of Cortez’s day to the boardrooms of today. When you are in power, your words hold that same power, and they resonate more strongly and for longer. These words have been used to keep slaves in chains, keep women in the house, and keep most people out of representation in government. They are ingrained into those who hear them, and echo subconsciously when a black man holds power in the White House or a woman runs for that same duty.
“Political correctness” demands that those who hold responsibility and power no longer use their words to suppress others. And that’s why those in power, so desperate to hold onto it, have campaigned so hard and so long to make the term a dirty one.