I’ve never been shy about my heritage. I am, loudly and proudly, a first-generation Iranian American, one of anywhere between 500,000 to 1 million passionate people born in this great land after our parents escaped danger.
I’ve heard the story a thousand times: In 1979, my parents, at separate times, fled their homes, their way of life, and everything they knew because of the Iranian Revolution — and emigrated to the United States. My parents’ decisions afforded me the life my brother and I, alongside thousands more with similar stories, live and cherish today.
That’s why Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) comment on “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday frustrated me on a personal level.
While on the show, Graham discussed immigration, the upcoming midterm elections, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) DNA test results. On the last point, Graham announced he would also take a DNA test to ascertain whether he “beat” Warren in this idiotic, imaginary competition.
Aside from the numerous, inherent problems with that announcement, Graham concluded his remarks on the subject and said, “I’d probably be Iranian. That’d be, like, terrible.”
I understand the context of the remark. I understand it was a very distasteful and poor attempt at a joke made in a lighthearted manner. But that far from excuses the comment. And while I do appreciate “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade’s immediate follow-up asserting Iranians are “great people” with “bad leaders,” Graham’s opinion disturbed me on a personal level, and it only reinforced the animosity circulating in our culture and the current political climate.
My heritage has been nothing but a source of pride for me throughout my life. And, fortunately, Iranians have not been the targets of routine hatred or discrimination in the United States. Sure, like any other Middle Eastern ethnicity, we have been the targets of derogatory remarks about being terrorists, which is by no means excusable, but with regard to broader societal or systemic treatment, we have not suffered much.
Likewise, criticizing Graham’s comment is not a matter of political correctness or cultural sensitivity; no one was called by the wrong term, per se. However, what such criticism comes down to is a matter of respect. If our politicians, who are in theory supposed to exemplify and represent the values, beliefs, and ideas of all U.S. citizens in their constituencies, are unable to demonstrate deference to other people and cultures distinct from their own identities, are they really qualified to serve in public office?
Interestingly enough, Graham said earlier on “Fox and Friends” that this upcoming midterm election “is down to simple things,” among which he asked voters to consider “what kind of country do you want, and who you want to run it?”
While I am not a part of the constituency Graham represents, I would want a representative who, among other things, understands the value of common decency and respect. One who knows the line between humor and careless offense.
I hope this remark from Graham, which he claims “was a joke” about being “the Ayatollah’s ancestor,” acts as an impetus for all voters to consider both the policy and the character of their possible representatives.
But the more I think about it, he’s right: It would be “terrible” for Graham to find out he’s Iranian so late in his life. To find out he could be a member of a such an ancient and rich culture and history. To discover that he is part of a fiercely resilient group of people, especially in modern times, who do not back down. To realize that he could taste so many delicious foods and dishes, like ghormeh sabzi and chelo kabab and tahdig. His loss, I guess.
Arman Badrei is a first-year student from Houston, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.