State Sen. Robert Ford made his remarks during a Senate committee debate over an Arizona-style immigration law, eliciting a smattering of nervous laughter in the chamber after he said "brothers" don't work as hard as Mexicans. He continued that his "blue-eyed brothers" don't either.
Once his ancestors were freed from slavery, he said, they didn't want to do any more hard work, so they were replaced by Chinese and Japanese.
"We need these workers here. A lot of people aren't going to do certain type of work in this country," said Ford, D-Charleston. "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 recalled to senators that four workers in the country illegally showed up on his lawn and finished mowing, edging and other work in 30 minutes that would take others much longer, and only wanted $10 for the job. He went on to say he recommended the workers to his neighbors, and one local lawn care businessman lost work - a story one senator remarked was hurting, not helping, his case.
The executive director of the state GOP called on Ford to apologize.
"It's abhorrent and incredibly offensive that any elected official would make comments this racist," said executive director Joel Sawyer.
Ford, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination last year, said he'd apologize, but he doesn't know what for, or what it would change.
Through the generations, whenever one immigrant group becomes "Americanized," they stop working hard, he said.
"Black guys and white guys are going to get out there and do the hard work? No. I'm for America, and America's a country of immigrants," Ford said later when reached on his cell phone. "Everybody in America finds ways to take a break."
To his critics, he said, "They're taking life too serious. My advice is for them to get a life and to learn American history."
The state NAACP leader called Ford's wording unfortunate, and that Ford should have spoken in the larger context from the start, rather than further stereotypes.
"All human beings that I know of share both positive and negative traits," said Lonnie Randolph with the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "All individuals share the same shortcomings."
Ford's comments came during debate on a proposal of a measure similar to one in Arizona that directs officers during a traffic stop or something similar to check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally. Producing a valid driver's license, passport or military ID would satisfy the query.
South Carolina's bill differs in that it directs local law enforcement to call Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to alert them. If ICE agents don't respond, the suspect has the right to a bond hearing.