McCain Takes Heat for 'Racist' Tweet

Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

Some social media users, including a member of Congress from his own party, called Sen. John McCain "racist" for a tweet comparing the president of Iran to a monkey sent from his account this morning.

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space - wasn't he just there last week? "Iran launches monkey into space"…

- John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) February 4, 2013

McCain, R-Ariz., followed up the tweet with another indicating that he had meant the comparison as a joke.

Re: Iran space tweet - lighten up folks, can't everyone take a joke?

- John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) February 4, 2013

But some people on Twitter weren't amused. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., replied to McCain's second tweet, saying, "Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes."

Another user challenged the second-term congressman's qualification of McCain's joke as racist.

Rep. Amash tweeted back, "I'll bet many Iranians would feel differently."

Celine-Marie Pascale, a sociology professor at American University in Washington, said the word "monkey" would have triggered readers to perceive the comment as racist because it has historically been used by racist whites to describe people of color.

"You can see the ferocity and depth of this form of representation most clearly when looking at the history of how racist whites constructed representations of African Americans," Pascale wrote in an email to ABC News. "As Arabs became racialized post 9/11 much the same imagery and rhetoric was used."

Some people on Twitter argued that McCain's use of the term was justified because of the perceived racist remarks Ahmadinejad has made about Israelis.

Ana Navarro, who served as McCain's national Hispanic co-chair during his 2008 presidential campaign, said McCain's dislike of Ahmadinejad "has nothing to do with race."

@ senjohnmccain adopted daughter from Bangladesh orphanage was target of racist campaign in '00 primary. To call him racist = beyond absurd

- Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) February 4, 2013

McCain's office declined to comment.

More ABC News