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Republicans looking for 'great white hope' to counteract Obama? Congresswoman says she didn't mean it that way

One of the instructive (and occasionally entertaining) aspects of the presidency of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black commander in chief, has been the intermittent surfacing of traditionally submerged racial attitudes. These incidents often take form as slips of the tongue, or perhaps “jokes,” that may or may not indicate racism. But the reaction to such statements serves to remind those in the public glare that potentially offensive references to race -- whether deliberate, accidental or unconscious -- will be ruthlessly picked apart in the blogosphere. 

Especially if you are a Republican. (Macaca, anyone?)

The latest pol to receive a self-inflicted egg facial is Lynn Jenkins, a freshman Republican congresswoman from Kansas, who according to the Associated Press told a group of constituents Aug. 19 that the GOP is “struggling right now to find the great white hope.”  She added: "I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington." (Poor quality video is here. Comment is at about 50 seconds.) Getprev

The tape was -- naturally -- turned over to the Kansas Democratic Party, whose spokesman pronounced Jenkins's remark “a poor choice of words.”

Later, at another event,  Jenkins pleaded ignorance: “I was unaware of any negative connotation,” she said.  “And if I offended anybody, obviously, I apologize.”

Now, we don’t expect all of our legislators to be fans of boxing -- nor even theater or movies, for that matter. But we find it strange that an educated person such as Jenkins, who is a certified public accountant, never knew that the phrase “great white hope” is freighted with racial animus.

"Great white hope" was coined early in the last century to describe the search for a white boxer who could regain the world heavyweight boxing title from Jack Johnson, the first African American to win it.  Johnson -- and the ugly reaction of many whites to his 1908 victory -- was the subject of the 1967 play "The Great White Hope," which won a Tony for actor James Earl Jones in 1969, who also starred in the film. In 2005, PBS aired a Ken Burns documentary about Johnson, "Unforgivable Blackness."

Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias over at Think Progress believes a comment like Jenkins' should not shock anyone: "Now to be fair," he writes, "there are virtually no nonwhite Republican members of Congress, so in suggesting that the party’s future hopes rest essentially on white talent, Jenkins was arguably just stating the obvious."


-- Robin Abcarian

Photo: Lynn Jenkins addresses her use of "great white hope" today in Kansas. Credit: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (17)

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Jenkins is a hick.

Shoot, this “great white hope” ruckus is nothing more than typical political correctness mule manure being played up by both our mainstream media and left liberals. This is all so very childish.

Our expression “great white hope” is, today, mainstream Americana. Nothing racist about this. A word or an expression is only insulting or racist when wrapped within a context of hatred.

Lynn Jenkins did not wrap her words within hatred. Her context is clear and is free of any hatred.

Annoys me to no end all this political correctness mule manure. Annoys me more these people jumping up then screaming and hollering about a bunch of political correctness nonsense.

This red skin girl says to those mule manure people, “Sit down, shut-up and quit acting so childish.”

Okpulot Taha
Choctaw Nation
Puma Politics

I wonder what Yglesias considers "non-white". I can name a few right off the top of my head: Anh Cao, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Maraio Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

It is not unreasonable that someone, even a member of Congress, might know only the commonly-accepted use of the phrase and not the full history thereof. This example seems a pretty think thread from which to hang a claim of racism. Then again, we've been told to expect rampant racism since before the election and, to this point, the groundswell of racial animus has yet to surface. The person who has most discussed Barack Obama's race, aside from the news reporters looking to drum up some controversy, has been Barack Obama.

This Republican has learned the Democrats game of playing the race card!
Why not Obama always uses it!!!

Of course she knew what she was saying, complete with its racist connotation- "Great White Hope" is not a benign commonplace phrase that we hear in everday banter!
I prefer however to know what is sincerely in one's heart.

Excuse me Jamie and Okpulot, but what "other" connotation does "great white hope" have that isn't about race? Personally, I am amazed that we have reached the year 2009 and have reverted back to talking like the year 1963... and you two actually believe it is of no consequence?

can you say "freudian slip"?

Umm, this is directed to "Okpulot Taha" (forgive me if that is not your name).
I am assuming you are a Native American.
To say that there is "nothing racists" about an expression that was coined for an express purpose of racism is ludicrous.

If a Native American (lets say his name is Running Bear) were to be elected president would it be okay for a political party to state, "We need to find our answer to this President Running Bear. We need to find our modern day "smallpox".

Or "We need to find a new American Calvary in answer to this Running Bear"

Or "We need to find our version of "Fire Water" to combat this President Running Bear"

Would any of those be appropriate?
Didn't think so.

Just as it would not be appropriate to bring up "The Great White Hope" which was a racist comment about an answer to the first black boxer who took the title.

The fact that you can not see that is unsettling.

Watch out Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. There's competition from Kansas for the Nutwing Queen crown.

I am a fairly young person but understood the meaning of "Great White Hope' in fact I even knew it's history.

I don't think the congresswoman meant it but that doesn't change the fact that the phrase comes from a very specific situation, one that mirrors GOP attempts to dislodge the presidents popularity.

I don't think we should be making excuses for people. It is up to all of us to understand what we are saying. If people are using "Great White Hope" incorrectly then it is the fine for anyone to make a correction.

I don't get why people are running to her defense.

Nobody plays the race game better than Obama, "did I mention I was Black,"
" I don't look like other Presidents!," and " He copened the door for people like me."
And if we criticize Obama we are called racist! If we can't criticize this President without being called a racist, it diminishes the Obama presidency! Since when have Presidents been above criticism?

What a sham ! Another Sarah Palin in the making.

Marc In San Diego comments, "To say that there is 'nothing racists' about an expression that was coined for an express purpose of racism is ludicrous. "

For you, Marc, and other readers. A word or an expression is only harmful when wrapped with hatred. I cannot emphasize this enough.

You might call me a "red skinned girl" and I would not be offended. However, should you wrap this expression within a hateful context, then I will be offended. Context is what matters, not words. Lynn Jenkins did not wrap her expression with hatred. Her words are void of hatred and completely innocent.

I am an American Indian truth speaker. I will be blunt. What is happening is left liberals are deceitfully making an issue of this to effect a hateful personal agenda. You left liberals well know Jenkins did not have racism in mind. At worst, she is guilty of an innocent verbal blunder. None of us are exempt from this, we all make verbal blunders.

What is offensive is you left liberals are deceitfully making a racial issue of this. I find this more offensive than racial slurs, and I have experience more racism during my life than even black Americans. I know racism.

When a racist slings a slur out at me, I know this person is speaking a personal truth although an offensive truth. When you left liberals practice deceit, as you are doing with Jenkins, I know you are deliberately lying to America to effect a hateful personal political agenda. You are lying to all America.

This deceitful behavior harms all Americans and harms the reputation of our America. You left liberals making an issue of Jenkins are not good Americans; you are simply attempting to deceive all Americans for a selfish personal political agenda.

This is extremely offensive.

Okpulot Taha
Choctaw Nation
Puma Politics

Great white hope? Nope.

Indeed this was a racist statement. Those who cannot see it are the same people that choose not to look inside and find out where their own racism lies. People....bigotry is not always this direct. It is so ingrained in our nation that you may not notice it if you aren't of a different race, creed, or sexual preference. This woman specifically pulled 'great white hope' from her head. This speaks volumes. Don't apologize for her. Why even she didn't apologize. She said, "I am sorry if anyone took my words the wrong way." What a back handed non-apology. She effectively said, "I am sorry if what I say and believe offends you...tough for you." If she were sincere, she would have said that she was sincerely sorry for using the term she chose to use and would promise not to do so in the future. It's not political correctness, but downright ingrained racist thought and feeling. This was definitely a Freudian slip, which by definition comes from a deeply held conviction that one wishes to keep hidden. Think about that.

I am an Iraq war vet and a minority. For detractors to say that it was "only" one statement, or a "Freudian slip" is truly and ignorantly offensive. It has been countless. This is the worst kind of behavior. PEOPLE HAVE DIED BECAUSE OF THIS BEHAVIOR! For anyone to excuse this kind of statement invites retribution for good reason. Folk like this woman, Rush and Glenn Beck are examples of truly small minds who interpret the Constitution at their whim, twisting it's intent to suit their own skewed view of the world. I suppose to them, the 13th, the first paragraph of the 14th, the 15th and the 19th Amendments of the Bill of Rights don't mean much. The entirety of the Constitution was written in blood. Of course, this fact escapes them by convienience.

Moreover, What the 54th Regiment in the Civil War, the 100th Combat Team, the 442nd (with which my father fought) and the Code Talkers of WWII did was apparently insignificant to these people. I find this offensive in the extreme. In battle, lead and copper know no color. We are all the same. To infer otherwise besmirches the honor to which these men fought and died for.

Then again, this has obviously not crossed their minds, having lived their soft lives insulated from any sense of patriotic duty or concern for their fellow Americans, even as they scream at the top of their lungs of how they are the sole defenders of freedom. This sort of tripe NEEDS to be called out at EVERY turn!

That it even still exists in the 21st century deeply saddens me.

To jimmy who said,

“It is not unreasonable that someone, even a member of Congress, might know only the commonly-accepted use of the phrase”

There is no commonly-accepted use of the phrase that is not racist. The entire evolution and perpetuation of the phrase was through hidden racism accepted by those who agreed with its meaning and must have found it appropriate to have continue its use to this day. If they had not found its racism acceptable they wouldn't have continue to perpetuate its use to your so called common-place meaning today. Myself, I did not grow up in a world where that phrase was common place in California. I never heard of it before this week.

So To Okpulot Taha who said,

“Her words are void of hatred and completely innocent…At worst, she is guilty of an innocent verbal blunder. None of us are exempt from this, we all make verbal blunders.”

It is laughable to claim her words as innocent. When considering her apology, she made only claims to her innocence, and never offered to cease further use of the phase, but instead tried to justify its new meaning. She must continue to believe that the phrase is acceptable and will continue to condone the racist culture that ironed to into her mind.

I find it equally absurd that you are using your identity in Choctaw Nation to make yourself out to be some kind of false authority on race while hypercritically ranting about the 'hateful liberal political agenda to use race.'

Sticks and stones people. Grow up and stop acting like children. All us white people, and at least one red person, are sick of the race card getting played by thin skinned folks of whatever color, for political advantage. It's getting old. We're tired of everyone walking on eggshells afraid of inadvertently offending someone and being treated like dog faeces. Too many minorities just can't seem to wait for the occasion when a Caucasian messes up, so they can jump up and scream "RACIST! LOOK RACIST, THAT WHITE PERSON THEY DID SOMETHING RACIST!" I think Dr King is spinning in his grave from all the hyper color sensitivity that has developed. I mean what's next, are we going to start putting whites in gas chambers, or hanging them from trees when they say something stupid?


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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