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GOP Congresswoman: Party Looking For “Great White Hope”

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS)

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS)


Posted by Audiegrl

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins offered encouragement to conservatives at a town hall forum that the Republican Party would embrace a “great white hope” capable of thwarting the political agenda endorsed by Democrats who control Congress and President Barack Obama.

Rep. Jenkins: “Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope,” Jenkins said to the crowd. “I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic weighs in: Sarcasm aside, again, the problem is that Jenkins hails from a party that has, historically, scorned talk of “diversity,” believes political correctness has run amok, and thinks that the worst discrimination happens to white people. When you don’t practice talking to people who aren’t like you, you tend to not be very good at it. This didn’t mean much twenty or thirty years ago–Who cares about a few Negroes in Harlem or Atlanta?–but the country is changing. The GOP, as we all know, isn’t changing with it.

I can imagine some defense of the phrase “great white hope,” as a kind of generic tag. But any politicians whose spent a portion of their career talking to black people, who knows the racist history of the phrase, or has some inkling of what it means to have a first black president, would know that invoking the phrase is a bad idea.

All of that said, it’s worth noting that Rep. Jenkins apologized for her words–as opposed to apologizing “if anyone was offended by her words.” It’s a shame that we have to give people points for that.

James Jeffries during his fight with Jack Johnson

James Jeffries during his fight with Jack Johnson

When I first heard of this, the first thing that came to my mind was the 1970 movie “The Great White Hope” staring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. The movie was based on the 1967 award winning play of the same name written by Howard Sackler.

According to Wikipedia : The Great White Hope tells a fictional idealised life story of boxing champion Jack Johnson. Acting as a lens focused on a racist society, The Great White Hope explores how segregation and prejudice created the demand for a “great white hope” who would defeat Johnson and how this, in turn, affected the boxer’s life and career.

The first “great white hope” to accept the challenge was Jim Jeffries, who came out of retirement to fight Johnson unsuccessfully in 1910. Johnson’s title was eventually lost to Jess Willard, a white boxer, in 1915. There was, apparently, some controversy surrounding Willard’s win, with Johnson claiming he threw the fight. In part because of white animosity toward Johnson, it was twenty years before another African American boxer was allowed to contend for the world professional heavyweight title. In 1937, Joe Louis, greatly respected by both blacks and whites, defeated James J. Braddock, “The Cinderella Man,” to become the second African American to hold the world heavyweight championship title.

So in the end, I agree with Ta-Nehisi on this one. Rep. Jenkins is not guilty of racism, she is guilty of being tone deaf to the ever increasing diversity of America. The Republican party would understand the negative meaning of certain words and phrases, if when they looked out at their constituents they saw a sea of different colored faces. Their diverse constituents would educate them on what is acceptable and what is not. Until that happens, look for more embarrassing moments and apologies from the Republicans. It’s also interesting that Wikipedia has already added Rep. Jenkins comments to the page for The Great White Hope. So now she will always be linked to the phrase. Probably not what she wanted to be known for.

Trailer for The Great White Hope.
Author Jack London vs. Jack Johnson.

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