Accidental racist comment mars Jenkins’ image

Rep. Lynn Jenkins, second district Republican, continues to draw flack for an unintended racist comment. Rep. Jenkins told a gathering in Hiawatha last month that the GOP was looking for “a great white hope” to regain national political power. When called on the phrase, she apologized and said she hadn’t intended to offend. All she meant, she said, was that her party needed bright, young leadership.
Emphasis on bright.
According to the Associated Press, the ‘great, white hope’ phrase came into currency “when boxer Jack Johnson, who was black, captured the heavyweight title in the early 20th century. Many whites reacted to Johnson’s achievement by trying to find white fighters — or a “great white hope” — who could beat him.
“One of those hopefuls was Jess Willard, from St. Clere, Kan., about 25 miles from Jenkins’ hometown of Holton. Nicknamed ‘The Pottawatomie Giant,’ the towering Willard beat Johnson with a knockout punch in the 26th round in 1915. Willard later lost the title to Jack Dempsey.”
The boxer’s story inspired a play, then a movie, with that title, both starring James Earl Jones. Those dramas featured a strong anti-racist theme.
Jenkins can be forgiven for being ignorant of that piece of our shameful history in the way black Americans were treated for so many, many years. Of course, she had no intention of offending blacks or President Barack Obama. She just didn’t know any better.
That granted, she does need to take the cure for foot in mouth disease — which is to think before speaking.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.