In an era of YouTube, cell phone cameras and blogs (like this one), the dumb utterances of public figures get magnified well beyond their real significance. So it is with a dumb remark made by a Kansas Congresswoman recently.
In answer to a question from a conservative constituent (understandably) concerned about the future of the GOP, freshman Republican Lynn Jenkins said: “Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope. I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington.” She then went on to name a handful of younger Republicans who are, well, white.
The remark has made the rounds of talk shows and blogs, and Jenkins has been harshly criticized for stupidity and insensitivity if not outright racism.
I’m inclined to cut Jenkins some slack. I doubt she meant “great white hope” literally, and she probably had no idea about its troubled origins. The phrase was coined by writer (”Call of the Wild”) Jack London, who, like many whites of his day, was incensed by the athletic prowess of black boxer Jack Johnson. After Johnson beat a Canadian to claim the world heavyweight boxing title in 1908, London called for a “great white hope” to defeat him.
I know all this not because I’m a fan of boxing but because I’m a big fan of the actor James Earl Jones, who played Johnson in the movie, “Great White Hope.” No reason to think Jenkins knows any of that.
Like most politicians, she tends to speak in cliches. She reached for one and it was unfortunate. She has apologized. No harm done.