Jenkins’ “great white hope” no great crime

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.

57 comments Add your comment


August 28th, 2009
8:15 am

You’re a clown. Thought you should know that…


August 28th, 2009
8:17 am

No harm done? Bullsh*t. This is one of the most blatant racist Freudian slips I’ve ever heard. Would “Great White Hope” even be on this woman’s lips if Clinton had won? No, and that’s why it’s racist. More importantly, it one again highlights just how limited the GOP has become in it’s scope- white’s only.

b f O'Hara

August 28th, 2009
8:35 am

thats a lot of slack to cut the republicans,as they have often taken the low road of codified racist speak,from “states rights”to “our values” to defend the party of Bush Cheney Thurmond.

Nelson Leith

August 28th, 2009
8:38 am

Assuming she had “no idea about its troubled origins,” what could Jenkins have possibly thought the “white” in her “great white hope” referred to? A Republican from a snowy state? A Republican with dandruff? A Republican with really clean shirts?

And, just because something is a cliche doesn’t mean it’s not clearly race-related. For example, calling someone an “indian giver” is a cliche. Also, racist.

You’re clearly grasping for straws here. Even if she’s not a hardcore racist, Jenkins is obviously a political clutz and a moron.


August 28th, 2009
8:44 am

Someone should send Michael Steele a memo, so that he doesn’t apply for the job.

3rd Party Guy

August 28th, 2009
8:46 am

Sorry, no pass for Jenkins. She’s a racist, period. She’s talking about pandering to the white racists in the Republican party.

Now, what about someone a bit closer to home, like say, Lisa Borders?


August 28th, 2009
8:52 am

I guess then that the race memo circulated by the Blacks in Atlanta wanting the black agenda is really upsetting you people ? Timing is everything.


August 28th, 2009
8:54 am

I agree with you on the Jenkins comment. I completely ignored it.

However, you are absent the tolerance, you are absent the integrity to show the speaker with this same tolerance when such comments are turned around.

And that intolerance could be labeled


August 28th, 2009
9:04 am

It must be hard for a lot of you walk, you know, with all the knee-jerk reactions going on…


August 28th, 2009
9:04 am

Gee, I wonder why Cynthia isn’t highlighting the much more racist comments coming from the Black Leadership Forum here in Atlanta.

Most likely because black racism is not offensive to Tucker. This view is consistent with her regular hypocrisy.


August 28th, 2009
9:06 am

Anyone who thinks she was intentionally and publicly using that statement to promote the arian race is just perpetuating racial tensions.


August 28th, 2009
9:11 am

It is laughable that Bookman and Tucker search so hard to find offhanded comments that have possible racial connotations, yet they ignore a long memo with far more explicit racism

All this demonstrates is that their outrage over the “racist” comments of conservatives is driven solely by mindless partisanship and not by any sense of right an wrong .


August 28th, 2009
9:13 am


“More importantly, it one again highlights just how limited the GOP has become in it’s scope- white’s only.”

Does the far more explicitly racist memo from the Black Leadership Forum indicate that the Atlanta Democrats have become black only?

Or are you just another liberal partisan hypocrite like Tucker and Bookman?


August 28th, 2009
9:18 am

Sure it is a racist remark. This is a racist country. My experience is that most other countries are racist also. As individuals most of us try to overcome racism. A lot of us do not succeed. A lot of us do not try.

The Black Leadership Forum letter is a good example. The letter said black control of the political process is more important than effective leadership of the city. That letter could have said that we have examined all the candidates, their experiences, their ability to get things done & based on our study we believe (insert name) is the best qualified candidate to be the next mayor of Atlanta. But that did not happen. It was all about racial politics.


August 28th, 2009
9:19 am

So now it’s “unfortunate” to be white.


August 28th, 2009
9:27 am

where is some real news… this is getting old.

Kayaker 71

August 28th, 2009
9:28 am

In a city where 65% of the population is black, it is not surprising that something like the Black Forum memo has surfaced. A lot of things in Atlanta are overlooked….. depends on what race you are. Every thing from favoring business contracts to the right people to Clayton County school boards taking care of their own. Nothing new about Shirley Franklin’s message. It shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Carter is a Fool

August 28th, 2009
9:39 am

It was a poor choice of words and if she meant a white person, it was stupid comment. Yes, most politicians like athletes speak in cliches. You also write on the same themes over and over. It is refreshing that this time you did not scream that she was a racist and rant about this.

Nice change of pace from your normal view that there is a racist in every corner and every place.

Carter is a Fool

August 28th, 2009
9:44 am

However, in your world view only white people are racists. As has been pointed out – the memo from Black Atlanta will never be discussed or reported on in this liberal rag.

Over the Topper

August 28th, 2009
9:45 am

Mizzzzzz Tucker, based on the comments I’m reading here, it would appear it’s your people you should be concerning yourself with. Without their race card, they’ve got nothing. It’s the hand dealt them by your dimwitted party.


August 28th, 2009
9:47 am

I am from Jenkins district in Kansas. I can tell you she knew full well what she said. She knew the meaning behind it. I have heard her speak numerous times. I have seen her run a campaign full of hate. This comment was maybe only a slip because the media heard about it. I would not be a slip in her daily dealings. It is her normal banter full of sarcasm, hate and lies.


August 28th, 2009
9:51 am

Hey Cynthia, that awfully nice of you to ‘cut Congresswoman Jenkins some slack on her use of ‘great white hope’ and saying that it really isn’t blatantly racist. Tell me, what are you gonna say to her, or us, when she sends you a thank you note that says, ‘That was mighty White of ya’ Cynthia’?

Chris Salzmann

August 28th, 2009
9:55 am

I agree with Cynthia. Representative Jenkins used an unfortunate phrase and obviously didn’t know the history behind it. That said, for a party that is starved for minority voters and is in fact becoming a party most identified with older, or less educated white men and women, using any phrase like that is idiotic.


August 28th, 2009
10:00 am

What was referring to when she said “white”.

1908 Jack Johnson wins the World Heavy Weight Title.
2008 Obama wins the President Election.

In both cases within a year racial hatred increases and someone calls for a Great white hope.

The woman is well educated she knows her audience and like all politician she knows what words she wants to use.

Let’s say she made a purely innocent mistake. What about the audience, do you think they took words “great white hope” in a purely innocent way? How many people in that audience listen to the hatred spewed over airwaves against the President and the Democrats on a regular basis?

No harm done Ms Tucker? How can you be so sure?

Note the I’m sorry if YOU were offended apology came thru a spokesperson,
She has yet to publicly apologize herself. .


August 28th, 2009
10:02 am

Barb thanks for sharing what you know about Jenkins.

Dandy Don

August 28th, 2009
10:14 am

If our president wasn’t bi-racial, I’d cut the slack. I think it was probably a very revealing slip.


August 28th, 2009
10:15 am

Barb –

” I have seen her run a campaign full of hate”

Any evidence? Please supply some.


August 28th, 2009
10:28 am

Dandy Don –

” I think it was probably a very revealing slip.”

Of course, as anyone dares disagree with your view is a racist.

Let me guess, you were also offended by the Hitler-Obama comparisons, but have no trouble performing your own demonization.


August 28th, 2009
10:41 am

Lady, you are drinking the same KOOL AID! She said what she meant, and she meant what she said!!No ifs, ands, or buts about it, those words came from and mean exactly what they are! Oh, by the way how does Micheal Steele feel, is he white now? No slip of the tongue, you just can’t accept the fact that their are some white people still in shock that a “dark skinned” man is the POTUS!
You can rationalize all you want, but you have not seen(heard) anything yet! Wait until the N- word slips out! It is only a matter of time. I know, we have tried to be nice and civil, play by the rules and all that crap. But when WE get it right, win, be the HEAD N_ _ _ _ _ in charge, as some would say, I don’t get it? Why can’t we get the same respect and acceptance. The next time the revolution will not be on T.V., It will be LIVE!!! Then the Tree of Liberty….It’s a two-way street.


August 28th, 2009
10:50 am

People have been saying “great white hope” for years, even if its origin isn’t whistle-clean–The National even used it in their song “Mr. November” in reference to John Kerry’s 2004 campaign. Let it go.


August 28th, 2009
10:56 am

MrUniteUS: I thought I was the only one to catch the apology. “Note the I’m sorry if YOU were offended apology came thru a spokesperson”

Note that it wasn’t “I apologize for the remark.” It was “I apologize if you were offended.”


August 28th, 2009
10:56 am

If it’s not controversial why write a column about it Cynthia?

Selective reasoning?


August 28th, 2009
11:02 am

To show that you mean what you write here you could link us to your article saying that Trent Lott’s statement was just a dumb utterance. The one that shows how you cut Lott some slack.

tscali 427

August 28th, 2009
11:08 am

People, Obama apologized for his bowling like a Special Olympics athlete thru a spokesperson. Like Jenkins, he said only that “he regrets” saying the Cambridge police officer acted stupidly.

Six of one, half a dozen of another.


Just because

August 28th, 2009
11:40 am

Racism exists in the minds of those who don’t want it to go away. They are filled with hate for the whites due to the slavery that happened a century ago. That hate in their minds is justified. They will seek and watch every one word spoken and proclaim “racist” at every point they can. Never mind that they chose to focus on that aspect rather than trying to inspire their community to stop dropping out of school (which you know is blamed on the whites), stop the epidemic of high blood pressure, cancer and aids among the blacks (also blamed on the whites), stop the drug, carjacking, stealing, smash and grab crimes (you guess it . . . blamed on whites), but instead focus on every word and cry of racism to forever keep that in the forefront of everyday that we live.


August 28th, 2009
11:46 am

All your commenters sound like idiots, you sound like you know what you’re talking about. In my experience, people who see racism all around them are generally racist themselves. I tend to see people as people, and if someone is making racist remarks I’m slow to react because when I look at the person the remarks are pointed against, I don’t see a “black man”, I just see a “man”, so I don’t immediately make the connection.

Way to connect this to Obama too, you racist d-bags–in your minds, clearly him being black precedes the fact that he is president.

This congresswoman (who I’m not denying is probably an idiot like all politicians, white, black or whatever) was probably thinking of the term similarly to “ride in on a white horse” or “white knight” both of which do not stem from racist roots. And let’s not hear any whining about “white” vs “black” imagery in classic literature, I already fell asleep during that in Malcolm X.


August 28th, 2009
12:17 pm

There is no alternative meaning for the expression. If the Congresswoman wants her apology to be received as sincere, she should have apologized for not knowing what the expression means, rather than attempt to justify some imagined, commonly-used alternative meaning that doesn’t exist.


August 28th, 2009
12:35 pm

bob said: I guess then that the race memo circulated by the Blacks in Atlanta wanting the black agenda is really upsetting you people?

What do you mean, “you people?!” =P

I feel sorry for Lynn Jenkins, and I can understand why she’s confused. Being a congresswoman from Kansas, it’s possible she’s never seen an African American before. You can’t call a person racist if she’s unaware that other races exist.


August 28th, 2009
12:43 pm

TO BARB; I am from Mrs. Jenkins district. I have been to many of her engagements and was at ‘the’ town hall meeting where the comment was uttered. The discussion on the table was the government hijacking of healthcare (or we could say another 20% of the economy). She expressed anger at ideas and or policies. Is it the disagreement with your ideals/philosophy that you call hatred? I find that many of the ‘tollerant ones’ are only tollerant when you believe what they believe. If not its bigotry, hatred, racism, intolerance, and so on.


August 28th, 2009
1:03 pm

Ms.Jenkin’s remark and subsequent behavior is a akin to behavior Plato- described in Prisoners in the Allegory of the Caves, shackled by mind forged manacles. She,like them are fearful of light. The thread that bind them is a yearning for the a by-gone era and fear of the future.

M. Wilson

August 28th, 2009
1:21 pm

Cynthia, you are great. Well said.


August 28th, 2009
1:32 pm

“she probably had no idea about its troubled origins”.

That’s for certain. Education and cultural understanding beyond a narrow “Christian” education is considered dangerous by the remaining right wing evangelical extremist anti-intellectuals that dominate the Republican Party. Too educated? You must be an elitist who thinks you’re better than everyone else.

We saw what happened when Bush turned over the Justice Department to the “Christian” lawyers from Pat Robertson’s law school. Keep these ignorant conservatives out of Government.


August 28th, 2009
3:35 pm

well can we dig up the N word now?

Matt M.

August 28th, 2009
3:49 pm

OK if this comment is not so bad, fine. But then explain to me how it’s OK for a pastor to publicly say that he prays for Obama to “die and go to hell”. You apologists have any excuse for this? At Bush rallies, you couldn’t even wear anti-Bush t-shirts. At Obama rallies, people bring loaded semi-automatic weapons.

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” -Mahatma Gandhi


August 28th, 2009
4:14 pm

Jenkins comments are not isolated

Rex Rammell, Idaho GOPer, Jokes About Hunting ObamaAug 27, 2009 … BOISE, Idaho — An Idaho Republican gubernatorial hopeful insists he was only joking when he said he’d buy a license to hunt President Barack ……/rex-rammell-idaho-goper-j_n


August 28th, 2009
4:19 pm

MrUniteUS: I thought I was the only one to catch the apology. “Note the I’m sorry if YOU were offended apology came thru a spokesperson”

Note that it wasn’t “I apologize for the remark.” It was “I apologize if you were offended.”

That’s right ncgreybr. It’s as if anyone offended was wrong to offended, What kind of apology is that?

Burr Deming

August 28th, 2009
7:34 pm

I’m willing to give her the benefit. I understand she does not have a history of race baiting. She could have stumbled into racial insensitivity quite by accident. Should we give the same presumption to the crowd of conservatives who cheered themselves hoarse at the reference to a “Great White Hope”?

[...] came across a blog and while I agree that what Congresswoman Jenkins said is no great crime I disagree with the [...]


August 29th, 2009
8:19 am

Nate stated, “Anyone who thinks she was intentionally and publicly using that statement to promote the arian race is just perpetuating racial tensions.”

First of all, no one has said that Jenkins comment was promoting “the arian [sic] race”. What many people have said is that it was a racist comment. There is a difference.

Secondly, Cynthia Tucker, you are sadly mistaken if you think an apology equates to “no harm done”.
Your pathetic defense that politicians frequently “tends to use cliches” is misguided. By making such claims you are perpetuating the bad behavior of politicians rather than holding them accountable. You see, this can be dangerous, because promotes racism, particularly among the ill-informed people of this country.

You state that there is “no reason to think Jenkins knows any of that.” Really? Clearly you do not agree, but I expect my country’s leaders to be aware of things such as this. I have higher expectations of the “ruling class”. I do not expect politicians to use incendiary language for their own personal gain. That would be counterproductive in moving the country forward and in the right direction. Sadly, by defending the likes of Jenkins, people like you give credence to the type of garbage that has been spewing out of the mouths of certain politicians recently.

You are a disgrace.


August 29th, 2009
8:25 am

Dear Just because,

You make absolutely no sense. Please get someone smarter than you to explain how to construct a meaningful sentence.