The Racism in “The Great White Hope”

Keith Olbermann and Rep. Maxine Waters do a nice job of calling out the use of the phrase “great white hope” as steeped in racism. Here’s a clip on the long side (6:10) but worth watching all the way through if you missed the live broadcast:

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I really appreciate Olbermann saying “as a white guy” the recent political events make him uncomfortable. And, then poses the question to Rep. Waters, “are we going backwards or forwards?” It’s about the frankest discussion of racism on mainstream media that I’ve ever heard.

Comments

  1. Darin Johnson

    This is pretty disingenuous. While I agree that it was a stupid choice of words, not least because it gives hacks like Olberman ammunition, it’s far from obvious that the phrase is actually being used to indicate the desire for a literally “white” hope. I wonder if Olberman, or you, Jessie, really thinks anyone who was a closet racist would be stupid enough to use such clumsy, obvious language. This calls for an apology and that’s about it.
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    I can say definitely that the term “Great White Hope,” which probably does have racist origins, is frequently used with no racial intent whatsoever. That doesn’t mean it should be used, but it does mean that all this hyperventilating about racism is silly.
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    A good, charitable rule of thumb might be to assume people are NOT thinking about race unless there’s reason to think otherwise. It’s bad faith on your part. I would expect that from partisans like Waters and Olberman, but this site claims to be about social science, not politics.

  2. Nquest

    <<| “A good, charitable rule of thumb might be to assume people are NOT thinking about race unless there’s reason to think otherwise.”
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    Ahhh… the disingenuous appeal, special pleading actually, for “charity.” Charity which, in the current political context, is hardly deserved/earned.
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    Sorry but the time for playing make-believe and just pretending that “such clumsy, obvious language” isn’t about the obvious has long since been over. Now, as far as reasons to think otherwise, we go no further than the congresswoman’s own disingenuousness.
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    “The controversy surrounding U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ disclaiming of the phrase “great white hope” came less than a month after she had supported a resolution referencing that same phrase.
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    Jenkins, R-Kan., said Thursday she didn’t know “great white hope” had a negative connotation when she recently used the phrase to describe Republicans’ search for a new leader.
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    However, the freshman lawmaker supported a resolution that included that exact phrase last month when the House approved by unanimous consent a measure urging President Obama to pardon black U.S. boxer Jack Johnson.”

    http://www.ottawaherald.com/story/082809jenkinsvote
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    As for this nonsense…
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    <<| “I can say definitely that the term “Great White Hope,” which probably does have racist origins, is frequently used with no racial intent whatsoever.”
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    Yeah, but what does that have to do with this specific instance in which the phrase has been used by a congressperson who was being disingenuous (aka: lying) like so many other people pleading for undeserved “charity” when she tried to claim she didn’t know the phrase had a negative, racist connotation? Answer: NOTHING.
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    So all your desperate maneuvers and your dying desire to DENY RACISM is beyond silly. It’s freakin’ pathological.
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    I wonder if Olberman, or you, Jessie, really thinks anyone who was a closet racist…
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    WTF are you talking about? Jessie’s only statement regarding the phrase was this:
    Keith Olbermann and Rep. Maxine Waters do a nice job of calling out the use of the phrase “great white hope” as steeped in racism.
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    She said NOTHING about racists, closeted or otherwise. She spoke directly and specifically about the term being “steeped in racism.” NO STRAW MEN FOR YOU, Darin.
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    But since you brought it up… The social science, no doubt, has reflected on how blatantly racist statements aren’t as socially acceptable as they used to be. Your very own (lazy azz) rhetorical question is predicated on the idea. But that assumes that racist statements and beliefs are universally unacceptable in American society in all places and at all times which, especially on this blog and the social science explored here, runs contrary to things we know about so-called “backstage” racism.
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    It’s not like Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ town hall meeting was nationally televised. The only footage I’ve seen is amateur video. Nothing says she didn’t feel comfortable making that statement in front of the people at the meeting. Also, nothing says that a racially charged political climate that has Pres. Obama receiving record and increasing (exponentially, that is) death threats that it hasn’t become socially acceptable for racists to come out the closet or to seize the opportunity openly express their racism to a wider audience.
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    Re: the Jenkins’ “choice of words”… How about telling us the “rule of thumb” we should use to explain why people choose “such clumsy… language.” I mean, if Jenkins wanted to talk about the conservative movement looking for leadership, she could have said just that or used any number of expressions that didn’t have racist origins/contexts but she didn’t. Please explain why.

  3. Darin Johnson

    You know, Nquest, charity is one of the heavenly virtues. They have a pretty good track record.
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    I read the article you linked. Is there something in there that supports your position? I don’t see it. It seems to be about a somewhat clueless legislator who innocently chose a loaded phrase in a context that had nothing whatsoever to do with race. And you’re exactly right, she didn’t look uncomfortable. That suggest she didn’t know about the connotation, which is my point.
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    Your argument that you all mean to accuse the term of racism but not the congresslady is absurd. No, this much hysteria comes about when you see a chance to accuse a Republican — your ideological enemy — of secular sin.
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    But your last paragraph is exactly my point. Rep. Jenkins made a silly mistake. I think somebody SHOULD explain to her the connotations of that term, and she will undoubtedly be appropriately embarrassed and apologetic once she understands. It seems obvious to me she used the term because she didn’t know. Now she does. What’s the big deal?

  4. Nquest

    Your comment Darin is ridiculous. First, no one has called this a “big deal” but you because YOU have an issue with people making note of Rep. Jenkins “silly mistake.” A “silly mistake” she made after voting in support of the Jack Johnson pardon — i.e. the reason no one SHOULD have to explain a damn thing to her and you SHOULD stop acting like she can plead ignorance or that anyone SHOULD pretend she was (ignorant).
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    And (lol)… you talk about reading what I linked to but you conveniently disregarded what I quoted and emphasized complete with the link to the article regarding Rep. Jenkins apparent knowledge of the connotation via the Jack Johnson pardon resolution. YOUR RACISM DENIAL GAME IS OVER, Darin.
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    Whereas the victory of Jack Johnson over Burns prompted the search for a White boxer who could beat him, a recruitment effort dubbed the search for the `Great White Hope’
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    You want “charity” granted where it is NOT deserved/earned/warranted. Presuming Rep. Jenkins is ignorant is part willful blindness (no wonder), IGNORING FACTS TO THE CONTRARY, and part plain old foolish. It assumes way too much. It assumes that Rep. Jenkins has no sense of the “Great White Hope” history close to her own Kansas hometown.
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    As far as her being comfortable… Well, I should have went on and said the racially charged political environment made her as comfortable as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were… So much for your ideological enemies theory.
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    <<| “Your argument that you all mean to accuse the term of racism but not the congresslady is absurd.”
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    Hardly. But go ahead and make an actual argument without the STRAW. How is it “absurd”? You’re the one who is trying to separate Rep. Jenkins the person from the “silly mistake” of “innocently” choosing “a loaded phrase.” So it’s clear that you believe a statement can be racist without the person uttering said “loaded phrase” — which you begrudgingly admitted “probably does have racist origins” (probably???) — being racist, at least not intentionally or consciously.
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    Moreover, the “phrase” has lived longer than Rep. Jenkins so the “phrase” itself sort of has a life of its own — i.e. it is an issue all by itself regardless of the “innocence” of the supposedly “clueless” user.
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    <<| “It seems obvious to me she used the term because she didn’t know.”
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    The only thing that seems obvious is that you will find some way, so kind of sophistry to DENY RACISM no matter how big or small. It’s all a “big deal” to you. So much so that you will readily IGNORE facts that make your “charity” granting unwarranted. Rep. Jenkins had NO EXCUSE for not knowing and we have NO REASON for believing she didn’t know because…
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    “…Mary Geiger, Jenkins’ press secretary, told The [Ottawa] Herald today the Kansas lawmaker supported the resolution to pardon [Jack] Johnson.”
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    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=hc111-91
    http://mediamattersaction.org/blog/200908270009

  5. Darin Johnson

    I have never once on this site or anywhere else “denied” racism no matter how big. I think big racism is a big problem. That’s when people of different races set to chopping each other to bits with machetes, starving each other, or buying and selling each other into slavery. Racism no matter how small, however, seems to say more about the accusers than the supposed perpetrators.
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    This isn’t either, however. This is not racism, big or small. When you call it racism, you diminish the impact of actual racism. I’m sure you’ve heard of the boy who cried wolf. That’s you.
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    Actually, it’s funny you accuse me of “denying” racism. I’m one of the hardest hard-liners on this site on the question of whether racism exists. If I’m right, it means the only thing that can reasonably be done about it is to keep its most terrible manifestations in check. We’re not going to be gathering inter-racially on a hillside to teach the world to sing and buy it a Coke any time soon. Unfortunately. Maybe you agree with that.

  6. ellen says

    Darin Said: “We’re not going to be gathering inter-racially on a hillside to teach the world to sing and buy it a Coke any time soon. Unfortunately. Maybe you agree with that.”
    That was funny! lol. Honestly, that would be nice. If everybody on this stupid-azz blog could start showing more tolerance toward each other instead of hurling insults..maybe we could have some Real Communication. Like Tim Wise said, “Jesus, enough!”

  7. MOM@Darin

    Darin, You don’t believe that racism exsist? Dam! I thought you as a learned person, I mean, the way you write so well on this blog?.. It’s “people like you that ignore the rest because you live in a delusional world of “I get my way” Well, racism does exist, and if I had it my way, and have said this to many of my friends that I would like to start an International “I Love You Day” Imagine That!! I never heard of the “Great White Hope”, but I sure heard of the “Great White Light”.. Maybe you need to surround yourself with this light, it may soften your heart, and really take a good look at the needs of other people, rather then the finite self..

  8. I will be charitable and say that the speaker was unaware of the origin and remaining racist imagery of the phrase. If true, however, her apology should have been swift and decisive. Not another “if I offended anyone” non-apology.

    You did offend people. Deeply. So apologize.

  9. Mom@Darin

    @ Darin, I read your debates, and I have to say, that I’m the kind of person that is able to take in both sides, and make up my own mind. I think your posts are well written, and make a lot of good points. However, there is one thing that I’ve found useful throughout my life “that you cannot change people”. Change comes from within; not from without.. So, when your are debating, just remember, what I’ve said, as to avoid stress that you truly do not need. Thanks 🙂

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