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Congresswoman defends 'great white hope' remark

Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas says she did not use the phrase with President Obama in mind nor was she aware of its racist connotations.

August 28, 2009|Associated Press

OTTAWA, KAN. — A freshman Kansas congresswoman said Thursday that her remark about fellow Republicans seeking a "great white hope" was not a reference to someone who could challenge President Obama or his political agenda.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins said she was instead making a comment about GOP leaders in the House and was trying to reassure Republicans that the party has bright leaders there. She used the phrase during an Aug. 19 forum in Hiawatha, Kan.; someone in the crowd recorded it and gave the video to the Kansas Democratic Party.

Both she and an aide said Thursday they apologized if the comment offended anyone. But when she was asked about the remark after a town hall meeting in Ottawa, Jenkins also suggested it had been taken out of context.

"Let's remember the context of this situation," she said. "I don't know how the president got injected into this debate."

The phrase "great white hope" often is associated with pre-civil-rights-era racism. It is widely believed to have entered usage in the United States 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 a white fighter -- whom they referred to as a "great white hope" -- who could beat him.

Jenkins said she wasn't aware that the phrase had a negative connotation.

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