« A Precedent that will Reach to Himself | Main | Is Using A Minotaur to Gore Detainees a Form of Torture? »

August 27, 2009

Comments

Many well meaning white people view themselves as being passed the race issue and project their own, often under-developed sense of maturity and enlightenment onto others, particularly minorities. Best just to avoid being cleverly edgy or worse, condescending.

I'm chalking this gaffe up to ignorance rather than evil

That's mighty white of you, Von.

Ignorance v. evil: what's the difference?

Rep. Jenkins' defense seems to be that she's ignorant of the whole of American culture ("I was unaware of any negative connotation"), not just the people of color. Either way, this would disqualify her from a job flipping burgers; sometime in the near future, it will also prevent her (and others) from entering public life.

Tar baby may not originally have had racist overtones - certainly I always thought of it in the terms of the folk tale, and stickiness, and not at all of color. Nonetheless, we saw a significant kerfuffle over the use of the term and its alleged racial overtones last year (I can't recall the details, not even who used the term, but it was connected to the campaign in some way), and it's probably one of those terms that, however unfairly, cannot now be used without risking offense. Indeed, there is a prominent warning in its Wikipedia entry, which has several citations that I didn't care to inspect:

Although the term's provenance arose in African folklore, some Americans now consider "tar baby" to have negative connotations revolving around negative images of African-Americans. In recent years, several politicians who have publicly used the term have encountered some controversy, mocking, and censure from African-American civil rights leaders, members of the popular daily media, and other politicians.

Famously, the term "niggardly" was used for a very long time without reference to any obvious racial connotations but now cannot be used safely - although the linked Wikipedia page informs me that the term indeed has racially charged etymological roots, of which I was previously unaware.

Regarding the other term you mention, "Little Black Sambo" - you're kidding, right? Do you really perceive some way to mention such a figure (or for that matter Mammy and the like) without automatically bringing along vast realms of racially tinged baggage?

I grew up out in the western part of Kansas, and it was pretty much true that the only non-lily-white people in town were the basketball team at the local college. That said, by the time you are elected to Congress, you have gotten out of town a little bit. And even Topeka, KS is more multi-racial than you might expect - I think I saw a 12% A-A and 20% Hispanic stat cited somewhere - so to be that tone deaf is pretty damning in and of itself. It is impossible to understand much about America without a passing acquaintance with race relations, and that should be enough to have your brain edit out the great white hope.

And I must admit to having no clue about how you are categorizing tar baby and LBS? I guess I am completely lost on that point.

You've convinced me, McKinneyTexas, that this post was too clever by half. I'm leaving it up because (1) I don't unpublish and (2) a lot of folks have been more forgiving than you (and KCinDC), and haven't addressed the aspects that you and KCinDC found problematic -- but instead are having a pretty good discussion.

That's mighty white of you, Von.

It's worth noting that I grew up in Virginia, where it was not at all remarkable for my classmates to wear the Confederate battle flag on their clothing.

I'm 35 years old, pretty staunchly liberal in most ways... and it wasn't until about ten years ago that I realized "mighty white of you" wasn't ironic and stopped using it in conversation. It was simply an idiomatic term from my childhood. Even then I still catch myself now and then.

Similarly, having never actually been exposed to the play and movie, I had always assumed that "Great White Hope" was wordplay on the name of a shark, not a racially-charged term.

With that said, I don't believe this gaffe indicates anything about whether or not Rep. Jenkins is racist. What it does indicate is that she's too ignorant to hold public office. I didn't realize "white of you" was racist until I stopped to examine it one day and consider the etymology and content of what I was really saying.

A politician would have to be both historically ignorant and tone-deaf to say what Jenkins did. It would take being flat-out dumb to do so as a Republican, considering the party's recent history with race.

From Warren Terra's wikipedia link:

"Niggardly" (noun: "niggard") is an adjective meaning "stingy" or "miserly", perhaps related to the Old Norse verb nigla = "to fuss about small matters". It is cognate with "niggling", meaning "petty" or "unimportant", as in "the niggling details".

"Nigger" derives from the Spanish/Portuguese word negro, meaning "black", and probably also the French nègre, which likewise has become a racist insult in American culture, deriving from negro (the ordinary French word for "black" being noir). Both negro and noir (and therefore also nègre and nigger) ultimately come from nigrum, the accusative case of the Latin word niger, meaning "black".

Warren, I'm curious; where in this do you see a basis for saying that "the term indeed has racially charged etymological roots"??

Regarding the other term you mention, "Little Black Sambo" - you're kidding, right? Do you really perceive some way to mention such a figure (or for that matter Mammy and the like) without automatically bringing along vast realms of racially tinged baggage?

No, I agree, it's impossible to use the phrase "Little Black Sambo" without invoking a degree of racism .... my point is that the racism invoked is usually not the racism of the book. After all, Little Black Sambo is neither "black" (as that term is understood today) nor, for that matter, little. Little Black Sambo is more relevant to the experience of colonialism than the typical experience of racism in the West.

A lot of folks cut you slack, von (quite deservedly), because we KNOW you and that you don't mean it meanly, that when you do stumble, it's from ignorance, and that you KNOW you can stumble from ignorance.

All those conditions mean all the difference in the world, I think, as opposed to the less personal arena of the political/public world. In that arena, we don't know the players, and people, quite justly, are fearful that the displayed "ignorance" is cover for a more malevolent dog whistle.

Ignorance v. evil: what's the difference?

Wait - really? You're asking?

Evil is a moral condition; ignorance is not. Pretty simple, actually.

it wasn't until about ten years ago that I realized "mighty white of you" wasn't ironic and stopped using it in conversation.
Huh. I didn't know it was possible to use the phrase except ironically, which probably speaks to the different circumstances of our upbringings.
Warren, I'm curious; where in this do you see a basis for saying that "the term indeed has racially charged etymological roots"??
There is a very simple explanation: sheer idiocy on my part. I glanced at the article, skipping ahead to the section on the controversy, and in passing I saw that there was a chunk of text tracing etymology to the Spanish for Black. I didn't look closely enough to discern that the section of the article tracing back to "black" was in fact tracing the etymology of the famous N-word, not of "niggardly", and was meant specifically to distinguish its etymological roots from those of "niggardly". A "Fail", if you will. I revert to my previous impression, as you point out coincident with that of the Wikipedia article, that there are no etymological roots on common.

Thanks, Warren, an easy mistake to make and the kind I'm all too prone to myself. I was pretty sure the words weren't related, so I was partly just wondering if I had missed something later in the wiki entry, because I was too lazy to read the whole thing. ;)

A politician would have to be both historically ignorant and tone-deaf to say what Jenkins did. It would take being flat-out dumb to do so as a Republican, considering the party's recent history with race.

I think it's more a question of these politicians being too stupid to realize (or remember) that there is no such thing as a comment among friends (or a friendly audience).

Sure when making a national television appearance one would have to be an idiot to make such obvious racially-tinged remarks, but these people are speaking to a crowd of supporters and in many cases telling them what they think the crowd wants to hear and/or will get them fired up.

The mistake is not that they said it, or it didn't mean what they thought, it's that they got caught saying it by the wider world.

In the age of 24-hour news, the internet, phone cameras, and Twitter, why any modern politican would think they could make a speech or somewhat-public remark of controversy and have it go unnoticed is beyond me.

Amusingly enough, the phrase "tar baby" describes itself. In most circumstances, to say "I'm not punching that tar baby" is to punch a tar baby.

Huh. I didn't know it was possible to use the phrase except ironically, which probably speaks to the different circumstances of our upbringings.

I should clarify. I had always heard it used sarcastically--in the sense of "Oh, a whole half hour for my lunch break? That's mighty white of you."

What I had always assumed is that this was an unsympathetic and ironic reference to people who thought their color entitled them to be stingy to others. The fact that it would have never occurred to me to say this to someone who wasn't actually white should have been my clue.

A lot of folks cut you slack, von (quite deservedly), because we KNOW you and that you don't mean it meanly, that when you do stumble, it's from ignorance, and that you KNOW you can stumble from ignorance.

Thanks, Gwangung. I think that we'd be better off if we worried less about stumbling and simply said what was on our minds. Because everyone stumbles: they may stumble in different ways and to different effect, but there ain't one correct path to walk on these issues. That's one reason why I intend to continue to write on this subject.

This post, however, was plain old stupid. Not only does in include the stupidity that you not, but I violated my own rule. My post assumed that I couldn't stumble. That I could somehow assess this case from the clouds.

Now, we could go on and discuss whether I'm also ignorantly prideful for thinking that I discovered some secret to the universe in my "everyone stumbles" rule ..... but why ruin a nice afternoon.

I'm wondering if part of the training to be a politician is in how to make a passive and backhanded apology. Versions of "If anyone was offended I apologize." To me this always sounds like the apologizer is saying that it is those who were offended who are actually at fault.
Why not "I apologize for my offensive words. I didn't mean them in that way." Especially if you emphasize personal responisibiltiy as part of your political platform.

I applaud you for walking this one back, von.

"You've convinced me, McKinneyTexas, that this post was too clever by half."

Uh, all of my comments, such as they were, were directed to people who are either ignorant of racial context, like the congresswoman, or worse, think they are so 'with' the post racial times that they actually understand what being a minority in America means. Hoist by my own unintentional subtlety, I suppose.

I find no fault with your post. I thought I was agreeing with it.

I took your comment, "Ignorance is just another aspect of the White Man's Burden, I suppose" to be a fairly keen play on the original notion of the White Man's Burden, nothing more.

Sorry for the confusion.

Why does this thread remind me of a Three's Company episode. Oh, the misunderstandings!

I accept full responsibility. Maybe this is a metaphor of sorts as to the difficulties of discussing race in a rational and unoffensive way.

Why not "I apologize for my offensive words.

Because the words often aren't offensive, it is rather the ignorance of the audience. I would tone the apology down one further to " I am sorry if my words offended you, I didn't mean them in that way."

Periodically some parent is offended by To Kill a Mockingbird or The Merchant of Venice, or Huckleberry Finn. I think it is those parents who should be compelled to receive a lecture on the book in question, all three of which are great literature but too frequently schools acquiesce and drop the book.

I'm wondering if part of the training to be a politician is in how to make a passive and backhanded apology.
Wasn't there some relatively recent incident in which a politican, having said something that offended members of the Black community, said something like "I'm sorry you people took offense"? Unless I'm just making up a memory, that one was an instant classic.

Catsy, I know the feeling -- I was in college when someone first pointed out to me that the slang term "gypped," meaning "cheated," is not spelled "jipped" and is a slur on gypsies.

Remembering my own ignorance makes me more tolerant of people who thoughtlessly say "jewed down," or the like.

"Macaca," on the other hand...

I was sorry to learn that "tar baby" has a racist meaning, because the Uncle Remus story is such a terrific parable for a common problem that we don't have any other good phrase for. I would use "Neck deep in the Big Muddy," but most people don't know that song. "The great Serbonian bog in which armies whole have foundered" is a bit dated.


I have a very dim recollecgtion of a flap over the use of the word "niggardly" buya politician. Can't remember which politican or who made the flap. It was a really dumb flap.

I suppose I am less judgemental toward those I perceive as ignorant than those I perceive as evil because I assume the ignorance is easily curable. Of course if the ignorance is willful and entrenched, then it becomes something more like evil.

I had no idea that "gyp" referred to gypsies.

Ah, sensitivity to others. It so diminishes the vocabulary. (Actually, it was news to me that people from Wales object to the term "welsh" to refer to reneging on a debt.)

It was news to me within the last year or so that "paddy wagon" was a slur on the Irish. Having had the origin of the phrase pointed out to me, I will certainly never use it again.

I have been more stubborn about niggardly, because I don't see why a perfectly good word should be out of bounds because of a misunderstanding about its origins. According to wikipedia, however, once people started to object to it, other people started to use it in a deliberately -- but deniably -- offensive way. That pretty much kills it for me. Too bad.

And then there's the whole question of dialect humor. Is The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N unacceptable because so much of the humor is based on immigrants' bad English? How about N--ger Jim's comic speech in Huckleberry Finn? Does it help that the authors loved and heroized the people they mocked? Or used the silly accents as cover for social satire?

"invoking a degree of racism .... my point is that the racism invoked is usually not the racism of the book."

You make the same mistake over and over again.

It's not a "degree" of racism. It's a whole literary and iconic vocabulary, stretching back into the british empire, whose citizens originally installed racist regimes in every corner of the world where they touched.

The key provision of racism is that it stipulates the superiority of the dominant/powerful/hegemonic "race,' and the explicit inferiority of the 'race' to which the words of infamy were applied: wog, nigger, kafir, boy, tar baby. All of it is tinged with the taint of explicit racist connection. Black Sambo occurs where there are tigers, which is likely only in India. It is a fable of the Raj, of course.

there seems to me to be a kind of willful ignorance in the "localism" of your replies.

I had no idea that "gyp" referred to gypsies.
Posted by: wonkie

Did you hear that Madonna was loudly booed in Bulgaria for taking up for the cause of the Rhom?

"The key provision of racism is that it stipulates the superiority of the dominant/powerful/hegemonic "race,'

My childhood was in Toronto in the 1950's. I've been having trouble understanding what all the fuss is about, to me the tar baby had nothing to do with blacks, it was an anthropomorphic tale like Aesop's fables,
(but then I wasn't aware until i looked at Wiki before writing this of Uncle Remus' identity. To me he was just a vaguely remembered story teller, no more central to the story than Mother Goose.

Little Black Sambo was the hero of the tale- yes there were tigers and he was obviously a native Indian:"it is a fable of the Raj, of course." As I recall it was the wonderful silliness of the tiger turning into butter, nothing about hegemony. Does this mean any fairy tale set in India before independence is taboo?

It is not healthy taking offense when no offence is intended.

Perhaps not being born in the US can be my excuse, but until looking it up today I had some vague impression that "great white hope" was maybe a reference to Moby Dick. You have my permission to laugh at me, not that you need it.

I doubt I would've used it anyway, especially not when talking about the first black President, because I think it's sensible to avoid offensive-sounding phrases no matter their original etymology.

Etymologies are rarely very certain anyway. "Gypped" probably - though not certainly - does have origins in a slur, but most users don't know that; "niggardly" does not seem to have its original origins in a slur, but many people who use it probably think it does, as do many people who hear it; and many users seem to be doing so in order to try to cause offense or controversy. I'd try to avoid both types of word. Luckily English has a bazillion synonyms for any word you can think of, and even if not, you can probably make up a word that will be understood. English is kludgetastic* like that.

* 1050 results in Google.

"Rep. Jenkins' defense seems to be that she's ignorant of the whole of American culture "

Huh, the negative connotations of "great white hope" constitute the whole of American culture; I knew we were a bit shallow, but I didn't know it was THAT bad.

"but many people who use it probably think it does,"

I seriously doubt that, but I suppose it does make a nifty excuse to think badly of people who use the word, despite the fact that it isn't the least bit racist. Nicely rendering the actual origins and meaning of the word irrelevant. In one's own mind, at any rate...

My personal opinion? It's entirely possible to spend a lifetime in this country, without becoming aware of every phrase that somebody will take offense at. It's generally best to assume somebody didn't intend offense, until the contrary is proven.

People are in too much of a hurry to take offense, I think because taking offense has become, in a way, empowering. But a free society needs people to refrain from taking offense until they know it was intended, as much as it demands that people not give offense unless they mean to.

People are in too much of a hurry to take offense, I think because taking offense has become, in a way, empowering. But a free society needs people to refrain from taking offense until they know it was intended, as much as it demands that people not give offense unless they mean to.

It is a red-letter day when I can agree with an entire paragraph of Brett's without exception.

I don't think it was an "ignorant" gaffe, at all. And I wonder what U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins' Great White Hope would look like?

I'm tellin' you, the Right and the Republican Party do Identity politics in a very successful way...they've had a couple of hundred years of practice.

I have nothing fresh to offer.
Posts and comment threads like this are the reason I visit Obwi every day.
Way too much common sense here for most of the rest of the world.
Thank you all for your insight and civility. Blogworld being what it is, this thread could easily have degenerated, but it didn't.

The Tar Baby is usually made up to resemble a “Little Black Sambo”

You Tube is fun!

Little Black Sambo


A cartoon version of the Little Black Sambo story produced in 1935. The Story of Little Black Sambo, a children's book by Helen Bannerman, a Scot living in India, was first published in 1899. This cartoon has been banned from public display in the United States due to the racial nature of its content.

The Story of Little Black Sambo, a children's book by Helen Bannerman

It bothers me that I might be related to her.

Three hundred years as the standard-bearers to the Kings of Scotland, and what the family is remembered for is Little Black Sambo. Tanj.

My personal opinion? It's entirely possible to spend a lifetime in this country, without becoming aware of every phrase that somebody will take offense at.
Sure. Still, "Great White Hope" is a phrase that has its roots not merely in race but specifically in White resentment of a successful Black man, and it's a phrase that is not particularly deracinated, if you will pardon my perhaps sarcastic use of the word. I have, I suppose, encountered the phrase in contexts that have no particular racial context; but at least as often, I've encountered the phrase in a specifically racial context. Indeed, I'd guess that the majority of times I've encountered the phrase it was specifically in a sporting context, usually boxing, and retained precisely the meaning it had at the time of its coining.

Huh, the negative connotations of "great white hope" constitute the whole of American culture

It's actually kind of amazing how much of American culture and history organizes itself around race. More than the US, actually, race and conflict about race is woven into the history of the entire freaking Western hemisphere for the last 500 years.

I'd go so far as to say it's one of a very, very small handful -- three or four things -- that constitute the American lodestones.

It's in the DNA at this point.

It would, in fact, in fact be helpful if folks eschewed the luxury of taking offense, no matter how delicious that can be, until they actually know that offense was intended.

It would also be helpful if so many of our simple, everyday colloquialisms weren't marinated in 500 years of unimaginable brutality.

But, as it turns out, they are.

I think the "niggardly" episode happened in DC in the mid to late nineties. It was someone in the mayor's administration who used the word in a press conference, if I remember correctly, and I think he ended up resigning over it because of the public uproar it caused. I think he was a pretty good public servant and there was no reason to think he was at all racist, but I'm going by a pretty foggy memory of the incident.

A few years ago I was in South Carolina near Myrtle Beach and saw a restaurant called Tar Baby's. The group I was with, all of us from New Jersey, were stunned, though probably ignorant ourselves of the original meaning. We mentioned it to our taxi driver who couldn't fathom why we thought there was anything wrong with the name.

I think I learned about "paddy wagon" from a documentary on NYC history a few years ago. I had no idea and not long before that had described my ride in one, using the term, while relating a story to an Irish immigrant who came over as a child and grew up in the Bronx. He didn't seem the least bit offended by it, though. Some things lose their sting over time, I guess, especially when the disparaged group is no longer signigicantly discriminated against.

I'm already to avoid taking offense where none is intended. On the other hand, I'm all for jumping all over people who say offensive things, too, even if they excuse themselves as ignorant or just joking. It's all part of free speech and threough free speech we as a people can grow.

I can remember back when I was a child and "Indian giver" was a commonly used phrase. I probably used it myself. I certainly heard other use it and felt only mildly uncomfortable.

I can also remember when the blow back against that particulare phrase began. ANd I can remember the whining about how nobody could get a joke any more and "IT's just a saying!" etc, etc, ratinalizations that flowed all too easily from people who probably did not like being called honkies or white bread.

So, yeah, sometimes, as in the case of "niggardly", the uproar is over nothing. However, lots of times, as in the case of "Jewing" someone down the uproar is over something. We just have to argue it out.

I think the "Great White Hope" remark is pretty offensive even if the Rep. didn't know it's history. What else could the words "great white hope" mean except the hope of a white person to represent the hopes of other white people? The Moby Dick interpetation doesn't work unless one assumes that the search is quixotic, mystical, and motivated bvy the need to get revenge on the new leader of the Republicans. Did she mean to be offensive? Probably not. But that doesn't help her; such is her arrogance that it did not occur to her that wishing for a white leader to lead the white people toward a white-only future might piss some people (some of them white) off. How much does anyone want to bet that she was speaking to a white-only audience when she made her infamous remark?

Now she knows her remark was offensive because she got told. That's a good thing. A learning experience!

Like MckinneyTexas, I didn't intend to precipitate the retraction of the article. I was just making a joke and not really commenting one way or the other on your judgment of her statement, Von.

The only reason I knew "Great White Hope" is racist is because the first time I heard the expression, it was as the title of a movie about the great black boxer, Jack Johnson; and the only reason I know about that movie is because I was for a long time wildly in love with James Earl Jones (who played Johnson), and also adored Jane Alexander (who played his wife), and so saw the movie.

Otherwise, I have to say, I, too, would probably have though the expression referred to sharks. Or whales, even. Because - unlike, for instance, "White Man's Burden" - the expression doesn't actually mention people, or species.

This reminds me of my current favorite joke:

What do you call a black man who flies a plane?

A pilot you freaking racist!

"I think the "Great White Hope" remark is pretty offensive even if the Rep. didn't know it's history. What else could the words "great white hope" mean except the hope of a white person to represent the hopes of other white people?"

So, in the case of whites the very concept of whites picking a white to represent the hopes of other whites is racially offensive, while reality of Obama as the great black hope somehow wasn't?

That's one of the reasons I don't much care about a lot of these "offensive" words: Their offensiveness is quite often dependent on accepting a double standard.

So, in the case of whites the very concept of whites picking a white to represent the hopes of other whites is racially offensive, while reality of Obama as the great black hope somehow wasn't?

There have been 26 Republican candidates for President. 26 out of of 26 of them have been white (and that's excluding all the white vice-presidental candidates). Do you think it's simply a hope that the next Republican nominee is going to be white?

I took your comment, "Ignorance is just another aspect of the White Man's Burden, I suppose" to be a fairly keen play on the original notion of the White Man's Burden, nothing more.

Well, thanks, McKinney (and KCinDC).
But, in re-reading the post, I realized that whether you intended to criticize me or not, the criticism that you offered applied to this post. I can't stand behind it as a piece of published writing.

Now, over drinks among friends, when everyone is prone to see the best meaning in your words; well, that's were overcleverness has a chance. But not here. I have to keep in mind that ObWi ain't a bar.

All the best.

I, for one, think the meaning is plain as day. Could I be wrong? Sure, that's usually a possibility :) But I really, really doubt it.

What else could the words "great white hope" mean except the hope of a white person to represent the hopes of other white people?"

So, in the case of whites the very concept of whites picking a white to represent the hopes of other whites is racially offensive, while reality of Obama as the great black hope somehow wasn't?

That's one of the reasons I don't much care about a lot of these "offensive" words: Their offensiveness is quite often dependent on accepting a double standard.

What you carefully neglect to mention here is that "Great White Hope" must represent a hope to overcome something not "white". In the historical context, it was those uppity negros muscling in on a domain that had been traditionally ("correctly") a domain of white folk. The Great White Hope was hoped to put them back in their "place".

Given said historical connotations, I have trouble seeing Obama as a "Great Black Hope" (hoping to demonstrate a broadening of the possibilities open to black people) as being offensive, nor even closely comparable to Jenkins' theoretical "GWH" to defeat him. One represents a hope and aspiration to (symbolically) expand the opportunities available to (the speaker's) racial group; the other represents a hope and aspiration to (symbolically) reduce the opportunities available to (someone else's) racial group. There is no double standard in saying one of these is more troubling than the other, because despite a superficial similarity they represent very different things.

Guys, given his previous confusion over the provenance of the word "gay" to describe homosexuals, and his continuing confusion over the use of words like "freedom," "mafia," "extortion," "sociopath," etc., it should be immediately obvious that Brett maybe sort of doesn't understand how words work and is not the best person to engage on the topic. Also, he clearly kinda doesn't like black people very much, either.

So if her "great white hope" statement offended you so much, I'm sure you must be REALLY outraged at the memo circulated by an Atlanta Democrat which basically says, "OH NO! We might elect a white mayor! Can't have that!!"

From the memo:
"1. There is a chance for the first time in 25 years that African Americans could lose the Mayoral seat in Atlanta, Georgia, especially if there is a run-off;

2. Time is of the essence because in order to defeat a Norwood (white) mayoral candidacy we have to get out now and work in a manner to defeat her without a runoff, and the key is a significant Black turnout in the general election;

3. The reasons support should be given to Lisa Borders is: 1) she is the best black candidate in the race who has a chance to win the election because she can attract downtown white support; and 2) based on polling data drawn from a host of sources between May 2009 and July 2009, the numbers suggest Borders is growing stronger as we move closer to the election, while the most recent polling data suggests that the other black candidates are falling further behind over the same period."

Is this not racism, pure and simple?
"Defeat the white candidate!"

Imagine the outrage if a Republican came right out and said that we're against this candidate strictly because he or she is black. Or that we should support candidate X because he or she is the best white candidate.

http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2009/08/27/the-memo-about-to-shake-the-atlanta-mayors-race/

Also, he clearly kinda doesn't like black people very much, either.

It's not that clear to me. As wrong-headed and ahistorical as I find some of the things that Brett writes, I don't have good reason to believe he's distainful of black people on a personal level. He may discount the negative effects of various policies on black people for ideological reasons, but I don't think he's trying to hurt them or any of the other disenfranchised people his preferred policies keep disenfranchised. He's just a libertain of sorts and can't help himself, IMO. YMMV of course.

So if her "great white hope" statement offended you so much, I'm sure you must be REALLY outraged at the memo circulated by an Atlanta Democrat which basically says, "OH NO! We might elect a white mayor! Can't have that!!"

I do find that somewhat offensive, but not as much as the GWH statement. We've been through this on this blog several times, with Gary Farber being the most eloquent about it, but black people have had quite a bit less success and power in this country (land, if not nation) over the last, say, four centuries. It's not as though the black and white experiences in America are mirror images of one another and that whatever blacks or whites say or do must be taken to be within identical contexts. If MLK were white and making speeches advocating for downtrodden whites in the sixties he would have been considered a lunatic.

Brett: "I don't much care about a lot of these "offensive" words: Their offensiveness is quite often dependent on accepting a double standard."

I am often in agreement with your statement but on this one I agree with Nombrilisme Vide. More specifically, with respect to the historical context of Great white hope, is Jeffries' statement(from Wiki):
"I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro."

How about N--ger Jim's comic speech in Huckleberry Finn?

Minor peeve: Jim is never referred to as "N**ger Jim" in Huckleberry Finn. It's only later readers and commenters (like Hemingway) who use that version.


I have to keep in mind that ObWi ain't a bar.

I know, right? That's the only thing I dislike about ObWi.

As wrong-headed and ahistorical as I find some of the things that Brett writes, I don't have good reason to believe he's distainful of black people on a personal level.

I'll bet you $10 that Brett believes that black people are genetically "dumber" than white people.


Phil, please stop speculating on what you think Brett believes. Aside from the old saw about assumptions being frequently wrong, your assumption is irrelevant to the argument that Brett is making.

As for Brett's argument:

So, in the case of whites the very concept of whites picking a white to represent the hopes of other whites is racially offensive, while reality of Obama as the great black hope somehow wasn't?

No, it's not offensive for black folks to celebrate Obama's triumpth. That's because of the history of black Americans in the USA, including, among other things, the battle over civil rights. When white Americans have a similar story of struggle to tell, white folks will also have good cause to celebrate the triumpth of a white dude getting elected president. Until then, not so much.

This is also the reason, by the bye, why it's perfectly legitimate for Irish-Americans to celebrate the historical successes of the Irish immmigrants, or Italian-Americans the triumpths of Italian immigrants, or Jewish-Americans to celebrate Jewish culture and triumpth. (We leave aside for these purposes the complex tales of how the Irish, Italians, and Jews (to a large extent) eventually all became "white" in America.)

On the other hand, there is no place for bigotry by anyone regardless of race, color, or creed. And bigotry is what I would call the nonsense related in Tomaig's allegations (assuming that those allegations are true).

We don't have to be blind to nuance. Or, put another way, we don't have to be idiots about either history or race.

It's not as though the black and white experiences in America are mirror images of one another and that whatever blacks or whites say or do must be taken to be within identical contexts.

As is obvious from my post at 11:19 a.m., Hairshirthedonist, I agree with this notion in general. But I do think that the memo cited by Tomaig deserves straight-out condemnation, not nuance. Oh, we can explore all the nuance-y ways why this memo got drafted, but, at the end of the day, it's reprehensible to say that someone should be elected (or defeated) solely because of the color of their skin. There are probably a lot of nuancy reasons to explain why Rep. Jenkins make her stupid remark, including her own ignorance and the perils of off-the-cuff speaking. But we (rightly) don't let those nuances in get in the way of condemning her "great white hope" statement.

"I'll bet you $10 that Brett believes that black people are genetically "dumber" than white people."

I believe that, whatever slight difference there might be on average between races, they tell you nothing whatsoever about any particular person you might encounter. Small differences in the centers of broad bell shaped curves are of little significance until you start doing statistics on large groups.

If MLK were white and making speeches advocating for downtrodden whites in the sixties he would have been considered a lunatic.

Actually, that was George Wallace.

And I think somebody owes Phil $10.

Willful ignorance is evil.

"Many well meaning white people view themselves as being passed the race...."
Shouldn't that be "past," not "passed?"

"The original version suggested that racism couldn't be based solely on ignorance, but required some kind of intentional ill-will. But of course that's not correct."

If you haven't read it... Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt... Specifically, "A Southern Town With Northern Problems"...

About Louisville Kentucky in the 70s.

He fleshes (sic) it out pretty well.

Here's a screenshot of a pertinent page from GoogleBooks: http://i233.photobucket.com/albums/ee241/photobastard/SouthernCityNortherProblems.jpg

http://books.google.com/books?id=VHxgGvF9ugAC&pg=PP11&lpg=PP1#v=onepage&q=&f=true

Re "Indian giver," someone once told me the phrase referred to the pattern of retracting gifts given to Indians, not by Indians. Which would make more sense, historically. Anybody know whether this is accurate?

Crafty, I have no idea regarding its accuracy, but unsuprisingly Wikipedia makes a stab at it:

Etymology
It is unclear exactly how this expression came to be, but the consensus is that it is based on Native Americans having a distinctly different sense of property ownership as opposed to those of European ancestry. One theory holds that early European settlers in North America misinterpreted aid and goods they received from Native Americans as "gifts," when in fact they were intended to be offered in trade, as many tribes operated economically by some form of barter system, or a gift economy where reciprocal giving was practiced. It is also theorized that this stereotype may have been coined or exaggerated by the conquering European groups to denigrate the native people as dishonest and thereby justify their conquest. A popular myth started by Europeans tells of early settlers trading firearms to a group of Native Americans for maize, who then promptly turned the guns on the Europeans and reclaimed their crop.
The sourcing on that whole paragraph looks quite weak, though: if you click through, you'll see that the only footnote for the paragraph goes to a paragraph on some Englishman's apparent hobby website, which paragraph in any case doesn't speak to most of the content there.

Someone with more of a liberal-arts background could probably find you some more thorough investigations, some of which I suspect must have been performed.

I think that the dominating or exploiting group will often create a stereotype of the dominated or exploited group which imposes on that group the failings of the stronger group. Various Indian tribes got screwed in negotiations over and over and over and over and over. I don't know how many times the senario was repeated but I do remember reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the pattern was all too apparent: the tribes got promsed certain things and the promises were broken. So who gets stereoptyped as being unwilling to stick to a deal, of giving and then taking away? Not the people who actually acted that way.

My 2 cents: I have a hard time figuring out how Jemkins's use of 'great white hope' could be other than racist. I honestly don't understand how people could think it might be about sharks or something (idiomatic language can be strange, but...a large shark representing a 'hope'?). And, after all, the fabulous and dynamic congresswoman was talking about the GOP finding someone to pit against Obama. What else could it possibly mean? It means exactly what you first thought it meant. She may not have thought carefully about it before she said it, but that doesn't make it less racist. It's actually stinkingly racist. I think the most plausible scenario is that she might have vaguely heard the phrase somewhere - without knowing what it referred to - and it just flew off from her forked tongue; this is actually worse than referring to the Jack Johnson/movie context, since she had to insert her *own* context.

I really don't care if Jenkins herself or individual Republicans are personally racist or not - deliberately and coolly playing on racial hatred and fear you yourself don't particularly feel is worse than being a normal, everyday visceral racist, IMO.

So, yes, Jenkins probably is ignorant, probably is pretty stupid, and her comment was racist.

I honestly don't understand how people could think it might be about sharks or something

This one was mine, and I think you've misunderstood. I was describing the way I used to interpret that phrase, before I knew about its context. That was years ago. Absent that context, there's really only one thing that I associate the phrase "great white" with and that's sharks.

It's really quite amazing what kind of explanations people will make up for an idiom when they don't know where it originally came from. The imagination fills in the blanks.

The other common 'Great White' would of course be 'North' (I think that has no racial connotation) ;-)
---
I don't find the Little Black Sambo especially racist since it does imo not denigrate black people*. The cliches may be not very sensitive from today's POV but they do not serve any purpose above being funny (it's a non-political cartoon!**). But the comments below that youtube clip are beyond the pale (no pun intended). I rarely encounter such undiluted primary racism in such volume.
Btw, since when are there tigers in Africa? ;-)

*I think the only controversial part could be the blacking of the water but even that does not serve the 'dirty N-word' cliche since it's washing off.
**compare the anti-Japanese cartoons of WW2. THAT's real racism with denigrating purpose.

"My 2 cents: I have a hard time figuring out how Jemkins's use of 'great white hope' could be other than racist."

That's a severe lack of imagination, and I suspect it's a question of your deliberately beating your imagination back so that you DON'T figure it out.

Personally, until I saw the classic movie, I thought it was some kind of allusion to the whale in Moby Dick. You know, this freaking BIG hope?

All it needs to not know the phrase has somewhat racist origins is to have heard it used, but not know it's origins. Easy as can be. As innocent as thinking "niggardly" IS racist.

Goodness me, Brett: with your long history of being able to accurately identify and discuss racist behavior on the part of white people, I'm quite sure you're absolutely right.

Really? I'm not quite sure, myself, all I'm asserting is that the use of the phrase wasn't necessarily racist, that there are other possible explanations.

Jess Willard, the "Great White Hope" who actually defeated Jack Johnson in a boxing match in 1915, was from Pottawatomie County, Kansas. Pottawatomie County, Kansas is part of Lynn Jenkins Congressional District. She knew exactly what she was saying.

You know, students in the deep South -- what was the Confederacy -- consistently have lower scores on standardized reading tests than those from other parts of the country.

cite.

IMO it's safe to assume that folks from that area are, net/net, more likely to marry and have kids with folks who are also from that area. So, over the years there has no doubt been some concentration of a "Dixie" gene pool.

I think this clearly demonstrates that southern Americans are genetically inferior to folks from other regions in the nation, at least as regards the skills that are needed for reading comprehension.

Given the history and ethnic background of the region, one can only conclude that border Scots are, all other things being equal, highly likely to be dumb as a box of rocks. Genetic knotheads.

It's not their fault, it's just the hand that Darwin has dealt them.

There's no prejudice whatsoever in my saying this. The facts are what they are, I'm just pointing them out.

Harmut,

I think white Imperialists thought it would be in their best interest to racialize both Indians and Africans as “blacks.”

"I think this clearly demonstrates that southern Americans are genetically inferior to folks from other regions in the nation, at least as regards the skills that are needed for reading comprehension."
So, what's the explanation for the District of Columbia?

Jess Willard, the "Great White Hope" who actually defeated Jack Johnson in a boxing match in 1915, was from Pottawatomie County, Kansas. Pottawatomie County, Kansas is part of Lynn Jenkins Congressional District. She knew exactly what she was saying.

If this is accurate, I'd say it changes the parameters under which we can speculate on the meaning of the GWH comment. And, at the very least, it's an interesting tidbit.

So, what's the explanation for the District of Columbia?

Way to step right in it, Charles.

In a rare contra to Russell, I think that the genetic argument over-explains things. While genetics might contribute, as someone who moved to the deep south for secondary school, there is actually quite a bit more mobility than would appear at first glance. However, old social structures and a chameleon like ability for these social structures to fit themselves to new catchphrases (how else to explain the transition of Huey Long to 'Every Man a King' to 'government is not the answer, government is the problem'?) serve to prevent substantive changes. This Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker piece has an interesting take on this.

In a rare contra to Russell...

I guess I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure russell's comment was satirical.

this freaking BIG hope?

Moby Dick as 'big hope'? I do have an imagination which I am pretty careful not to 'beat back', but...c'mon. And, as I say, even if she didn't know the origin of the phrase, she was applying it to a potential opponent to Obama. C'mon.

So, what's the explanation for the District of Columbia?

I think it's clear that the social dysfunction we associate with American blacks, and their relatively poor performance on standardized tests etc., is due to the corruption of their gene pool by the insertion of the knothead "Dixie" gene by means of 10 or 15 generations of forcible rape by their slavers.

oh... nevermind...

Here is Jenkins' district, counties listed on the bottom of the page--
http://lynnjenkins.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=25&sectiontree=25

Here is Willard's bio--
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jess_Willard

I'm chalking this gaffe up to ignorance rather than evil .... but what a telling ignorance it is.

I think this is about right. Or, not so much ignorance as using a common, everyday expression without really thinking about the context.

From Jenkins' website, she appears to be more or less a standard, off-the-rack small-federal-government conservative. Nothing wrong with that. I doubt she is particularly racist, or particularly hostile to blacks.

She just lives, like all of the rest of us, in a culture where racism is as common, and as ubiquitous, as gentle rain in the springtime.

I doubt she intended anything specifically racist. It's just woven into our history, our language, and our culture as a nation. It's inescapable, like freaking gravity.

We are not yet in a post-racial society. We may never be. A black President doesn't change that.

We are so determined to be a color blind society that we are going to keep on seeing color until we go blind.

CharlesWT,

What a cute way to avoid responsibilty.

Must be part of that "culture of responsibility" I'm always hearing conservatives preach about.

"Moby Dick as 'big hope'?"

No, "great white" being a reference to a big whale, and the "hope" part coming from the word "hope".

Hm. I had a long comment responding to Brett's 2:40 PM that appears to have been [email protected]

Wish I could read it, Warren T, because I am baffled.

I've pounded Google for awhile and it appears that "great white hope" has become a pretty common idiom frequently use without regard or thought for its history.

Johnnybutter,
Basically, I was suprised that anyone would reflexively associate "great white" with Melville's whale, because when I encounter that two-word phrase I always interpret it as a reference to Benchley's shark and its real-world kin - an interpretation that Google confirms, albeit that Google adds in a 1980's rock band of the same name. Turns out that a word search shows Melville didn't actually use the phrase "great white" much; and regardless, Melville's whale cannot be comfortably juxtaposed with "hope", and Benchley's shark still less so. Basically, I was not convinced by Brett's argument.

.

CharlesWT, that's pretty curious, because when I google the phrase almost everything I get in the top several pages falls in three categories:
1) References to Jenkin's faux pas (including, of course, why it was a faux pas).
2) Fictionalized boxers and other riffs on the original meaning of the phrase, complete with racial baggage.
3) The actual non-fictional origins of the phrase.
The only exception on the top three pages is the headline (but not the body) of an article on Real Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo, in the British newspaper the Times.
As you go further, the uses of the phrase do get more varied - but it's worth pointing out that (1) most of those entries lacking obvious racial baggage retain a link to sport, indicating that some connection to the phrase's origins remain; and (2) some may nonetheless retain a more subtle racial element, particularly in the worlds of football and especially cricket, sports that are not without their racial tensions.

I've pounded Google for awhile and it appears that "great white hope" has become a pretty common idiom frequently use without regard or thought for its history.

That probably explains the use of the idiom in general as not necessarily having a racist meaning dating back to Jack Johnson's days, but, in the specific case in question, I'd say the below makes such an explanation highly doubtful.

Jess Willard, the "Great White Hope" who actually defeated Jack Johnson in a boxing match in 1915, was from Pottawatomie County, Kansas. Pottawatomie County, Kansas is part of Lynn Jenkins Congressional District. She knew exactly what she was saying.

Posted by: Pawthorn | August 29, 2009 at 08:46 AM

Warren, when I filter out some of the historical associations and "Lynn Jenkins," I'm left with quite a few links that seem to have nothing to do with it's historical meaning. Everything from technology to wine. There are still a lot political references left though.

hairshirthedonist,

"Jess Willard, the "Great White Hope" who actually defeated Jack Johnson in a boxing match in 1915, was from Pottawatomie County, Kansas. Pottawatomie County, Kansas is part of Lynn Jenkins Congressional District. She knew exactly what she was saying."
Which may mean that the phrase is even more commonly used there than elsewhere, but people about Jenkins age and younger may use it with little thought or awareness to historical context. For whatever reason she use it, I bet she wishes she hadn't now.

Russell (at 9:25 am) -- speaking as a person with majority Scottish ancestry (and from the name, I'm guessing you are also), I will say that you have only to attend a session of Scottish games to get an idea of their intellectual level. The events pretty much all involve throwing things (sometimes very big things indeed), except where they involve making your opponent fall in a mud puddle. So, yeah, I believe there's possibly some sort of mental problem.

Brett (at 6:40 am) -- "the very concept of whites picking a white to represent the hopes of other whites" is not racially offensive, but the implication that only a white person can do so, now, that's offensive. Presumably, it is offensive to all of the white people who voted for Senator Obama, and there were a lot of them.

Yeah, but border Scots staffed most of the successful Protestant missions to Blacks and Latinos in the 19th C. The children of these converts were the most likely to staff the Civil Rights Movements between, 1920-1970.

So it all works out…or not.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad