Winnebago County Republican Party chair under fire for racist joke

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Dan Plutchak | May 12, 2014

In the University of Texas affirmative action case, the U.S. Supreme Court declared, in effect, that racism has been eradicated in the United States.

Not so fast.

A series of recent high-profile examples to the contrary continue.

First there was rancher Clive Bundy, who pointed out how well African American's had it during slavery. Then came L.A. Clipper's owner Donald Sterling, who told his girlfriend not to bring African Americans with her to Clippers games because, you know, people say things...

No offender has been closer to home than Winnebago County Republican Party chairman Jim Thompson, who stepped into the hot glare of unwanted media attention late last month after he wrote a newsletter post comparing the president to a "zonkey," a genetically engineered cross between a zebra and a donkey.

Here's what Thompson wrote April 28 in the Winnebago County Republican Central Committee newsletter:

"Media update for the week:  saw on the news this week the offspring of a donkey and a zebra, black and white legs, rest all donkey. Not sure why this is news: now if we can teach him to read a teleprompter, we could have two living creatures the media will fawn over that is part white part black and all a**!"

The implication is that the president is somehow less than human, partly because he is black.

Lot's off sincere people can disagree with the president, or any politician for that matter, but why go there?

Thompson later apologized, writing to the left-leaning website Talking Points Memo, "I would like to offer my sincere apology to those who were offended, and I regret including this item in the newsletter. In the future, it most certainly won't happen again."

But damage already had been done.

John Guevara, a member of the Winnebago County Republican Central Committee, told WTVO TV in Rockford that he believes the office of the chairman has to be held to a higher standard when it comes to race issues.

Brandon Reid of the Rock River Times called for new leadership for the Winnebago County Republican Party, as did an editorial in the Rockford Register Star.
Christopher Sims, a co-founder of the Rockford Anti Racism Network, told WTVO that remarks like these are not OK and they impact the way people view Republicans in the Stateline.

Moreover, Sims says, it shows racism is still alive in this community.

The nefarious nature of institutional racism is that those who engage in it likely would be surprised that they were offending anyone.

Their defense always is, "I didn't mean to offend anyone." But by dehumanizing minorities, the message is clearly sent that they don't deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.

Perhaps more troubling, it denies society the unique and necessary contributions that a diverse community can provide.

Here are a few warning signs:

If you feel you want to start a sentence, "I'm not a racist, but …" Stop before you start.

Also, having African American friends doesn't give you a pass to say whatever insensitive thing you want.

Thompson hasn't declared any intention of stepping down, and the controversy likely will run it's course.

The lesson for many will be that they need to be more careful with what they say.

What really needs to happen, however, is people need to be careful and more thoughtful in how they think.

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