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Where's the historical IQ in this O.C. GOP woman? It's MIA

April 19, 2011 |  5:45 pm

Obama Kansas wasn't that populous a state in the 1950s and '60s -– a couple of million people, smaller than Orange County -- so I wonder whether Marilyn Davenport ever ran into some of her fellow Kansans: Wichita folks by the name of Dunham.

Davenport now lives in Southern California. She is also the Orange County Republican Central Committee official who sent out an email to some pals a few days ago. It showed three seated figures, father, mother, baby, with chimpanzee faces pasted over the man's and the woman's faces, and President Obama's face over the baby's. "Now you know why no birth certificate," the accompanying text reads.

Davenport issued one of those passive-aggressive apologies that puts the burden on the recipient, not the sender; she has said she thought it was "amusing regarding the character of Obama" and is only sorry if anyone was offended.

Who could not be? Not only by the image and the inference but then by Davenport's protest that "in no way did I even consider the fact he's half black when I sent out the email."

Her explanation seems contradicted by what she told the OC Weekly in an interview, that "I only sent it to a few people — mostly people I didn't think would be upset by it." If she thought other people might be upset by it, then obviously she must have understood that it is intrinsically offensive.

Hers is as disingenuous a rationale as that offered by another Orange County official in a related predicament a couple of years ago. Just after Obama was sworn in, the mayor of Los Alamitos, Dean Grose, shared an email with a picture of the White House lawn planted with watermelons and the line ''No Easter egg hunt this year.'' Grose resigned -- something Davenport has said she will not do -- but he too explained perplexingly that he had absolutely no clue that there was any stereotype about black people and watermelon.

Really? Is life so sheltered, so insulated in Orange County that these two had never even heard of the centuries-old black people/ape slurs? How about the ''Gorillas in the Mist'' reference made by one of the four officers in the Rodney King beating case, regarding a domestic violence call to an African American household? That was all over the news in Southern California for months. And those watermelon/black people stereotypes have been around for more than a century, on postcards, in stand-up comic routines and edgy TV shows. Ring any bells? Really?

The county’s Republican chair, Scott Baugh, knows all about these stereotypes, and he told the OC Weekly: "Depicting African Americans as monkey is a longtime, well-known and particularly offensive slur because it denies them their basic humanity … The damage to the Republican Party has been done by her, and I still think she should resign."

If none of this long, wide and deep history was known to  Davenport, why did she not then send an email of a picture of a family of dolphins, with the president’s face on the youngest? Or the bears in Goldilocks? No birth certificates for marine mammals or ursines either.

So, back to Kansas, Davenport’s home state, Bleeding Kansas, the frayed rope in the tug of war over race and slavery in this country since the 19th century, a free-state-or-slave-state battleground well before the actual Civil War, and at the heart of race in America, from John Brown's raids to the Kansas-born Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court case.

Maybe Davenport's path did not cross the Dunhams'. Ann Dunham -- Stanley Ann Dunham, officially -- was a few years younger than Marilyn Davenport, and her parents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, a number of years older.

The Dunhams traveled the country a bit before they came back to Kansas, and their daughter wound up at college in Hawaii, where she married a Kenyan graduate student and gave birth to her son, Stanley and Madelyn's grandson, Barack Obama -- the man whose parentage was mocked in Davenport's email.

In a later email, Davenport remarked: "To my fellow Americans and to everyone else who has seen this email I forwarded and was offended by my action, I humbly apologize and ask for your forgiveness of my unwise behavior. I say unwise because at the time I received and forwarded the email, I didn't stop to think about the historic implications and other examples of how this could be offensive.’’

"Tea party" activists set great store by American history, but theirs may be a selective enthusiasm. If you take at face value what Davenport says, that hers was an act of ignorance and not racism, then the question is: How could a daughter of Bleeding Kansas be so utterly clueless about what is, in fact, her own history and heritage -– and that of Obama and his family too?

They aren’t in Kansas anymore, yet the Sunflower State, one of the earliest scars from the nation’s deepest self-inflicted wounds, is still in them -- and in all of us, and we can only heal that scar if we are smart enough to remember it.

RELATED:

GOP official who sent Obama chimpanzee email: 'I am not a racist'

Orange County GOP official considers photo of President Obama as baby chimp 'amusing'

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: President Barack Obama, accompanied by Barbara Miner, PhD, Manager, Intel Transmission Electronic Microscope Lab, right, and Intel CEO Paul Otellini, second from left, looks at a computer screen at the Intel Corporation with in Hillsboro, Ore., Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. Credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

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