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Sent on Mormon-News: 31Jul01

By Kent Larsen

LDS Councilman's Racial Jokes Cause Nampa ID Controversy

NAMPA, IDAHO -- An LDS city councilman's racial jokes told at a public luncheon caused a storm of controversy last week after a reporter questioned the remarks in a local newspaper column. Nampa City Councilman and local businessman Martin Thorne told the jokes from behind a black-face mask as part of a long-running, friendly exchange of gibes with local black rodeo clown Leon Coffee, who Thorne was introducing at the Miss Rodeo Luncheon before the Snake River Stampede rodeo.

The controversy erupted after Idaho Press-Tribune reporter Nathaniel Hoffman covered the Luncheon, attended by the 19-year-old Miss Rodeo contestants and "a room full of white faces," according to Hoffman's report. Thorne introduced Coffee at the luncheon with a a series of jokes about watermelons, eating fried chicken and sexual potency, shocking Hoffman, a rookie reporter covering his first rodeo.

The reporter wrote in his column that he was surprised later when he talked with Coffee about the jokes and discovered that Coffee wasn't bothered by them. Coffee said that his racial bickering with Thorne is funny for both prejudiced and nonprejudiced people, and claimed "I'm killing it by laughing at it." Coffee later added that in response he tells jokes about Thorne's LDS religion.

Local news reports say that Coffee is a Nampa institution, a 20-year resident who, after Thorne's introduction, "gave a wonderfully warm speech for which he received a standing ovation," according to Hoffman. Both Coffee and Thorne say that they have been joking in this way for nearly two decades. Coffee's rodeo clown act also involves racial banter between him and two rodeo announcers.

But Hoffman said in his July 21st column that the incident still bothered him. "Joking about sexual dysfunction and coercing the only black man in the vicinity to dance with a woman in a chicken suit in front of 19-year-old Miss Rodeo Idaho contestants strike me as strange attitudes to pass on to our children."

After Hoffman's column appeared, the Idaho Press-Tribune received many letters on the remarks expressing anger and discomfort over Thorne's remarks. In response, Thorne apologized for the remarks, "If it was uncomfortable for the community, then an apology is necessary," he said. "I guess I was out of order, and I apologize for that. There was no malice. I never intended to offend anyone." Thorne notes that he and Coffee are still great friends, and that Coffee once gave him a signed Stampede poster with the words, "To Martin: The blackest white guy I've ever known." "That's a compliment," Thorne says.

Meanwhile, Stampede officials claim that the rodeo has gotten better over the years, and that Coffee's race has always been part of his clown act, "Way back when, people accepted that type of joking, but now we've grown above that," said rodeo board member Steve Tester, speaking for himself and not the board. "We've matured as a community. We are trying to get away from racial jokes."

But Stampede publicist Jimmie Hurley said that the joking between Thorne and Coffee was between them, and not a Stampede issue. He says that the reporter has made an issue out of nothing, "I just think it's unfortunate when someone isn't familiar with this town's relationship with Leon and takes offense when Leon doesn't take offense. It's making something out of nothing."

Nampa official sorry for racial jokes
Boise ID Statesman (AP) 28Jul01 T2
The Associated Press

Thorne apologizes for Coffee jokes
Nampa ID Press-Tribune 27Jul01 T2
By Kristin Rodine: Idaho Press-Tribune

Black humor surprises Stampede
Nampa ID Press-Tribune 21Jul01 T2
By Nathaniel Hoffman: Idaho Press-Tribune


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