Sunday, January 23, 2005

Unforgivable Blackness

I sit here in front of this screen today while outside, horizontal snow blankets my dooryard. Classic Nor-Easter. As of 10 AM, at least 18" on the ground with no sign of letting up. The TV has a permanent banner on the bottom of the screen telling me all of southern Maine is closed for the day. Everything's canceled. Stay home, stay warm. Tomorrow, we dig out and continue on our way.

A perfect day to be snowed in. It's NFL Conference Sunday. The NFC @ 3:00PM and the AFC @ 6:30PM. While I waited for the games to begin, I watched Ken Burns' PBS documentary, "Jack Johnson- Unforgivable Blackness". No one covers a subject like Ken Burns. I had heard and read about Jack Johnson, the great heavy weight champ from the early 1900's. I knew he had been a colorful character who became a posterboy for the strong racist attitudes of White America at the time. I had seen "The Great White Hope" with James Earl Jones. But what I thought I knew and understood about Jack was way shy of the real story.

No one will argue he was not a great champion. And most will agree he was given a raw deal. But what the documentary points out is that for all his problems and troubles, Jack had himself to blame for much that befell him. His individualism alienated not only White America, but many from within his own race. He was an "in your face" type who seemed to take particular glee at flaunting his celebrity and his race.

Booker T. Washington had no time for his antics. He felt he poorly represented his race by fulfilling the ignorant black male stereotype of the day. Another Black leader did not like him because of his taste for white women. And White America, with it's irrational fear of the black stud, definitely did not like him. What I think was cool, he just did not care. He did what he wanted. I respect that. The man had a talent and used it to live a life of his own choosing.

Whether he helped in the quest for racial equality or hindered it is something the documentary does not directly answer. The viewer, it seems, has to reach their own conclusion. The movie points out the flashpoint for racial hatred Jack became. IMO, he did not help the Negro movement of the time. But so what? His story is worthy in and of itself. Nevermind the cultural upheaval his presence created at the time. He strikes me as someone I would have loved to know. Maybe share a bottle while he gave me a blow by blow of one of the many fights he was in. In the ring or out.

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