Friday, May 25, 2012

My Nominee for Book of the Year by a Rising Young Scholar- Theresa Runstetler’s

Theresa Runstedlter’s book on the Global Impact of Jack Johnaon , Rebel Sojourner is my nominee for book of the year by a rising young scholar ( along with my colleague Oneka Labennett;s book on West Indian girls and consumer culture She’s Mad Real) I picked up the book wondering why someone was writing another biography of Jack Johnson, but found myself on a journey on how “race: was lived and commodified in Australia, England, France, Cuba, and Mexico- the countries where Jack Johnson lived and fought when he went into exile. Each nation had it’s own niche in the odyssey of colonialism and imperialism, each had its own way of weaving race it into its national narrative, and each in its own way was challenged by Jack Johnson’s ascendancy as world heavyweight champion and his conquest of white fighters at a time when white supremacy was being challenged worldwide.: What Therea Runstetler has done is show, through her ground breaking research, how Jack Johnson became a symbol of agency and rebellion for people of color globally, and how this simultaneously challenged hierarchical relationships in the metropole and the colonies, and created new possibilities for the exoticization and commodification of “Blackness.” In a world in upheaval, torn by a world war, Jack Johnson was as important as Marcus Garvey in showing that Blacks, and all colonial people, were capable of making history on their own terns, and was as subject as Garvey to strategies of containment and neutralization in many different countries. The most fascinating chapters to me were on France, where Blacks were allowed sexual and civic freedoms that white Americans found appalling, but were seen through the lens of astonishingly demeaning stereotypes, and Mexico, which at that historic moment was seen by Blacks as a refuge from an ascendant Jim Crow and where revolutionary plots were imagined, if not actually launched, to take back Texas and the Southwest through joint action by Mexicans, Blacks and Native Americans! Everywhere Johnson fought or lived, he provoked a national debate, and sometimes a national crisis, about how far liberties should be extended to people of African descent within their borders and in some cases, their empires. And in documenting this impact by a “mere prizefighter,”, Runstetler not only affirms the growing political significance of sport on a global scale, she provides a window into a moment in the history of imperialism and colonialism where colonial subjects are challenging their subordination .more clearly than any scholar have read in recent years. What put the icing on the cake for me, in terms of Runstetler’s argument for Johson’s significance, is her quotes from Ho Chi Minh’s writings, in a French leftist newspaper, about how Johnson’s victories promotes rebellion against colonial subordination. But her book is by no means a simple narrative of justice triumphant, because the forces of commodification and containment were right there to capture rebellious impulses and direct them into channels which created new opportunities for profit and allowed old hierarchies to take new forms For anyone interested in colonialism, imperialism, race, and the global impact of sport, this book is a must read May 25, 2012

1 comment:

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