Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Great White Hope

Jack London is greatly admired for his fine writing and the socialist ideals that he held. This article in the Guardian, however, revealed that London absorbed the ugly attitudes of racism which were prevalent at the time. It is said that he originated the phrase the "Great White Hope" regards Jim Jeffries who fought Jack Johnson and lost in July 1910, a fight which was filmed but which was not screened in many places due to the result.

The racism didn't go unnoticed in the columns of the Socialist Standard. In the August 1910 issue this was written:

The risks of capitalists have been finely illustrated at the expense of the cinematograph people who shelled out some £30,000 to the principals in and promoter of the recent glove contest in America. One Jeffries essayed to “take up the white man’s burden,” which in this instance was to prove the superiority of the white over any other human complexion. It was thought a pretty safe calculation that the universal interest in the spectacle of “Mistah Jeff ” taking up the white man’s burden, would warrant the outlay, but alas ! for the “schemes of mice and men,” it was forgotten that the same pictures might show the black man helping him to lay it down again. Of course, the overlooking of this contingency made all the difference.
Was it to be supposed that civilisation could stand it? We all know that civilisation is based firstly upon the superiority of the white to the coloured races, and secondly upon the superiority of the capitalist to the ordinary or worker white. But what sort of an effect would these moving pictures have upon the social aspect in Africa, and what tale would they whisper into the ear of young India, and how would they be received on the banks of the Nile, where the burden of the white man’s civilisation sits none too lightly on brown backs? The best black man has beaten the best white. The best black is better than the best white. The black is better than the white.
As Japan snatched the halo of sanctity from the Western brow when she drove the Russian legions before her, so these pictures of the best white man trying and failing to chew all he had bitten off might be taken by the dusky ones the world over as evidence that the miraculous no more belongs to the white skin than to the Western position, and that even the most godlike of white men has a crick in his neck if the axe is put on in the right place—and then goodbye to British misrule in India and Egypt, and farewell to white supremacy in East and West. And then when the worker white made the startling discovery that there was nothing inferior to him he might begin to seriously ask if there is anything superior, and such an inward searching really would place the foundations of our capitalist civilisation in jeopardy."

In August 1915, there as another passing reference to Jack Johnson in the Socialist Standard.

"The Johnson-Jeffries fight was banned from the Cinema halls, but the Willard-Johnson fight was not. Is this change of policy due to the discovery both in France and England that the man of colour is morally fit to fight the white man (and therefore to give him a hiding) or to the fact that in the first case the black man won, while in the second case he lost?..."

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