Thursday, March 31, 2016

A review of “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson”

One of the most important figures in black history was a civil rights leader named W. E. B. Du Bois. He was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and had the duty of editing their monthly magazine, which was a publication entitled "The Crisis."

W. E. B. Du Bois

Where does the unusual title of the documentary come from?

He wrote in "The Crisis" once in 1914 about an African-American boxer named Jack Johnson, who was the first person of this background to become boxing's "Heavyweight Champion of the World." Here is the quote that the title of this Ken Burns film comes from:

W. E. B. Du Bois

It comes from a quote by a civil rights leader named W. E. B. Du Bois, which is as follows:

"Boxing has fallen into disfavor ... The reason is clear: Jack Johnson ... has out-sparred an Irishman. He did it with little brutality, the utmost fairness and great good nature. He did not 'knock' his opponent senseless ... Neither he nor his race invented prize fighting or particularly like it. Why then this thrill of national disgust? Because Johnson is black. Of course some pretend to object to Johnson's character. But we have yet to hear, in the case of White America, that marital troubles have disqualified prize fighters or ball players or even statesmen. It comes down, then, after all to this unforgivable blackness." - W. E. B. Du Bois, in "The Crisis" (1914), with emphasis added

Jack Johnson

The film's title is thus easy to misconstrue as pro-racist (when, in fact, it is the opposite)

With the background established for the title of this film - which is easy to misconstrue, when taken out of context - I will now launch into my review of this film, and talk about this important person from the history of Black America.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A review of Fergal Keane's “The Story of Ireland” (BBC Northern Ireland)

" ... the said kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland shall, upon the first day of January, which shall be in the year of our lord one thousand eight hundred and one, and for ever, be united into one kingdom, by the name of 'the united kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland' ... "

- Act of Union (Ireland) of 1800, passed by the Parliament of Ireland; and accompanying the Union with Ireland Act of 1800, passed by the Parliament of Great Britain

I should preface this review by saying that I am an American, whose ancestors are predominantly from the "British Isles." Although this includes much English, Scottish, and Welsh; I also have a significant portion of Irish ancestry as well; and so Ireland is something of a heritage country for me. As a disclaimer, though, I will freely say that I have grown up with a generally positive view of the British (although one which recognizes that the British were not perfect people, and did a number of things that complicate their legacy). I will also say freely that all these things notwithstanding, I have not always sympathized with the anti-British rhetoric coming from some in Ireland today, although I have disagreed with a number of things that the British have done over the years - including the way they treated my American homeland, in the years of our own revolution; and the way they treated the other colonial peoples of their empire in the complicated history of British imperialism.

A modern stained glass window of Saint Patrick (the man who brought Catholicism to Ireland),
whose authenticity I will neither vouch for nor call into question

Catholics and Protestants is a major theme in Irish history

Nonetheless, all these things aside; I felt like I learned a lot from this landmark documentary on "The Story of Ireland," and it helped me to understand the other side of the story - a largely Catholic viewpoint, to be sure - from the one we often hear in my strongly Protestant country. I consider myself a neutral in the wars between Catholics and Protestants, I should note; and as a devout Mormon, I don't feel compelled to pick sides in this argument. (As my dad might say, I "don't have a dog in this fight.") I sympathize with both sides in this struggle to a large degree; and I certainly can understand the Irish side - and even sympathize with some of their grievances against the British - without any feelings of shame about my other "British Isles" heritage.

Union Jack flag, a potent symbol of British union that is controversial in much of Ireland

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Learning Spanish from doing missionary work

I once mentioned to my Spanish professor in 2012 that I was reading the Book of Mormon in Spanish to practice the language. Although this particular professor was not a Mormon herself, she approved of this endeavor on the grounds of its tendency to improve my Spanish; and she asked me point-blank if I had served a mission for my church. I actually got the same question a year later from my employer of that time (specifically, my boss's boss), and the man asking me the question this time around was not a Mormon, either - which is probably an indication of what visible symbols of the Mormon faith its missionaries are; with the young men in white shirts and ties being an internationally recognized symbol of my church's proselyting efforts.

Photo obtained from church website

The answer to their question is actually a complicated one (although it was probably less so then), and this is probably the first time that I have ventured to go into detail on this question. This answer depends somewhat on what your definition of a "mission" is, since it is not as straightforward as it sometimes seems; so I will attempt to explain clearly what my religion means by that term, before I go into any sort of detail about whether my service would qualify for this honor.

Photo obtained from church website

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