[The Big Smoke reading group]
“Race Relations” is one of the titles repeated in more than one section of The Big Smoke. In this section, “Bet Your Last Copper,” Jack Johnson reflects on the violent riots that took place after the Battle of the Century. In this poem, “manhood” can be equated to humanity or even refinement, as Johnson feels that the white people should not have rioted just because he bested a white man in a boxing bout.
Johnson juxtaposes the post-fight actions of himself and the white people. “The fellows making trouble over/my victory at Reno didn’t have anything/to do with it & they don’t have any class./If they knew the real Jack Johnson,/they’d behave themselves, like he does.” Given the widespread thoughts about black people being inferior to white people during the time period, it's interesting how Johnson indicates an alternative idea.
But what did you think? What did you find most interesting about the poem and why?
--Jeremiah Carter and Howard Rambsy II