winkfield: outlaw culture by default

Imagine. The Bolscheviks were burning down the racetracks. Trotsky preaching black revolution and chsing a black jockey over the Urals with his stable in tow…

I always found the story of Jimmy Winkfield appealing. It might be the almost unvarnished light on celebrity he casts. He is a Satchel Paige type phenomenon; there is something self-reflexive about Winkfield, with some humor but a lot of substantive drama. Winkfield never treated the high life and dangerous living as anything but normal. And living dangerously was commonplace for Jimmy Winkfield…

---Blacklisted after he broke a contract with one horse owner by riding for another, Winkfield accepted an offer to race in Russia, where he became a big star again. But by 1917 as the Bolsheviks and the Communists rose to power, racing suffered from its association with wealth and aristocracy. So Winkfield led 260 horses, trainers and owners overland to Poland; a journey the group survived by eating their horses on the way. He was married twice. His first wife, Alexandra, was a Russian baroness who died in 1920 or '21;...---Read More: image:

Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Jimmy Winkfield’s life was a rollercoaster of fame and obscurity, enduring racism, world war, death threats, and exile. While life was high he attained celebrity, wealth, and true love, though his two greatest romances were with horses, and his exiled home, the United States. Wink’s journey is an odyssey through history, tragedy, spunk, and old-fashioned American ingenuity….He won back-to-back Kentucky Derbies in 1901 and 1902-one of only four jockeys ever to do so. Wink’s Derby wins were also the high-water mark for black jockeys in America. At the turn of the century a combination of big money, violence by white jockeys, threats from the Ku Klux Klan, and racism forced the great black jockeys from U.S. racing. Jimmy Winkfield, out of options in his native America, bought a steamer ticket for Europe – where horse racing was still king and jockeys were celebrities. Read More:

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Winkfield’s ability to transform self and heritage into something new, was not done in a vacuum; it is something endemic; embedded into America’s fabric. But, America, -especially at the turn of the twentieth-century-has always had movements going from the center towards the margins that simply mimic in a new way old patterns of cultural imperialism and colonialism. As Bell Hooks has written, boundary crossing is a luxury for those with epistemic privilege, since, (Hooks) is “constantly amazed at how difficult it is to cross boundaries in this white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal society.” ( Outlaw Culture)

So, Winkfield is also a symbol of transgressive potential; A figure for thinking through racial identities and desires in new ways, while avoiding the commodification of race and blackness. Avoiding “the other” being turned into a commodity. As Bell Hooks wrote, in a racist patriarchal system, blacks who looked and acted most like whites stood the best chance of being appropriated into the society (though never as a true member). Embracing of liberal individualism resulted in “concrete rewards for assimilation.”( Outlaw Culture)

Shortly after arriving, Wink won the All-Russian Derby and the Czar’s Prize in Russia, then went on to win numerous other major purses in Europe. He became the dominant athlete in Czarist Russia’s only national sport, winning its national riding championship an unheard-of three times. He became fabulously wealthy, married a Russian heiress, and lived large in Moscow. But the Russian Revolution of 1917 drove the entire aristocratic horse racing community south to Odessa on the Black Sea….By 1940 he was training horses on the grounds of his villa outside Paris. Unfortunately, history was to again intervene in Wink’s life and livelihood. The Nazis were poised to occupy France. When German soldiers commandeered his property and confronted him at his own stables, Wink defended himself with a pitchfork. Once again, Wink was forced to flee in the face of historic catastrophe. Read More:
Bell Hooks:Anyone witnessing the current cultural and academic focus on race has to note the new way race is being talked about, as though it were in no way linked to cultural practices that reinforce and perpetuate racism, creating a gap between attitudes and actions. There is even a new terminology to signal the shift in direction: the buzz words are difference, the Other, hegemony, ethnography. It’s not that these words were not always around, but that now they are in style. Words like Other and difference are taking the place of commonly known words deemed uncool or too simplistic, words like oppression, exploitation, and domination. BlackI>white in some circles are becoming definite no-nos, perpetuating what some folks see as stale and meaningless binary oppositions. Separated from a political and historical context, ethnicity is being reconstituted as the new frontier, accessible to all, no passes or permits necessary, where attention can now be focused on the production of a privileged, commodifiable discourse in which race becomes synonymous with culture. There would be no need, however, for any unruly radical black folks to raise critical objections to the phenomenon if all this passionate focus on race were not so neatly divorced from a recognition of racism, of the continuing domination of blacks by whites, and (to use some of those out-of-date, uncool terms) of the continued suffering and pain in black life. Read More:

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