#Mohammed Ali

Guest Post on Mohammed Ali by Herbie, St Albans

If the Bay of Pigs can be seen as a straight right hand to the psychological jaw of White America, then the Las Vegas defeat of the {black Christian} Floyd Patterson by {the black Muslim}  Ali was a perfect left hook to the gut”.——-

The heavyweight champion is a symbol of masculinity to the American male. And a Black champion, as long as he is firmly fettered in his private life, is a fallen lion at every white man’s feet. Through a curious psychic mechanism, the puniest white man experiences himself as a giant killer, as a superman, a great white hunter leading a gigantic ape, the black champion tamed by the white man, around on a leash. But when the ape breaks away from the leash, beats his deadly fists on his massive chest and starts talking to boot, proclaiming himself to be the greatest , spouting poetry and , and annihilating every gun bearer the white hunter puts on him { the white hunter  not being disposed to crawl in the ring himself } a very serious slippage takes place in the white mans self-image – “that by which he defined himself  no longer has a recognisable identity. “IF THAT BLACK APE IS A MAN,” the white hunter asks himself,

“THEN WHAT AM I”.

ELDRIDGE CLEAVER  : ‘SOUL ON ICE’.

MUHAMMED ALI:

UNFORGIVABLY BLACK

Muhammed Ali understood the psychopathology of boxing, its racist metaphor and  tapestry in the  American cultural quilt. he exploited it to the hilt. Right now that Black Power activism may not fit neatly into the outpouring of grief, respect and reflection in the coming days and weeks after his death only two Fridays ago at age 74. but it is one of the most crucial and enduring parts of a legacy that shaped the world.

By the late 1960s, Ali’s unforgiveable blackness  helped him emerge as a transcendent and global figure of black liberation, in doing so became more “black” than James Brown – the godfather of soul. He possessed more charisma than his friends Stokely Carmichael [ Kwame Ture} and Hubert Rap Brown {later Jamil al-Amin} who both tutored the heavyweight champion on the nuances of his own groundbreaking anti-war activism. He proved more accessible than Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, who gave Ali his name as part of a successful effort to pry the young champion from the grips of his most important mentor, Malcolm X.

Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X were, like the title of the recent electrifying history of their friendship, Blood Brothers, whose shared reputations as trouble-makers hid profound intellectual energies and supple understanding of America’s racial politics.

Malcolm’s own star power helped shape Ali’s introduction to the world following his ascension to heavyweight champion in 1964. The two men conducted a public media tour of sorts, grabbing lunch in Harlem, touring the United Nations and verbally sparring with the large media contingent that trailed their every move.


Privately, Malcolm had attempted to school the young Ali on the nuances of the Islamic faith, the contradictions of the Nation of Islam and the burdens of public fame and celebrity. Malcolm taught Ali how to speak truth to power by any means necessary.

This lesson proved fatal in Malcolm’s case, when former colleagues, including Ali himself, shunned him after he left the Nation of Islam. on individual trips to Ghana both meet at the Ambassador Hotel. the one time obsequious gofer chastised his supreme captain{ as was one of Malcolm’s titles} for “betraying Elijah Muhammad”. ——

Talking of Ghana,In  Kumasi, its second largest city Muhammad Ali, was feted. My late iliiterate Grandmother, I am told, joined the kerbside throng and swooned over Muhammed Ali.  My late dad wh was in Britain at that time was so fond of Ali he  had a compendium of his memorabilla, bibliographies’ and I in turn autodidact developed an autodidact love of unnecessary trivia. continued to update this library and I grew up being fed ncyclopaedic facts and figures of  this ballet dancing batterer and his political career, like grain down a foie gras

but I digress.

 

Ali would publicly regret not having stood by his mentor’s side in later years. Tutored by the Black Power Movement’s most revolutionary symbol, however, Ali would find himself unwittingly taking Malcolm’s place as America’s most well-known black Muslim.

Ali’s religious beliefs and Nation of Islam membership sparked a national controversy. White promoters and business interests, who controlled much of the boxing establishment, threatened to cancel future fights. Many journalists defiantly referred to the heavy-weight champ by what he labeled “my slave name” of Cassius Clay. Ali insisted that reporters and boxers “say my name” — including former Cleveland Williams and Ernie Terrell both whom he defeated in humiliating fashion for failing to do so.

In the process, Ali paved the way for a generation of black athletes — most notably Basketball Hall of Famer, Lew Alcindor— to unapologetically embrace their political and religious beliefs and adopt a proud new racial identity and a new name: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Black Power radicalism framed Ali’s decision to refuse the draft. Stokely Carmichael, who was then chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and friend of Ali, popularized chants of “Hell no, we won’t go!” in explosive speeches around the nation. Martin Luther King Jr. soon followed Ali and Carmichael, lending gravitas to the burgeoning anti-war movement through his Riverside Church speech on April 4, 1967 in New York City.

Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the military shortly after turned resistance against the Vietnam War into a movement that transcended boundaries between sports and politics.

In the aftermath of defeating Sonny Liston in 1964, when Ali became heavyweight champion of the world, he famously remarked, “I shook up the world!” Ali’s words anticipated the global response to his anti-war stance, actions that were shaped by his growing participation in the Black Power Movement.

Stripped of his livelihood as a boxer and denied legal protection of being a conscientious objector, Ali went on the offensive. He defiantly confronted the U.S. foreign policy establishment. He outraged U.S. public officials by declaring that the Vietnamese people never “called me a nigger.”

Ali echoed Black Power activists’ critique of American hegemony. He challenged the usefulness of the Cold War as an organizing international principle, and stood in solidarity with the “Third World” against foreign intervention.

Ali became the most visible symbol of Black Power’s radical critique of American imperialism, structural racism and white supremacy. Like the early Malcolm X, he used the Nation of Islam’s belief in racial separatism as a shield against the political violence associated with efforts at racial integration. He wielded black history as a sword against white claims of racial inferiority.

Ali embraced the rough edges and the plainer surfaces of black identity in a manner that was unapologetically, at times unforgivably, black. Captivating the student body at Howard University, Ali ridiculed the oppressive breadth of white supremacy in popular culture, noting how “even the King of the Jungle, Tarzan in black Africa is white!” He then quipped that in heaven, black people were in the kitchen fixing the “milk and honey” for their white counterparts to eat.

Black Power shaped Ali’s global political imagination, offering him a framework to link his religious beliefs, athletic gifts, and outspoken personality. His odyssey helped fuel campus protests, emboldened medal-winning black athletes to raise defiant black-gloved fists at the Mexico City Olympics of 1968, brought anti-war sentiment into American living rooms and contoured wider debates over race and democracy that endure to this day.

Ali never rejected his political radicalism; he merely refined it. He incorporated many themes of his youthful activism into his career as a human-rights activist, philanthropist and global ambassador.

In old age, Ali became a universal icon — one whose legend at times stubbornly resisted the facts of his complicated legacy.

HERBERT AYEMANG

FREE-LANCE WRITER

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