By Gordon Davis
What a Black man needed to do in Racist America. This is a question that we all face in one way or another. What does a woman need to do in a man’s world? What does an immigrant need to do in the land of majority natives?
Muhammad Ali is being buried today, June 10, 2016.
The death of Muhammad Ali compelled me to think of his experiences and the experiences of other Black men. Ali is a hard person to write about, as he was to say the least multi-faceted. It is a condition that our alienation from the society in which we live forces onto us.
I liked Sonny Liston in 1964. He was a Philly fighter, and I thought he would beat the crap out of the loud-mouthed self-promoter known as Cassius Clay. Clay, to a certain extent, reminded me of the buffoons that Black men had played in the movies in order to survive in a racist society.
It was quite a shock when Clay beat Liston.
Buffoons were not supposed to beat Philly fighters.
When Clay changed his name to Ali, he seemed to have intentionally alienated himself forever from what is now called mainstream society.
Ali joined a group that was calling for separate societies for Black and White folks. Almost everyone else, in the mainstream, called for an integrated society. He had this continuous contradiction in his life, as he had White friends and worked with White people in the boxing industry. He was able to maintain this contradiction better than other Black men, especially with his talent for boxing.
It was this ability that made him important to Black people: How to be defiant in a racist America without being beaten down to levels of great indignity.
We Black people admired him for this reason. In the bosses’ America all working people – who are the majority of Black people – live under the fear and threat of impoverishment for speaking out of turn or speaking truth to power. We only have to look at the fate of Worcester’s MOSAIC to see this. Every Black person in the City of Worcester knows this and has to some extent made compromises or sacrificed his/her dignity. Some of us have gone silent. Some of us pretend to love the boss. Others continue to fight against racism and economic injustice.
When Ali lost his ability to speak as a result of his illness, he could no longer defy the system of racial and economic injustices that all working class people face. It was during his last years of relative silence that bosses in American began to express their love for Ali.
I know that Ali was a charitable man and did good for humankind. Most of all, he gave us hope and was an example of defiance – without being beaten into shame and poverty.
He did it his way.