The Beautiful Black Arrogance of Muhammad Ali
It’s almost 4′oclock in the morning and I’m doing my usual late night/early morning/after the club food run before I go home. I’m in line waiting to order my usual bangin’ ass shrimp burrito with extra queso when I hear a conversation begin directly behind me. Normally around this time of night you hear some of the most ignorant, idiotic thoughts spoken into existence by all sorts of characters. This was not the case for this particular conversation because it just so happened to be about the greatest of all times, Muhammad Ali. Also, what made the conversation really interesting was that it was taking place between a young Latino male, white male, and a young black female who apparently all came to the establishment together. They all looked to be in their early to mid twenties, but were talking about Ali as if they’d grown up in his era. I eventually placed my order and quickly sought a position near the group to continue eavesdropping on the discussion.
The entire conversation centered on the legitimacy of Ali’s legacy and his legendary status as a worldwide boxing icon. The female participant adamantly and ferociously tried to explain to the two males that Ali’s legacy and life was deeper than boxing. I was waiting patiently for a chance to politely interject myself into the conversation when the Latino male turned to me and asked, “Would you honor or respect a coward or a traitor?!?” I knew instantly as soon as I heard the word “coward” what his angle was focused on. The white male added, “An arrogant traitor…” thusly giving me his perspective in just that short little remark. I quickly answered the question with a sharp “no” and attempted to enlighten the brothers on what the cataracts on their point of views prevented them from seeing and understanding.
The first thing that anyone mentions who is a strong opponent of Muhammad Ali is the issue of him refusing to be drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Alleged “patriots” of Ali’s time and obviously now view this as a blasphemous act against the American military and government. Most with this type of view point believe that with all the opportunities that America provides no one (especially those of color) should ever refuse a call from America to serve her. I explained to both men that there were three reasons why Ali refused induction into the United States Military to serve in Vietnam.
The first and most significant reason was because of his religious beliefs. Ali made it no secret that he was a full blown follower of the Nation of Islam and a devout student of Elijah Muhammad. Ali applied with the Selective Service for conscientious objector status on religious grounds as a minister with the Nation of Islam, but his application was promptly rejected and the legendary five year court case ensued. The second reason involved his ethical beliefs. Ali could not stomach or even begin to grasp the concept of serving a country that still openly oppressed people of color with its own domestic and foreign policies. Ali specifically stated,
“I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong… No Vietcong ever called me nigger! No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill, and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slave masters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end.”
Also, Ali believed that his service in Vietnam would be used as a propaganda tool for other men of color to join the military. He did not want the American government utilizing his celebrity to draw others to war simply because he was in their military ranks. Although military officials informed Ali that he would more than likely be used as an entertainer and a morale booster for the troops much like Joe Louis during WWII, Ali still could not bring himself to be used as a toll by the U.S. military.
The third and final reason why Ali refused to go to Vietnam is because he sincerely feared for his life. All of this was going on in the middle of the 1960′s, the most turbulent era for civil rights in American history. Ali was not only a dominant boxing threat in the ring, but he was shaping up to become a bona fide political threat through the Nation of Islam under his best friend and mentor, Malcolm X. When allowed by the Nation, Ali spoke to the people on everything from racism, Vietnam, and segregation. He sincerely believed that if the U.S. government could get him to Vietnam, he would be assassinated in an “accident.” I personally believe that he had real concerns when it came to this line of reasoning.
Consequently, I transitioned from informing them about the military draft situation to explaining Muhammad’s bombastic public persona because the white male felt that Ali should have had a more humble persona in public. I then had to explain the time period in which Ali grew up and in which he lived. All his life he’d seen black men be quiet and submissive to Caucasians and also referred to as “boy.” He also knew what it was like to be conditioned to think of yourself as being inferior and a part of an unattractive race of people. Muhammad’s outspoken, rebellious, unsubmissive, unapologetically black personality wasn’t his true nature being revealed because of his success. It was a character invented to help uplift his people into believing that they were never an inferior race of people and that you could demand respect from whomever you wanted to respect you. You also didn’t have to go along to get along with white people. You could live your life as you wanted without begging to be let into the white man’s world. Ali was the personification of pride engendering sayings like, “I’m black and I’m proud” and “Black is beautiful.” Furthermore, Ali was a showman. Let me not even try and play anyone into believing that some of his bravado wasn’t for fight marketing and promotional purposes because it was.
All in all, one of the most powerful things that anyone could ever see is a man seemingly making the all powerful look powerless. That’s what Muhammad Ali did for not just for black people but for all the poor, oppressed, viewed as inferior people all over the world. That is why he is revered as a man not as a fighter worldwide. After explaining Muhammad’s beautiful black arrogance to my little late night audience, I got a fist pump from the young lady and shoulder shrug “I guess so” from the two males. I don’t know if I was able to sway the dudes over to the “We Love Ali” side of the fence and I really don’t care. I just had to let them know that some people’s legends are not hype, especially when it comes to black super heroes such as Muhammad “The Greatest of All Times” Ali.