Muhammad Ali is gone and now the world has a hole in it. When I was a child my mom and several other adults in my neighborhood disliked this man who declared, “I am the greatest!” Back then, Nice Colored People never took on the “way things were” barefaced like Cassius Clay did. Then, he disrupted proper social order and changed his name to Muhammad Ali! Surely, he and that Rev. King in Georgia were going to get all of us in trouble in America. Women never talked back to their fathers and husbands either. That was sin in the skin! Until my early teens, I parroted my elders’ 1950’s ideas about race, color and gender as if they were my own. But they were not my own.
You see, being an introspective, wallflower of a girl, I believed that only men had “egos” which had to be dutifully tended like orchids by all the women in their lives–wives, sisters, girlfriends or whatever you were to the man. Oh, yes. Women were a “whatever”. Standing above and apart, I, the Princess Morally Puritan Purest of all, certainly did not have this “ego” that if in any way was insulted, would ruin me for life or something like in “Gremlins”.
Then, one day, click! I looked at the boxer; I listened to the boxer and I began to look closely at the so-called ancient wisdom about who I could never be or do. It seemed there was always some reason I could not succeed based on something I was born with:my skin was too dark; my hair was too kinky; my torso was too short; my feet were too flat; on and on.Then, to top it all off, I was born female. Doomed! Doomed forever to live chained to a man whose ego I had to stoke like a fireman on a steam engine.
Thanks to Mohammad Ali I re-examined all my hand-me-down beliefs and got abundantly clear about exactly what I did believe about race, gender roles, and most of all about my Self. Mirror, mirror on the wall; who has one of the biggest egoes of all? It was an ugly truth that began my journey of soul growth.
I do not agree with all Muhammad Ali’s ideas, but I certainly thank him for helping many of us de-mythologize our beliefs and de-colonize our minds. May you rest in peace, my brother. Salaam.