WORDS: MISTY SOL
I can’t say I like sports. Well, I don’t like sports. I’m sorry. I just kinda don’t. Except maybe boxing. Boxing is such a direct metaphor: the lone soldier out there with nothing but his wits, his dignity and his hands.
That’s the way the Americans tell the story anyway. There’s just one hero, one great warrior to free us all, while the cruel masters watch. You ever read that scene in Black Boy where Richard Wright describes being goaded into fighting by the white bosses who use a mixture of threat and promise of prizes? Savage.
I suppose that’s why I like boxing. It’s always been racialized. When Black men were finally able to compete in the international arena of boxing all hell broke loose. Part of our tradition of fighting is oration, shit talking, bodacious statements both in and out of the ring. This statement can be verified in 15 minutes on YouTube. For example:
When a reporter asked Jack Johnson why white women were attracted to Black men like him, he responded:
“We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts ….”
What? My response today is choking on my tea. I spit all over the computer screen when I heard that shit. This is 2016. Can you imagine that white reporter’s response in 1916? You know they had to pick him up off the floor.
The United States government was so freaked out by the combination of this man’s fists, penis, and wit, the Chicago District Attorney charged him with a federal crime for dating and being seen with white women. The law, rumored to have been crafted with him in mind, was even nicknamed the White Slave Traffic Act.
Now some would ask: “Misty, what’s so great about Johnson messing around with white women?”
Well, for one, he didn’t exclusively date white women. His first wife was Black and so were many of his girlfriends. But that’s not the point. I’m simply delighted by how much his whole steez must have fucked with racists’ headz back then. He spoke like a poet, made more money than he could spend and he would slowly, elegantly, cheerfully, beat the SHIT out of scores of white men- on international television. In the 1910s!
I’m sorry. That’s just awesome. The fact that they felt the need to make a law to protect white women from this nigga’s dick size is just icing on the cake. AND the clan never got to him. Now if I wasn’t ecstatic about that, I’d just be the world’s biggest hater.
But, the all time greatest…The greatest of all time was Muhammad Ali, destroyer of the Microaggression.
Microaggression? You ask: What is that?
In plain terms, its poppin fly.
It’s disrespect. Putting somebody in their place. It’s “have a seat” in a racial way I mean or a sexual way but it’s a threat, right? It’s a slight you can’t put your finger on. Or is it a joke? It’s just a little rub. A little jibe. It’s a lol. It’s a psych don’t be so uptight. Don’t be so defensive. I’m just playin.
But you know and I know it’s not playing. It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt, or denied housing or employment, or lynched or raped and these so called microaggressions are meant to remind us of that reality. Stay in your place or else. And we have to take it. Swallow it day after got damned day and pretend we don’t see it. Well, guess what? There was a man who wasn’t for that; a Black man who would tolerate none of that shit; none of that snarky, sideways, pleasant, I’ll sell your children with a smile, Ellen Degeneres, daytime talk show host, nice white people racist shit.
There was a man that was too intelligent, rich, connected, and physically imposing not to keep it all the way 100. My main man Muhammad. Ali if you didn’t know. He hung out with Malcolm X and he talked shit to some of the most dangerous men on the planet. He fought George Foreman’s big ass. Twice. The man stood up to the United States Military Industrial complex and basically said: Deez Nutz.
When Muhammad Ali appeared on television he was always dignified, intellectually sharp and took no shit. In the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of 1974 comedian Don Rickles, began speaking to him in a Kingfish type stereotypical Black voice. It’s like when white people throw in a “sista girl” voice just for effect when they talk to you and you know they don’t really talk like that. It’s meant to be mocking. Muhammad Ali put that whole act on pause.
“You about as dumb as you look. Why you talk like that? You can still talk how you supposed to talk. If you met an Italian do you speak in Italian?”
So simple. Pause. I see you. Cut it the hell out. It’s offensive. Plus, you sound fucking ridiculous.
When this jerk continued in his nigger impression, Ali did what any self-respecting person would do: be cool and keep it moving. The whole point of this micro-insult was to goad Ali into a macro reaction. A fight. Then begin the microinvalidations where he would have been charged with being an “angry Black” But Ali was a strategist: very particular about choosing his bouts, opponents, dates and venues. He fought on his own terms and dude clearly wasn’t worthy.
In one of his most famous series of interviews, “The Parkinson Interviews” on national British Television, host Matt Parkinson tried to surprise Muhammad Ali by asking questions from a newly released book about the fighter written by one of his white associates. He asked Muhammad Ali about his contradictions. Mainly he wanted to know if Ali really believed all white people were devils and, if so, why did he have white friends? Huge microinvalidation. Because it not only called Ali a walking contradiction, a hypocrite, but the worst implication of Parkinson’s statement was that it denied the reality of the people’s experiences of systematized slavery, colonialism, and genocide by direct action or collusion or benefit of the entire fucking western world. It sought to do so on national, no, international television. Yoooo! Ali snapped! I had never and have not since seen that type of verbal beat down to the face on television. Ali had the right venue and this time he went in. 3 important things he said in response:
1. You can’t beat me mentally or physically.
2. You are too small mentally to tackle me on anything that I represent.
And pay close attention to the third thing. Because it’s key to Ali’s fighting style. He talks about it in another interview when he tells us he isn’t a brutal fighter. How he doesn’t just mercilessly punish his opponents. And how when he’s not winning, he knows the art of retreat, the dance, the show. In the interview, he retreated. He delayed the knockout punch so that the conversation could continue. And sometimes, we need to do that. Sometimes we are in situations when we have reason to continue the conversation with a microaggressor. He is conscious of the power of the particular platform the Parkinson interviews provide.
Ali thanked the host for challenging him to think on his feet and for giving him the opportunity to use The Parkinson Show to speak directly to his people. After he wilded allllll the way out on this dude he skillfully redirected the conversation to a comfortable vibration. He said many things. The content of his entire interview outside of the historical context and political climate is not my point of focus. I am aware that many of his views were controversial and have come under recent scrutiny. However, I understand that his philosophy was a radical and effective vehicle for Ali and millions of other Black people to engage with struggle, liberation, cultural reform, and reconnection.
Ali loved himself, his creator, and his people like a braveheart. Check out some of his interviews online when you get a chance. Unlike the shallow character in that terrible biopic, he was a warrior both in and out of the ring and his true arch nemesis was the white supremacist power structure. He wasn’t just a shit talking boxer, but something more like a preacher/philosopher/battle rapper/professor and destroyer of microaggressions.