Former Wagecuck. Now NEET master race...for now
- Dec 25, 2019
- 59d 25m
Ali was many fine things, but a champion of civil rights wasn’t among them.
When Ali was in his prime, the uninhibited “king of the world,” he was no expounder of brotherhood and racial broad-mindedness. On the contrary, he was an unabashed bigot and racial separatist and wasn’t shy about saying so.
In a wide-ranging 1968 interview with Bud Collins, the storied Boston Globe sports reporter, Ali insisted that it was as unnatural to expect blacks and whites to live together as it would be to expect humans to live with wild animals. “I don’t hate rattlesnakes, I don’t hate tigers — I just know I can’t get along with them,” he said. “I don’t want to try to eat with them or sleep with them.”
Collins asked: “You don’t think that we can ever get along?”
“I know whites and blacks cannot get along; this is nature,” Ali replied. That was why he liked George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor who was then running for president.
Collins wasn’t sure he’d heard right. “You like George Wallace?”
“Yes, sir,” said Ali. “I like what he says. He says Negroes shouldn’t force themselves in white neighborhoods, and white people shouldn’t have to move out of the neighborhood just because one Negro comes. Now that makes sense.”
This was not some inexplicable aberration. It reflected a hateful worldview that Ali, as a devotee of Elijah Muhammad and the segregationist Nation of Islam, espoused for years. At one point, he even appeared before a Ku Klux Klan rally. It was “a hell of a scene,” he later boasted — Klansmen with hoods, a burning cross, “and me on the platform,” preaching strict racial separation. “Black people should marry their own women,” Ali declaimed. “Bluebirds with bluebirds, red birds with red birds, pigeons with pigeons, eagles with eagles. God didn’t make no mistake!”
In 1975, amid the frenzy over the impending “Thrilla in Manila,” his third title fight with Joe Frazier, Ali argued vehemently in a Playboy interview that interracial couples ought to be lynched. “A black man should be killed if he’s messing with a white woman,” he said. And it was the same for a white man making a pass at a black woman. “We’ll kill anybody who tries to mess around with our women.” But suppose the black woman wanted to be with the white man, the interviewer asked. “Then she dies,” Ali answered. “Kill her too.”
Ali was contemptuous of black boxers, such as Frazier or Floyd Patterson, who didn’t share his racist outlook. His insults were often explicitly racial. He smeared Frazier as an “Uncle Tom” and a “gorilla” whose inferiority fueled stereotypes of black men as “ignorant, stupid, ugly, and smelly.”
Ali was many fine things. A champion of civil rights wasn’t among them. Martin Luther King Jr. at one point called him “a champion of segregation.” If, later in life, Ali abandoned his racist extremism, that is to his credit. It doesn’t, however, make him an exemplar of brotherhood and tolerance. And it doesn’t alter history: At the zenith of Ali’s career, when fans by the millions hung on his every word, what he often chose to tell them was indecent and grotesque.