The Eulogy for Muhammad Ali
Brash, outspoken, controversial, flamboyant, a force of nature, a revelation, a Black cultural icon, a man of principle and power, a man born twice, a revolutionary and transformative individual, a poet, the greatest battle rapper of all time, The Greatest to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves, trunks and shoes, whatever you want to call Muhammad Ali, he is undeniably that, and much more.
The passing of The Greatest leaves an unfillable void in our cultural and social lives, one of the last links to Malcolm X and one of the most powerful voices against White Supremacy who ironically told crowds of young White people the unrefined truth, and they would laugh because they were used to his gregarious and candid character to sell fights. However, in these exchanges, Ali was not being a showman, but an activist. In his fight against the United States government who stood in direct opposition to his consciousness, he revealed that his tremendous heart was not just on display in the ring. In this battle, Muhammad Ali transcended boxing and he transcended sports, in his fight with the United States Army, Muhammad Ali became a legendary figure in not just sports history, but in American history. He became someone who Black America could collectively point to and say, look at his courage and his conviction, there is someone who we can strive to emulate. Even Martin Luther King Jr. (similarly a target of White silence and erasure after his death) who certainly did not share Ali’s religious beliefs was moved and inspired to voice and pen his own opposition against the War in Vietnam and the United States by observing The Champ’s constitution.
Muhammad Ali was our hero wrapped in melanin and he did not transcend race, he was only accepted by White people en masse when he could no longer brag and boast of how pretty he was, nor call to attention their racism and comfortableness with participating in oppression. It was only after Parkinson’s Disease had rendered his booming voice silent that the accolades from White America were dumped in his lap, and that is no coincidence. White America loves the concept of a humble, sweet, and docile Black athlete. God forbid they embrace their confidence, call themselves The Greatest, and call out American Imperialism and Global Interference in the lives of Brown skinned peoples. Ali rapped us verses that foreshadowed the confidence and the brashness of Tupac Shakur, Ali told truths that had all of the power and conviction of Malcolm X, Ali was the personification of the Black Experience in front of the cameras, especially during his exile from boxing when he could most freely express his most controversial thoughts. It was here that he took his fiercest stance against the hypocrisy of sending him and other Black people out of the country to give their blood and lives for a country that would not fight for him, and willingly oppressed Black people at every turn, demanding that Black people go out and oppress other darker skinned people because of “patriotism.”
The unvarnished, unbleached version of Muhammad Ali aligns him with Malcolm X, with the last years of the Martin Luther King that he inspired, with the Black Panther Party, with Angela Davis, as a product of and an exemplar of Black resistance against the hypocrisy and lunacy of the White media who attempted to cover him as though they knew who and what they were witnessing. To us, to Black people all across the world who are acquainted with the spirit, with the fight of Muhammad Ali, he was our education in the school of what confidence looked like in the face of distrust, with what courage looked like in the face of death, if not actual death then certainly the death of career and potentially his legacy in the hands of the American media. Muhammad Ali was a warrior in every sense of the word, an indomitable spirit, much like Malcolm X’s spirit that should be looked to as an inspiration as we continue to navigate this world that still wishes to squelch our fight against this corrupt and racist criminal justice system. Ali may have transcended to another life, but his legacy in this one will inspire us all to fight until our last breath.
Rest well, Muhammad. You will always be The Greatest.