The Black Scholar interviews: Muhammad Ali.
BLACK SCHOLAR: The heavyweight championship has always meant a lot to the champion's people--especially in the case of oppressed black Americans. But you have added a new dimension to the role of a champion. You fight for us both outside and inside the ring. What made you take a revolutionary stand against the war at the risk of your title in the ring and even imprisonment?
ALI: What's wrong with me going to jail for something I believe in? Boys are dying in Vietnam for something they don't believe.
I met two black soldiers a while back in an airport. They said: "Champ, it takes a lot of guts to do what you're doing." I told them: "Brothers, you just don't know. If you knew where you were going now, if you knew your chances of coming out with no arm or no eye, fighting those people in their own land, fighting Asian brothers, you got to shoot them, they never lynched you, never called you nigger, never put dogs on you, never shot your leaders. You've got to shoot your "enemies" (they call them) and as soon as you get home you won't be able to find a job. Going to jail for a few years is nothing compared to that."
We've gone too far to turn around. They've got to go on and either free me or put me in jail, because I'm going to go on just like I am, taking my stand. If I have to go to jail, if I have to die. I'm ready.
People are always asking me what I think about the draft. I wrote a little poem on it. I said:
Hell no, I ain't going to go. Clean out my cell And take my tail To jail Without bail Because it's better there eating, Watching television fed Than in Vietnam with your white folks dead.
BLACK SCHOLAR: Still, you have sacrificed and given up a lot already by most standards. How does it feel with your title gone, not being able to do the thing you have practiced most of your life, the thing you do best, probably better than any other heavyweight ever did?
ALI: Everything they did to me backfired on them. I'm supposed to be a has been by now. Three years after the title's gone, and I haven't made a dollar yet in boxing. And they had me about broke when I started, because the draft was always hitting me (for $290,000 altogether) trying to get justice in the courts.
As long as I was yelling: "I am the greatest" and my name was Cassius Clay. "I'm pretty." The army didn't want me. Two times they let me off. They whispered: "He's a little mentally off." They made a way to keep me out of the army. But then they heard I was a Muslim. They said: "That nigger ain't crazy." And they changed the whole draft law just to get me. Understand?
Then the first wife--a judge in Florida, just trying to keep a black man down, gave her a $150,000 alimony. Married eleven months, no children. I eventually won the case. I was right. But still I had to give up the money. And that was all after taxes; in all, it came to some $300,000. With court costs and lawyers fees and what not, it was $2,000,000 out of my pocket. Then they took the title unjustly. I'm supposed to be selling shoe strings and walking around somewhere broke. But I surprised them; I'm doing better.
I'm not protesting my title being taken away. I'm not even hanging around at the fights. Because I'm not depending on the white power structure and that boxing game for survival. Where they don't look at fighters to have brains or intelligence. Fighters are just brutes that come to entertain the rich. Beat up on each other and break each other's noses, show off like two little monkeys for the crowd, killing each other for the crowd. And half of the crowd is white. We're slaves in that ring. The masters get two of us big ones and let us fight it out while they bet, "My slave can beat your slave."
So they can't disappoint me. I mean
I made my play, And I'm going to go all the way.
So. I'm happy. I wake up happy. I go to bed happy. And if I go to jail tomorrow, I'll go to jail happy. Because eighty per cent of the prisoners in there are brothers. And they're waiting to be taught too. I'd convert the whole jail.
You only have two kinds of men, those who compromise and those who take a stand. And those who take a stand are those who get the respect.
Look at all of our black militant groups, all of the cowboy Negroes; it's those bad ones they make movies about. Jack Johnson was a man who married white women when Negroes couldn't even look at them. Walk down the street in Mississippi with two of them. They didn't like it, but they make movies about it now. The Great White Hope spents millions of dollars to revise those old cities. So we don't really lose by taking stands. But the tragedy of the life of the black man today is not only because he's just surrounded by poverty. He lacks self-motivation and mental awareness.
BLACK SCHOLAR: Could you elaborate on that a bit? Then we want to get back to the woman question in some detail. But first, could you rap a bit, expound, on this brainwashing of black folk's minds?
ALI: It all goes back to slavery. The white slavemaster taught the slaves to love black and hate whites. Everything good was white, starting December the 24th. Our mamas work all the year to buy us toys and choo-choo trains and dolls and skates. And we say: "Mommy, where did these toys come from?" And she says: "Santa Claus brought it for you, Baby." A fat, rosy-cheeked white man.
And unconsciously, the first thing that we can recall in our lives, the first time anybody did anything good for us is when this fat, rosy-cheeked, white man said, "Ho ho, ho. Merry Christmas. Ho, ho, ho."
Then they got another lie for us, as soon as we get in school. "Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow." Then we learn all about Snow White. Everything good was white. This brainwashed the slaves. And this has led to racial conflict today. They taught you to love them. Now you want to be with them, and they are busting you beside the head. He's the one that told you he was best, so you just want to eat with him, want to sleep with him, want to marry him, want to go to school with him. Because Jesus looks just like him, same long hair, blonde hair, blue eyes. Some of these hippies look just like the picture of Jesus. Everybody on the picture of the Lord's Supper looks like Jesus. Even all the angels in Heaven were made white. Now what happened to the black angels when they died and went to Heaven? I imagine that they were in Heaven in the kitchen preparing the milk and honey.
Everything of authority, all the poor little black people in Sunday School, see, is white. "There she goes, Miss America." With all these beautiful, sun-tanned black women. Miss America stays on Miami Beach for four hours, just enough to make the show--and we got it for real--and think Miss America is the prettiest. Brainwashed.
Miss Universe is white. Here we haven't even been on Mars and Venus to see the color of the people there. They may be polka dot. But you already got Miss Universe white. Tarzan, the king of the jungle in Africa. Check this thing out. Here's a white man, swinging in Africa with a white woman. And you're down in Georgia, not knowing any better. You really believe there's a white man who's king of the jungle.
I've been all over Africa. The people are so civilized in Africa, the police don't even carry guns. Over here they have machine guns, dogs, the savages in America. They had you brainwashed watching Tarzan. Had me not wanting to be with Africans, and had them not wanting to be with Negroes. Everything good is made white. White owl cigars. TV commercials --white swan soap. White crown tissue paper. White ... wheeewww ... "it's a white tornado." Who ever heard of a white tornado? Tornadoes are black. And they do a whole lot of damage. The good cowboys ride the white horses. The president lives in the White House. Angel food cake is white; devil food cake is chocolate. How come the bad cake is chocolate? How come the white cake can't be the devil food cake? You go and get two dips of ice cream. Say: "give me a dip of chocolate and a dip of vanilla." I bet you a hundred dollars every time they'll put the dip of vanilla on top.
BLACK SCHOLAR: Why do you suppose they developed all of that?
ALI: Well, we weren't brought here to be citizens in white America. The intention was for us to work for them--and like it. They mated us up, the more the merrier. The big black slave was called the buck. "This nigger slave can breed fifteen babies a month!" And as soon as the baby was born, it was separated from the mother. And that was the making of your "negro." He was a mental slave. And that's the people we still have in America today.
That's how the old slavemaster ruled the first black people. Gave him some old shoes and an old shirt and he would say, "Thank you, master. You sure is good to me." You understand? See, black people were mentally imprisoned. If a baby is born in prison, never knew his mother, never knew his father, never knew freedom. Never knew justice, never knew equality. And the jailer or the warden gives him a bone or two, a piece of bread. He'll start saying, "Oh, he's so good to me." But once a man knows real freedom, real justice, real equality; knows his name, knows his language; it's hard to keep him a slave. Just like the first slaves. Nat Turner. Some of those black people were badder than these militants now. Miss Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth--traveled from the North and the South, way back in the old horse and wagon days, back and forth, freeing black people. Wanting to get home.
During this process, old Frankenstein (the Negro slave the slavemaster made) got a little too much juice in him, too much electricity and wanted more. He became black on the outside but white on the inside, and he said, "I want what you want. Understand?" A while back,
They had him waiting until he die To by and by get his out of the sky But he's getting hipped to that lie.
So now today this four hundred year old slave has been made the consumer and not the producer. And he's been in this condition, so that now he expects others to do for him that which he could do and should do for himself. This is why black people are so disappointed today. When you put your whole trust and your whole future in another people, then you're putting yourself in a position to be disappointed and deceived. Yon cannot disappoint me. You cannot deceive me if I'm not looking for anything from you.
BLACK SCHOLAR: Speaking of disappointment and tragedy, a while back you mentioned lack Johnson. In some ways your careers parallel each other; in others they are very different. What about Jack Johnson, a rebel in his own way, though apparently not nearly so political in the struggles he waged as you?
ALI: We have a lot of different types of people fighting this thing, trying to get free. We have some who think integration will solve it. Some black power. Some intermarriage. Some separation. We're all black, fighting the same white oppressor. The goal is the same--freedom, justice and equality for our people. We're not trying to attack one another, since we all want freedom. But we've got to chastize a brother when we think he's doing wrong.
They wanted me to play The Great White Hope in a movie. $850,000 guaranteed, after taxes on Broadway and $1,200,000 to make the movie. I said: "Man, I can't be hugging on no white ladies, not even acting." Because some people will believe it. Jack Johnson--here he was the baddest fighter in the world (I'm the baddest man that ever lived)--and some little old stringy-haired white girl. I'm ducking bullets, running out of the country with her like she's something great. Even gave up my title for her and left the country for my white woman. And what's the child in the movie looking at? "Oh, boy, I've got to get me one." Guess who's coming to dinner? "We're having a Negro for dinner. They're going to accept me into the family." I wouldn't even take the role, although it would have made me rich. I didn't even take that Broadway musical until I had changed the whole script. Singing them "mighty whitey" songs.
You've had us in your lock, tight as any cage, And now you're acting shocked, we're in a rage; Us on the bottom, with you on top. That's just a game that we aim to stop. That's all over now, Mighty Whitey. That's all over now.
We didn't last on Broadway but six days. You understand?
BLACK SCHOLAR: What's wrong with most of the other black celebrities, in your view? Are they failing their roles? And if so, what should they be doing differently?
ALI: We black people could become free sooner than you think, if all the athletes and entertainers just took a stand--the famous ball players and the rock and roll artists, the big ones--took a walk through the ghetto one day and told the white man, "We're with these people and we ain't going to sell out any more."
I'm getting together a dope-addict program, rehabilitating addicts. And there are some black welfare women in Los Angeles who want my help because they don't have clothes, but they can't get the money. All they've got is the seven dollars a week the government gives them to live on. Me and Joe could put on one boxing exhibition and get them more sewing machines than they could use in a lifetime.
The same with black entertainers. It's sickening to me to watch Barbara McNair. Leslie Uggams. These women on TV. Walk right out and kiss some white man right in the mouth. P-f-ft. Aw, she's so happy to be on television with a white man. I get mad and cut the TV off. The Supremes. All of them get great singing black songs. And as soon as they get great they go where you can't see them anymore. They start singing all of those old offbeat white songs --"Swaneeee River."
I'm as big as you can get in fame and sports. (The next title to that you can get is President of the United States). And I'm so black, man, I don't care. I'm not going to compromise. I'm not going to do anything to mislead my people. I get pleasure out of walking down the alleys, walking through the ghettos, walking up to little black children. "Say, man, I'm going to beat your head."
"Cassius Clay! Mommy, here's Cassius." The whole neighborhood comes out. They haven't ever seen a celebrity sitting on the garbage can with them. That makes them feel good and it makes me feel good too.
BLACK SCHOLAR: So you see black celebrities as occupying a crucial position.
ALI: Most blacks can protest and the news won't even get in the paper, let alone leave the country. But Arthur Ashe, for example, can raise a lot of hell. Lou Alcindor can raise a lot of hell. Jim Brown, the football player. Bill Russell, the basketball player. Those kinds of people. The Temptations. The Four Tops. Marvin Gaye. All of those big names. James Brown the singer.
Go on and join something. If it isn't the Muslims, at least join the Black Panthers. Join something bad. Because black people look up to athletes and entertainers. That's right. We look up to them. So the white man uses them to lead the little ones because the world is watching the big ones.
The reason I'm putting emphasis on this is because I hate to see black women and black men--once they get prestige and greatness, where they can go into ghettos and pick up little black babies and make them feel good, and once they big, to go leave and marry somebody else and put the money in that race. That makes me so mad. People like Lou Rawls and Eartha Kitt and Leslie Uggams.
I know these Negroes. Floyd Patterson --and his first wife, Sandra. A pretty black wife and four beautiful children. He quit her and went all the way to Sweden to marry a white woman. (That's why I gave him such a good whuppin'.)
Now the white man's got the heavyweight champion--Joe Frazier's got a white girl friend. She's in his training camp all the time. When he's singing in those night clubs. I went up and caught him one night. I'm not condemning white women, white women are beautiful--for white men.
BLACK SCHOLAR: Do you feel that you could give Joe Frazier a whuppin' too?
ALI: Let's put it like this:
Ali comes out to meet Frazier, but Frazier starts to retreat; If Frazier goes back an inch farther, he'll wind up in a ringside seat; Ali swings with a left, All swings with a right, Look at the kid carry the fight. Frazier keeps backin', but there's not enough room; It's a matter of time before Ali lowers the boom; Now Ali lands with a right, what a beautiful swing. But the punch lifts Frazier dean out of the ring. Frazier's still risin', but the referee wears a frown, 'Cause he can't start countin' 'til Frazier comes down. Now Frazier disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic; Our radar stations have picked him up. He's somewhere over the Atlantic. Who would have thought when they came to fight That they would witness the launching of a black satellite? Yes, the crowd did not dream when they laid down their money That All would retire Frazier and Sonny. Frazier came out smoking, and All wasn't joking. He was peckin' and a pokin', pourin' water on his smokin'. It might shock and amaze ya, But Ali destroyed Frazier.
BLACK SCHOLAR: Frazier's fate seems clear enough. At the University of Indiana, you once made an arrogant white boy in the audience apologize for cursing in front of a black woman. What changes should be made in the relations between black men and black women?
ALI: Number one: all of our black groups that are radical should go looking for pimps and catch them and give them a good whuppin.' They are dirty and they are low. They take pretty black sisters and get them in love with them. Nice girls, I know. I travel from coast to coast everyday.
They aren't anything but boys. "My woman take care a me." That's a big thing to them. "Man, I got me four whores." Bragging because some woman takes care of them. Can't even take care of themselves. Let some white men call them boys. That's the way they talk. I'm telling the truth. We can tell it. The truth makes you free. We are just going to get to the root of the problem. We've got to protect our women. The white man goes in the building, the hotel, with a black woman and comes out and the Negroes are still on the corner. They don't even protest. Don't even throw a rock at the car when he drives off. They don't do a thing. Do something about it. If you're scared, kick the door and run. Let him know you know he's in the room and you don't like it. Do something.
Now picture a black man--I don't care what part of the North you are in--in a white neighborhood, with a white woman. Goes to an all-white motel, walks past twenty white men. Checks in the room. And the next day you will read about him.
Everybody protects their women but the so-called Negro men in America. You mess over a Japanese woman or a Puerto Rican woman, man, they'll read about you. Everybody protects their women.
That's what the Honorable Elijah Muhummad teaches us. He teaches us that black people will never be anything until they protect their women. He teaches us that a woman is the field that produces a man's nation. If he doesn't protect his field, he'll produce a bad nation. He says a farmer goes out and protects his food with chemicals. He sprays ,his cabbage, his beans, his corn, looking to kill any worm, any insect that he finds destroying his crops. We put scarecrows up in our fields to frighten the enemies away from our crops. We shoot one another over our crops. Now how much more important is your mama, your sister and your daughter and your wife than your cabbage and your corn? She's the field which produces your children.
See, like I'm no fool.
I told you the exact round The clown would hit the ground.
Everything I've done. When I didn't go to Vietnam, I was by myself almost. Now everybody is against it. Right? I wasn't wrong then. I used to always say: "I'm pretty." "I'm beautiful." And now all the black folk have signs saying "black is beautiful." They're just now getting around to seeing it. But I saw it many years ago because I follow the real leader.
BLACK SCHOLAR: Your year's suspension from the Nation of Islam is about up now, isn't it?
ALI: Yes, I'm under a year's suspension because I said I was going back to boxing just for the money. As if to say that my god and what I believe can't take care of me. I cannot talk to any Muslim in the country, or go to any meetings. They will not speak to me on the street. They have nothing to say to me until I'm back in good standing. This is what makes the Honorable Elijah Muhammad so great. There's no favoritism. This is what destroys more religions and more movements: the leader has a couple of people he'll let do a few things because they are famous or have a lot of money and the rest of the followers are punished. People who Elijah Muhammad will down quicker than anybody arc his famous followers. I know brothers that get put out of the movement constantly for committing adultery and fornicating with people they are not married to.
BLACK SCHOLAR: We notice that, while colleges and universities have entire schools of theology, they tend to leave Mr. Muhammad out of even the black studies programs.
ALI: A lot of blacks don't follow him because he's here to straighten them out. They like leaders when they are dead. If Elijah Muhammad died tomorrow, he'd be the biggest thing in the world. Because the white press could take what he said and say, "Naw, he didn't mean that." "It's all right to go out and get a little if your wife doesn't know it." I know what they are like. They don't want to be righteous. But don't argue and condemn. Just say: "I'm not ready for the strict laws." Don't find fault in the man. Because he's for you. He loves black people. He doesn't even get to come out on the street. Everyday he's working for black people, writing his newspaper columns. Sending lectures to all of his temples. Business forms. His house stays full of foreign ambassadors. People from the UN come to Elijah Muhammad's house everyday. White people stop in front of his house on sightseeing buses. These are white people, hoping they can get a glimpse of him. And the Negro preachers next door to him don't like him.
A lot of white people know more about Muslims than black people do. They know more about the Islamic religion and it's our religion. They don't tell you anything about it. You'd be surprised. They hide things that they don't want you to have. Anybody for you ain't no good. I'm a bad nigger now. That's because I'm for you all the way. I'm no good anymore. I can't box in any state. The Las Vegas commissioner last week--somebody tried to get me a license. He said: "He can't come out here to fight. He might corrupt the city." Now how can I corrupt Las Vegas?
I go into college dormitories everyday. (To show you how we've been brainwashed.) I see everybody's picture on the wall but Elijah Muhammad's. I see Rap Brown. I see Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Martin Luther King, Abernathy. I see Muhammad Ali. Stokely Carmichael. You don't see Elijah Muhammad's picture up there as someone who has done something for black people. He's clone more in every city for feeding and clothing and changing pimp-players and wineheads. They don't put his picture on the wall. Converting sissies, dope addicts, whores, players, doctors, lawyers. Anybody around will admit that the Muslims are the most unified and the cleanest people in the country. But he's one leader that you're never told about.
In Chicago, he's printing his own Muhammad Speaks newspaper. Every week, one million and five hundred thousand copies. Putting it out in color with his own printing machines. With his own brothers printing the newspaper. You don't read anything about that. Why is his picture not on the wall?
Because the white man doesn't endorse him. If the white man said tomorrow that Elijah Muhammad is the Moses, he's the one you black people should follow, he's going to put him on Life magazine, on Time magazine, black folk will like Elijah Muhammad.
I'm not fussing, but I've got to recognize the real leader, the one who started all of it. If I mean right, if I'm not envious, if I don't want to be the leader, why not recognize the leader? You know all about everybody Elijah taught, but you don't know him. Why?
BLACK SCHOLAR: YOU have certainly done your part to help make his teaching known and to fight an unjust draft.
ALI: Yeah, that's my life now, my satisfaction. Frazier and Ellis fought for my old job. My new job is freedom, justice and equality for black folks, to bring them the knowledge of their true selves.
BLACK SCHOLAR: History will never forgive white America for barring you from the ring, Ali, and it will also ask if we blacks were really too impotent to do anything about it. Or maybe soon--if you don't get justice in the Supreme Court--we will be left with no other choice.
ALI: Well I've caught so much hell from the white power structure and the boxing authorities when I said I had no quarrel with Vietnam and that I am the greatest. I was moderate then. But I'm not fighting now. It's all over now.
I was determined to be one nigger that the white man didn't get. One nigger, that you didn't get, white man. You understand? One nigger, you ain't going to get. One nigger you ain't going to get.
That was then when I was fighting and still moderate. But I'm not fighting anymore. And I can really raise hell now. I've got some ideas, and they haven't seen anything like they're going to see now.
Despite all this, boxing has fallen into disfavor--into very great disfavor.
The cause is clear: Jack Johnson ... has outsparred an Irishman. He did it with little brutality, utmost fairness and great good nature. He did not "knock" his opponent senseless. Apparently he did not even try. Neither he nor his race invented prize fighting or particularly like it.
Why then this thrill of national disgust? Because Johnson is black. Of course some pretend to object to Mr. Johnson's character. But we have yet to hear, in the case of white America, that marital troubles have disqualified prize fighters or ball players or even statesmen. It comes down, then, after all to this unforgivable blackness. Wherefore we conclude that at present prize fighting is very, very immoral, and that we must rely on football and war for pastimes until Mr. Johnson retires or permits himself to be 'knocked out.'
--W. E. B. DuBois, from "The Crisis," 1914
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Black Scholar|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2012|
|Previous Article:||The origins of modern jazz dance.|
|Next Article:||The Black Scholar interviews: C.L.R. James.|