The moment that I learned that Muhammad Ali, renown civil rights activist and world champion boxer, passed away will be one that I will be able to recall 20 years from now. I know he had been dealing with Parkinson’s and other health issues for quite a while, but I must say, this is quite a blow to the gut...no pun intended. This year has seen so many people die, many before their time. It is as if Game of Thrones prepared us for the trauma of losing our beloved actors, musicians, architects, and hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian refugees and Nigerian countrymen. I just wish we had dragons to ride. That might be good therapy, except for the people whose houses would inevitably be hit with flying dragon poop.
Anyway, to honor the passing of Muhammad Ali, I am going to honor him in a way that I only know how. I am going to punch anyone who says or insinuates that he “transcended race”.
This happens every time someone famous and black dies: someone in the _____ Times or _____ Post or _____ Caller writes an obituary and claims that the famous black person “transcended race”, as if race is a thing that can be transcended. When these celebrities were alive, people reminded them all the time of their race, because any accolades bestowed upon them usually started with the best black “_____” in his/her field. Prince was a successful black artist until he died, and then he transcended race. The same was said of Vanity, one of Prince’s many proteges. Michael Jackson supposedly transcended race. James Brown, too. The same was said of Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire. Now you’d think that just having the surname of “White”, he had already transcended race, but perhaps his middle name was “Is Most Definitely Not”, so he had to die to transcend race.
The term “transcend race” is quite dubious. It sounds like a thing that you can do to upgrade yourself from a certain plane of existence. Maybe when you transcend race, you get special superpowers or something, as if people of color are ethnic Pokemon, and once we “transcend race” we get unlimited Privilege Mana or something. Our loan interest rates will be 10% lower than before. We can wear hoodies in residential neighborhoods without having to worry about getting shot by portly gun-toting wife beaters. We can hail cabs in any city...with our MINDS! No one will ask to touch our hair, because it’s transcended. Best of all, we won’t have to ask dumb questions about our ethnic group, as though we are the ambassadors to our perceived hive mind of The Coloreds.
Sadly, “Transcending race” means that enough white people liked what we did in life that they somehow forgot to be initially afraid of us, but they would probably call the cops on our non-famous relatives and friends in a heartbeat. Maybe they would even call the police on us. Just ask Etan Thomas. A white woman didn’t recognize that he was an NBA star, and wouldn’t let him sit next to her on a train, but two minutes later, she let a white man sit next to her. It’s OK, though, because the conductor was called, and his knowledge of Etan’s fame transcended the woman’s.
Regardless, the major flaw of transcending race is not that you don’t get Privilege powers when you unlock the achievement. It’s that you have to die to achieve the status.
For these reasons, it is time to honor the great Muhammad Ali by throwing blows when someone says he “transcended race”. Why did Ali’s death inspire this tribute? Because of all the brown people who have died in the last 10 years who “transcended race”, Muhammad Ali transcended it the least. He was born in his race. He relished in it. He embraced it with as much fervor as he did his boxing career. He’s like Bane of black people. Imagine him in a boxing ring in Gotham after punching out William F. Buckley in an ill-fitting Batman costume, taking the microphone and announcing, “Embrace your blackness, Gotham! Do not apologize for it.” When he changed his name, he vehemently admonished anyone who dared call him Cassius Clay. Muhammad Ali reminded you all the time that he was black. When he conscientiously objected to the draft, he didn’t run to Canada. He stood on his principals and said that he was not going to fight an “enemy” 1000 miles away. His enemy was right here in the United States, and it was the United States hypocritical justice system. He shut down people who accused him of being arrogant. When a woman called him arrogant at a press conference, he reminded her that she could move about the country as she wished, but his movements as a black man were restricted. Besides, of course he was arrogant! He’s the greatest of all time! Some of those who challenged that claim were literally knocked out. He was like Kanye West, except he could back up his claims. No white man would be brow beaten for such braggadocio. Women and black people get it all the time, though. Not once in life did Muhammad Ali “transcend race”. He was “unapologetically black”, which is another term that should be retired.
Not once in my 38 years has it dawned on me to apologize for my body’s ability to produce more melanin than 80% of the US population. I cannot control it. I was born like this. I don’t get back from a trip to the beach with darker skin and say, “Oh, sorry. I blacked all over the place. My bad.” There have, however, been plenty of times that people should have apologized for their reaction to my “blackness”, like when someone announced, “WOW, I never saw a blackey before”, when 13 year old me was in the lunch line at my all white middle school. There was the time two officers shoved 15 year old me against a wall and demanded I tell them where the drugs and weapons I never had were. They didn't apologize for disrupting my commute to school. And there are quite a few times when 22-, 27-, 30-, 34-, and 35-year old me were all questioned at work about my level of education and how I could POSSIBLY know the complex engineering work that I was hired to do, no one realizing that maybe I knew it because I HAVE AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING DEGREE. But I digress...back to “transcending race”...
I cannot encourage anyone to honor Ali’s memory in the same fashion that I do. However, if you wish to emulate my style, do consider a gradient scale of how the person used the term “Transcend race”:
- If someone simply reposted or retweeted an article or obituary where the term was used or paraphrased, perhaps only a little “love tap” to the stomach is necessary. Just enough that they feel like they might throw up, but not really.
- If someone wrote the actual term “transcended race”, perhaps a little “stinging like a bee” would be necessary. How far they fly in the air should be determined by how many characters they used to say it. 140 characters deserves only a few feet. A full article deserves a full 10 feet.
- For an anti-Muslim bigot loudmouth who then talks in volumes about how great Muhammad Ali was, I would beat to unconsciousness. Vitriolic genital wart word salad-shooter Donald Trump has been very vocal about his desire to ban Muslims from the country. He threw shade at Obama’s comments that Muslims are part of this society, and joked that there are no Muslim athletes. The day after Muhammad Ali died, he spoke his praises, as though he hadn’t been demonizing an entire religion for political gain. I feel like that deserves a good tolchok, Clockwork Orange style, as an appropriate STFU. You can’t just “he’s one of the good ones” someone for brownie points. I would say just wish people like that embarrassing diarrhea, but chances are they already have punishing digestive problems.
Muhammad Ali will be greatly missed. He was a rare gem who stuck to his principals, even when the weight of the entire US government threatened to crush him. Call him Black Atlas. Call him the Greatest of All Time. Call him a civil rights legend. Call him a fighter in every way. But say that he “transcended race”, and...well...I’ll at least provide you with some smelling salts to wake you up.