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Monday, June 13, 2016

Don’t mythologize Ali’s rage

Don’t mythologize Ali’s rage

By Stephen Kinzer   boston globe – june 12, 2016
Reaction to the death of Muhammad Ali last weekend was reverential, and why not? As obituaries explained at great length, Ali was more than just a great boxer. He was a “civil rights activist,” a “champion of free speech,” a “humanitarian,” a “tireless human rights ambassador and philanthropist” known for “gentle generosity.”
Reading this, one might imagine that Ali lived the kind of life that made everyone admire him. The truth is quite opposite. During the prime of his life, Ali was widely hated. Politicians and news commentators denounced him as a cowardly, anti-American traitor. The legislature of his home state, Kentucky, passed a resolution declaring that he had brought discredit to the state and to “thousands who gave their lives for this country.” Even other African-American athletes, including Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, criticized him.
This is a wonderful lesson in the way we whitewash figures who harshly criticize America’s conduct in the world. While they live and speak, we abhor them. Years later, when they are conveniently gone, we forget the ferocity of their words and pretend they were part of America’s happy family.

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