Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer of all time. His efforts in the ring were almost as jaw dropping as his efforts in society and his death is absolutely heartbreaking. As a black man in a white man’s world, Ali did everything in his power to end racial injustice.
Today’s society is no stranger to racial violence. I use “violence” as a broad term, meant to reflect not only the physical abuse dealt to minorities, but also the psychological abuse that they endure on a day-to-day basis. Racism has become an evil term, typically associated with the likes of white supremacists and neo-nazis. However, racism is much smaller than that. As philosopher Don Nilsen said, “Racism is when oppression becomes normal.” Racism is every ounce of racial prejudice whether conscious or subconscious that plagues a human mind, and it is rampant. Even still, many would argue that “not everyone is racist,” and to that, Ali would find issue.
In a speech Ali gave in 1971, he said in regards to racism, “If ten thousand snakes were coming (toward me) now, and I had a door that I could shut, and in that ten thousand, one thousand meant right … one thousand rattlesnakes didn’t want to bite me, I knew they were good … Should I let all these rattlesnakes come down, hoping that that thousand get together and form a shield? Or should I just close the door and stay safe?”
Ali was fully aware of the injustice in America and sadly, he didn’t live to see the end of it. Campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, a movement that works to validate Black lives, is proof that something still needs to be done about racism in America. Ignorant statements from the mouths of those in the spotlight are merely repeated by their admirers; negativity breeds negativity. Racism should have ended with desegregation and the implementation of the Voters Rights Act of 1965. Frankly, racism is not gone because it is an idea rather than a concrete object. If Ali could have taken racism into the ring and gone twelve rounds, he would have thrown a punch to end it in the first.
Anyone who takes a bias test via Project Implicit, an organization that aims to reveal hidden biases and understand implicit social cognition, understands that humans are not perfect. Internal biases exist whether we realize it or not, and all we can do to battle these biases is try to make one small difference at a time.
I am a privileged white male from suburban New Jersey and I cannot speak from experience when it comes to racism. I am one of the rattlesnakes slithering toward Ali and the only thing I can do about that is to make sure that I am one of the thousand willing to form a shield separating him from the nine thousand others. Some day, the one thousand will become two and then three and eventually the shield will be the majority. And this is not just about race. This is about religion, gender, sexual orientation; every bit of prejudice that is still lingering in the United States. It sounds far fetched to eradicate, but it’s not impossible.