Muhammad Ali: Michael Parkinson interview shows boxer's powerful statement on racism

Ali’s words were a stark statement on what it was to be black in America

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 06 June 2016 15:08
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Michael Parkinson interview shows Muhammad Ali'spowerful statement on racism

As people remember the most iconic moments (and there are many) of boxer Muhammad Ali’s life, many are turning to the interview he did with Michael Parkinson in 1971, where, more than 40 years later, his words still resonate.

In the clip, Ali responds to the reaction he received to his discussions of racism - "not all white people" – with a perfect explanation for why the existence of some "good" white people was inadequate.

"There are many white people who mean right and in their heart wanna do right," he said. "If 10,000 snakes were coming down that aisle now, and I had a door that I could shut, and in that 10,000, 1,000 meant right, 1,000 rattlesnakes didn’t wanna bite me, I knew they were good…

"Should I let all those rattlesnakes come down, hoping that that thousand get together and form a shield? Or should I just close the door and stay safe?

"Do you understand?" he asks.

"In Viet Cong they’re not all bad but Americans still [sic] dropping bombs. In Hiroshima Japan weren’t bad but they dropped a bomb. In Korea they weren’t bad but they still dropped a bomb.

"So now I’m going to forget the 400 years of lynching and killing and raping and depriving my people of freedom and justice and equality… and I’m gonna look at two or three white people who are trying to do right and ignore the million trying to kill me? I’m not that big of a fool."

Ali’s words were a stark statement on what it was to be black in America, and how the “not all white people” defence only served to downplay the discrimination experienced by African Americans in all aspects of their lives.

Arrangements are currently being made for Ali’s funeral, which will take place on Friday in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

Louisville mayor Greg Fischer told Sky News that he expected an "outpouring of love" for the three-time world heavyweight champion.

"Our city is going to be sending him off with great class, dignity and respect," he said.

"We hope the world will be inspired to live up to the values of Ali, which were compassion and unity and bring people together, lifting people up."

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