ON TRIBUTES TO PASSING HEROES

ON TRIBUTES TO PASSING HEROES, LIKE MOHAMMAD ALI

 

The tributes were very loving, I’m sure. I didn’t watch Mohammad Ali’s three hour funeral, but when I heard all about it in detail from a friend — for example that President Clinton gave the last eulogy, of nine in all — I knew I had made the right decision.

Nothing against Ali. He lived a huge life. But his powerful and well honed gifts for violent fist-a-cuffs , as a prize fighter, were only preparatory for his true greatness — as a fighter against violence against people of color. Standing up to Sonny Liston in the ring was one level of courage; but standing up against the vast, well greased machines of government violence was in another league.

In refusing to be drafted into the army and thus forfeiting his heavyweight title and facing prison, he said, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights. No, I’m not going … to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of the white slave masters of the darker people the world over…”

At the time, he was much reviled by Main Stream America.

I knew that this plain speaking, law-breaking/civil disobedience side of Ali against government violence would be muted in the ceremony, referred to obliquely at best. But separate him from this more profoundly heroic part of himself, he’s just one more amazing, self-serving athlete, like a Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan.

And where does that “civil disobedience Ali” stand today? The followers of Mohammad Ali’s real greatness would be the ones continuing on in that tradition. Were there any of those on the speaker’s platform? Was Edward Snowden, for example, even mentioned in any of the funeral addresses? Maybe, but I strongly doubt it. Was the “break-the-law-if-the-law-is-unjust” part of Ali even brought up in President Clinton’s eulogy? Did he quote Ali saying, “No Vietcong ever called me nigger”?

To be sure, I watched a few minutes of Clinton’s speech on the internet. No surprises. Everything was in good taste, in line with polite society. In reviewing what had most impacted him about Ali, Clinton went straight from the thrill he had felt as a youth watching him fight, to the thrill he had felt as a President watching him light the Olympic torch in Atlanta. He left the guts of Ali’s legacy entirely out.

There you have it. The sanitized hero goes to his final resting place. The last word on his life spoken by a former President of the United States. And the future First Gentleman.

 

And who wouldn’t like to think that the “social consciousness” kinds of work Ali was doing in the 60’s and 70’s has been completed now? That there’s no need for that level of dissent anymore? That the nasty corruptions within society have been cleaned up? That big money has been put in its place? That our perpetual war-making in overseas theatres is up and up good for everybody, good for the world, has no tinge of racism, or American exceptionalism, in it? That America proudly wears its white hat again?   Hi Ho Silver, away.

If it’s true, as it’s said, that Ali planned his own funeral down to dotting the i’s, it wasn’t his best moment. My friend mentioned about the three Native American eulogies. Any Malcolm X types among them? Any current Crazy Horses and Sitting Bulls going around giving speeches in native regalia? I don’t actually know, but I doubt it.

Not that I blame Ali that in the end Main Stream America, who once largely spat on him — and who would liked to have done much worse — ended up loving him to death, and without having to take one baby step in the direction Ali was going when he truly was the greatest. Where was Ali’s axe to grind anymore, once you’re loved like that?   Adored by presidents on down?

The enemy of the true America, the open America, the honest America is always slipping in there in new and surprise ways — for example, showing up at the funeral of one of the greatest ever of radicals, to say nothing but good things about him, while at the same time vigilantly suppressing any current likeminded heroes in the bud, wherever and whenever they sniff them out.

Yeah, I watched clips of a few more eulogies. I didn’t want to be speaking too much off the cuff here. Nothing said really moved me, the eulogists all too obviously enjoying their own prime-time performances.  I noticed that one of the consistent statements of the speakers was that Ali never surrendered his integrity.

But maybe a little bit at his funeral, I was thinking.

Nobody’s perfect.

 

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