Most people have some understanding of Ali's stand against being drafted into the Vietnam war, but the capitalist whitewashing very cleverly re-frames that bold stance as an individual act of self expression that took place 50 long years ago. In other words, they are very crafty about disconnecting Ali's bold anti war stance in 1967 from the current day hawkish war mentally of the capitalist system. In fact, just one week ago, this country engaged in its annual war propaganda (Memorial Day) by glorifying any and every military conflict this country has engaged in. While doing this, they entertain no discussion about the corrupt positions America occupied in each of these wars from the Civil War up to the latest incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. So in essence, the sheer impact of Ali's public stance against the Vietnam war is buried beneath the effort to portray him as an American hero. And, since Parkinson's Disease silenced Ali's strong voice in the late 80s, capitalism has had the benefit of almost 30 years of his actual life to work on creating him in the image they want you to have of him. That image is of a man who loved and entertained everyone. The man who held the torch at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. The one who hugged babies. Who saved hostages in other countries who were captured for engaging in acts supporting U.S. imperialism. The statesman for U.S. capitalism instead of the man who spoke out against U.S. imperialism.
Capitalism is so complete with its whitewashing efforts that some of you have already forgotten that there would have been no Muhammad Ali without the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X. It was Malcolm who did much of the work to bring the young Cassius Clay into the world of Nation of Islam teachings. In truth, Malcolm had developed a relationship with Clay that placed Malcolm as his spiritual advisor when Elijah Muhammad and the leadership of the Nation of Islam were arguing with Malcolm to distance himself from the future champ because the Nation didn't want to be identified with a loser and no one except Clay, Malcolm, and some of the people in Clay's corner believed Clay had any chance of defeating Sonny Liston in 1964. After Clay's victory over Liston to become heavyweight champ of the world, the Nation of Islam officially embraced Clay and a few days later, Clay was given the name of Muhammad Ali by Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. The truth is some of this occurred as a result of power plays between Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X for influence over the young Ali as Malcolm was on his way out of the Nation of Islam, but what's important to remember is that the Nation of Islam shaped Ali's thoughts and guided his spiritual direction. So when Ali refused induction into the military in 1967, this wasn't just the actions of a special individual with a strong spirit and self confidence. This was the result of a disciplined member of a disciplined organization responding to the principles of that organization. And, contrary to how capitalism tries to spin this part, Ali didn't refuse induction because war is wrong. Ali was a boxer by trade. He was no pacifist. He was refusing to be inducted into the U.S. military because America is a racist country and Ali and the Nation of Islam didn't believe we should risk our lives fighting for a system that oppresses us everyday. Ali's famous statement "no Vietcong ever called me a n - - - - r" speaks directly to this. If the U.S. capitalist system didn't see us as citizens worthy of respect and protection, why would any right minded African risk their life to protect this system? At that time, Africans were burning up hundreds of U.S. cities in open revolt against capitalism. Although we were disorganized, our people were trying to destroy this system, not protect it. This was the essence behind Ali's militant stance and this is the part the capitalist system is working so hard to help people forget because 50 years later, each and every one of us should be taking the exact same stance regarding U.S. imperialism that Ali and the masses of our people took in 1967.
It must be stated again that Ali was a Fruit of Islam soldier within the Nation of Islam and his stance against the draft, his statements against white supremacy, all of it, were reflections of this. And, although Ali hadn't spoken much in public in decades, there is nothing you can find that he said in the last 40 years that takes away from his militancy of the 60s and 70s. Its not as if he ever renounced his stand against the Vietnam War. If you listen to capitalism, it wants to paint him as if he didn't have all of his faculties in recent years, but if you study what he did show us, it's clear he was very much in control of what he thought and did. During these latter years of his life he continued to maintain relationships with revolutionaries like Kwame Ture up through present times and although he didn't actively participate with the Nation of Islam after Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975, he never denounced the Nation. Another example, there was a controversial dinner from approximately 10 years ago where George W. Bush gave an award to Ali. Many people felt that this was a slap in the face to the African struggle for justice, but I was focused on the part of the event where Bush said something about Ali, the world, etc., and the "Greatest" seemed to respond to Bush's comments by circling his index finger around his ear to suggest that Bush is lacking in mental stability. At the time, the media made an issue of this, suggesting Ali was "disrespectful" of the then president. I remember an undertone that maybe Ali wasn't all there mentally for carrying out this action, but for me, this circa 2005 action was completely consistent with the courage and dignity of the Ali from 1967.
Well, he's no longer here in his physical form, but his legacy will live forever. That's why its important that we get that legacy correct. We cannot let capitalism whitewash our champions for justice. Ali was a Nation of Islam member who challenged U.S. capitalism for its oppression of African people. That's the man he was and that's the man he remained. The system's efforts to paint him as anything less threatening than that is the same corrupt strategy they employ for all of our soldiers for justice. They want you to think Dr. Martin Luther King was a cheating, cowardly, pacifist, who would let you beat him senseless rather than stand up to you. They will tell you that Malcolm X was a fire breathing racist (as if either is possible) who changed in his last year (meaning he got soft) to believe that Whites were not devils and that we should all march down the street hand in hand, under capitalism of course. They have spent the last several decades working on those narratives and for many people, their propaganda is unfortunately working. Now, they continue to build their profile of Ali. In fact, you couldn't find a single African freedom fighter that the people embrace that this system isn't attempting to shape their image in capitalism's likeness. They will tell you anything about our heroes and sheroes except the truth. They were committed to banging against this backward system because this system isn't for us. That's why we are here, to tell the truth and to encourage you not to just accept our version of history, but to develop your analytical skills so that you can find out for yourself what happened. Who Ali actually was. We want to encourage you to engage in this research not as an academic individual, but as a soldier for justice in your own right who will sit and explore this history with others. Once you do that, you will become armed enough to understand the forces at work, how they scheme to confuse us and why we must tell our own stories. Then, the idea is that you will use this information to act on our behalf as oppressed people.
Ali was a soldier for African liberation and by being that, he automatically is a humanitarian because our struggle is a humanist struggle for justice and as we free African people, we move humanity forward. The key is you must remember that what made Ali this person was his willingness to sacrifice and stand up on principle. His willingness to choose justice and his people over the capitalist system and financial reward.
I believe the only way you can honor anyone is to continue their work. How many of us are willing to honor Ali by emulating his example? How many of us will sacrifice financial comfort for justice? Or as Dead Prez put it "you prefer a Lexus to Justice." Or, the alternative is to just accept the whitewashing and continue on as wage slaves, oppressed and focused only on finding peace to make space to survive within the system that is killing our people everywhere, everyday. Ali made his decision and many of us have made ours. As you reflect on Ali, the question you have to ask yourself is what's your decision?