As a white man, I can’t even IMAGINE what that would be like.
Nor can I imagine this…
Ali tells us: “One Halloween, a little Black girl was trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, dressed up in a superhero costume, but her face was painted white. When I asked her why, she said that her sister told her that there was no such thing as a Black superhero. She was right.”
He continues by saying: “When I turned on the television, everyone was always White. Superman was White, Santa Claus was White. They even made Tarzan, the king of the jungle in Africa, White. I noticed that Miss America was always White, and the president living in the White House was White, too. Nothing good reflected our image.”
And: “At that early age, I could see that something was very wrong. I didn’t understand it. I thought that my skin was beautiful, I was proud of the color of my complexion. But everything black was considered bad, and undesirable. Like black cats bring bad luck. Devil’s food cake was the dark cake, and angel food cake was the white cake. These may have been subtle messages, but the effects were profound. Every day these messages shaped the images that I and other nonwhite children had of ourselves.”
And: “I didn’t know how, but I knew that I was going to help my people. Somehow, I was going to make a difference in the world. The more injustice I saw, the stronger my feelings grew. It made me feel that I was here for a reason.”
That’s from one of the early chapters called “Black Is Beautiful.”
It’s passages like that that open my eyes to just how different (and privileged) my experience of life has been.
We scratched the surface of the challenge of seeing that reality in our Notes on White Fragility.
As I read each book, I realized just how powerful these biographies are as a vehicle for white men (and women) like me to open our eyes to just how radically different our life experiences have been.
I HIGHLY recommend reading those and other autobiographies by Black men and women as a vehicle to expand your awareness—while getting inspired by seeing Heroic greatness in action.
Let’s talk about the PURPOSE the young Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay felt when he saw and experienced the injustice in the world.
Later in the book, there’s a chapter called “My Fighting Had a Purpose.”
In that chapter, Ali tells us: “When you saw me in the boxing ring fighting, it wasn’t just so I could beat my opponent. My fighting had a purpose. I had to be successful in order to get people to listen to the things I had to say.”
And: “I was fighting to win the world heavyweight title so I could go out in the streets and speak my mind. I wanted to go to the people, where unemployment, drugs, and poverty were part of everyday life. I wanted to be a champion who was accessible to everyone. I hoped to inspire others to take control of their lives and to live with pride and self-determination. I thought perhaps if they saw that I was living my life the way I chose to live it—without fear and with determination—they might dare to take the risks that could set them free.”
Remember: The Hero’s secret weapon is LOVE.
For what purpose are YOU fighting life’s battles?
Connect to that deeper purpose.
Forge the strength for two.
Give us all you’ve got.