“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.” – Muhammad Ali
I wasn’t going to blog about Muhammad Ali. I didn’t feel like I was enough of an authority. I hadn’t followed his life closely enough.
But then I read the above quote in the Obamas’ statement on his death and I felt moved to write.
If you’ve followed this blog in the past, then you know how frustrated it makes me when publishers, movie studios, etc. operate under the assumption that while everyone can relate to a white person’s story, a non-white person’s story is niche, trendy, and simply not as universal. The suggestion being that true humanity can only be portrayed through white characters, while everything else is a unique spin with limited appeal.
Well, I feel the same way about Americanness. I think too often what is considered as typically or classically “American” is something white and Christian, while everything else is less American, or an “other.” That notion is completely inaccurate, and I love that Muhammad Ali forced the world to face that truth.
Andy Warhol via rocor
The reality is that Muhammad Ali was not just an American, but an embodiment of American history, values and ideals. He was, as he says “America.”
This was not despite being black, but because he was black (and blacks have helped shape every aspect of American history and culture). Because he was Muslim (and this nation was built on the concept of religious freedom). Because he criticized the country and spoke out about what he believed in (and freedom of speech and assembly are fundamental American principles). Because he was an Olympian and represented America on the podium. Because he was a father. A husband. An icon.
But beyond all that, Muhammad Ali represents America because he was a person and he was born in Kentucky (yes, I know there are other ways to become American, but that’s where his status came from). Equally as simple, is that minorities can tell relatable stories about life because we are people. With the increase in self publishing and small publishers, minority stories are going to be both told and read, whether the industry recognizes their value or not. World, get used to it.