Racism, in its various manifestations, is an ugly thing to behold. It seems like every time our nation lulls itself into a belief that racial intolerance and bigotry are on the wane, something hits the news cycle that jerks us back into the last century of American race relations. Sure, the white majority electorate selected a black man to be president. And aren’t our arts, sports, and government agencies fully integrated? We are well on our way to realizing Dr. King’s dream, aren’t we?
Then, along comes the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, over in Eastern Kentucky, with a congregation voting (9 to 6) to ban interracial couples from membership, slamming us back into the real world. Evidently, the 24-year-old daughter of the church’s secretary brought her 29-year-old fiancé — a native of Zimbabwe — to the church, where they performed a song for the congregation, stirring up a controversy that has now spilled over into the national news.
Politicians, pundits, editorial writers and assorted churchmen have quickly stepped up to the plate with unanimous condemnation of the Gulnare church’s expressed racial preferences, and folks in such enlightened venues as Louisville and Lexington are tsk-tsking that a nine intolerant fundamentalists can, in one fell swoop, brand the entire Commonwealth as atavistically racist and backward.
Of course, the Bluegrass State has always been a curious mixture of Southern sophistication and Northern charm. But we were disgracefully slow in shedding the vestiges of Antebellum racial segregation. Miscegenation — marriage between people of different races — was illegal in Kentucky until 1967, when it was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Loving vs. Virginia, in which Chief Justice Earl Warren opined:
“To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”
Here at The Arena, our own Lewis Bertolucci filed a comprehensive analysis of the brouhaha, reminding readers that the Gulnare Christians certainly do not speak for the great majority of Kentuckians. Nor do they speak for most other Christians. “Yes,” Bertolucci observed, “we wear shoes, and no, we're not all Bible-thumpers or a bunch of hillbillies who are missing half our teeth. Simply stated, we are a community of educated, accepting and intelligent people.”
We stayed pretty much in agreement with brother Lewis until the end of his piece, when he abruptly strayed into the parallel universe of blind liberalism:
“I could go on, but I think it’s best to close by quoting a Kentucky native, Muhammad Ali, which I feel better articulates and simplifies my thoughts: "A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life,” and “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong.”
To this last point, we are compelled to take exception. To single out Muhammad Ali — Louisville’s pre-eminent racist — as a salutary example of racial tolerance is to ignore recorded history and turn reality on its head.
Muhammad Ali — nee, Cassius Clay — has continuously supported the bizarre teachings of Elijah Muhammad and The Nation of Islam, and says he believes that White people were devils who had been genetically created by an evil scientist with a large head named Mr. Yacub. He maintains that there is a wheel-shaped, half-mile wide “Mother of Planes” manned by Black men in the sky, and that, on Allah's chosen day of retribution, 1,500 planes from this Mother of Planes will drop deadly explosives destroying all but the righteous on earth.
Despite the fact that none of this silliness is part of traditional Islamic thought or finds justification in the Koran, to my knowledge Ali has never repudiated nor apologized for any of his recorded and virulent racist statements:
On integration: “We who follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad don't want to be forced to integrate. Integration is wrong. We don't want to live with the white man; that's all.”
On intermarriage: “No intelligent black man or black woman in his or her right black mind wants white boys and white girls coming to their homes to marry their black sons and daughters.”
On brotherhood: "We're not all brothers. You can say we're brothers, but we're not."
For Bertolucci to cite Ali as somehow being a supporter of inter-racial marriage is to stretch liberal cognitive dissonance to the breaking point. In an interview with Playboy magazine, Ali said "A black man should be killed if he's messing with a white woman." When the interviewer asked about black women crossing the color barrier, Ali responded: "Then she dies. Kill her, too."
Muhammad Ali talks about racial integration in USA, November 1971 on a British television chat show ironically called “Parkinson”:
On his official website, where you can buy a boxing glove, autographed by the Champ, for $5,500, and an autographed photo for a mere $1,600, Ali is referred to as a “great humanitarian,” who was once called "Mr. International Friendship" by president Jimmy Carter. The Ali myth — fueled by accolades from rich and powerful white liberals —continues apace. That he has not won the Nobel Peace Prize is a puzzlement.
Ali, who turns 70 in January, was last seen in public at Joe Frazier’s funeral. He returned today to his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, after a brief stay in the hospital, where he was being treated for dehydration last month. It is certainly appropriate to feel pity and compassion for someone who is in the terminal stages of Parkinson’s Disease brought about by repeated pugilistic trauma to his brain.
But it is inappropriate to the point of being ludicrous to put someone with his history of racist statements forward as a paragon of racial tolerance. Instead of building museums and naming streets to honor him, we Kentuckians should collectively hang our heads in shame whenever the name of Muhammad Ali is spoken.
Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).