Part 3—Lonnie Ali on the other: Muhammad Ali's memorial service took place before the recent events in Orlando.
It took place before Candidate Trump's remarks about those events. It took place before our own liberal world's remarks about Candidate Trump.
We thought the service featured an array of remarkable speakers. We've already cited xx Shabazz and 19-year-old Natasha Mundkur. For today, we'll suggest you consider about Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali's widow.
Recent events have raised eternal questions. Who gets to be thought of as us? How should we respond to the impulse to regard others as different—as other?
Like Shabazz and Mundkur, Lonnie Ali spoke to that point. She said many things in her speech which became directly relevant just a few days later.
This statement came early on. For the text of the speech, click here:
ALI (6/10/16): Muhammad wants us to see the face of his religion, al-Islam, true Islam, as the face of love. It was his religion that caused him to turn away from war and violence. For his religion, he was prepared to sacrifice all that he had and all that he was to protect his soul and follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. So even in death, Muhammad has something to say.We hadn't followed the events of Ali's later life. Perhaps for that reason, we were somewhat surprised by some of the other things Lonnie Ali said this day.
We were somewhat surprised by this. We're glad we tuned in to hear it:
ALI: Muhammad fell in love with the masses, and they fell in love with him. In the diversity of men and their faiths, Muhammad saw the presence of God. He was captivated by the work of the Dalai Lama. By Mother Teresa and church workers who gave their lives to protect the poor. When his mother died, he arranged for multiple faiths to be represented at her funeral. And he wanted the same for himself. We are especially grateful for the presence of the diverse faith leaders here today, and I would like to ask them to stand once more and be recognized.>Up stood the dizzying array of faith leaders who had already spoken that day. When's the last time you saw a faith leader from the Onondaga Nation speaking his native language?
Many speakers, including Shabazz and Mundkur, stressed the embrace of the other this day. Lonnie Ali spoke directly to that point, in words which became more relevant as the weekend proceeded:
ALI: His passing and its meaning for our time should not be overlooked. As we face uncertainty in a world and divisions at home as to who we are as a people, Muhammad’s life provides useful guidance. Muhammad was not one to give up on the power of understanding, the boundless possibilities of love and the strength of our diversity. He counted among his friends people of all political persuasions, saw truth in all faiths and the nobility of all races as witnessed here today.We'll return to one part of that statement. First, let's talk about so-called race.
We've long been amazed by the intellectual and ethical brilliance which emerged from black America in the face of our brutal racial history. We were amazed again last Friday as we pondered the moral sophistication which emerged from Jim Crow Louisville in the person of Muhammad Ali's wife.
Jim Crow emerged from a disastrous historical error—from the disastrous, erroneous claim that there were several kinds of people in this country, most specifically "black" and "white." We were struck by one part of Lonnie Ali's treatment of that error.
Early on, she described her late husband's childhood. For some people, mileage may differ from ours; those people aren't necessarily "wrong."
Having said that, we liked what she said in this early part of her speech:
ALI: It is only fitting that we gather in a city to which Muhammad always returned after his great triumphs. A city that has grown as Muhammad has grown. Muhammad never stopped loving Louisville, and we know that Louisville loves Muhammad. We cannot forget a Louisville police officer, Joe Elsby Martin, who embraced a young 12-year-old boy in distress when his bicycle was stolen. Joe Martin handed young Cassius Clay the keys to a future in boxing he could scarcely have imagined.Other things can happen too. That said, we were glad that Lonnie Ali stressed the hopeful this day.
America must never forget that when a cop and an inner-city kid talk to each other, then miracles can happen.
Later, she expanded her treatment of that early experience. As she did, she reinforced an important old picture:
ALI: Even though surrounded by Jim Crow, he was born into a family with two parents that nurtured and encouraged him. He was placed on the path of his dreams by a white cop, and he had teachers who understood his dreams and wanted him to succeed. The Olympic gold medal came, and the world started to take notice.As a child, her husband had been embraced by a white cop, she specifically said. She made a point of pointing this out, although, in one way, we'd say that her statement is wrong.
Was Joe Martin really white? Or is that part of an ancient error in vision and understanding? It all depends on how "identity" works, on where a person's "identity" comes from. On who gets seen as being different. On who gets to be us.
In the aftermath of Orlando, we're debating the question of who gets to be seen as us. We're discussing the ways some people may be seen or portrayed as the other.
According to Lonnie Ali, her late husband "wasn't one to give up on the strength of our diversity." Her late husband "counted among his friends people of all political persuasions," she said.
We liberals keep attacking Candidate Trump for the way he keeps creating the other. In our view, we're sometimes blunderbuss ourselves in the way we pursue this discussion.
It's certainly true that Candidate Trump can sometimes seem to create the other. For ourselves, we'll continue to ask a related question:
In what ways might we ourselves be engaged in similar conduct?
Tomorrow: "Conditioned response," the Times said
To watch Lonnie Ali's address: To watch Lonnie Ali's address, click here. She starts at 1:48:00.