His Biggest Boxing Match Was With Internalized Racism

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August 12, 2019

When Muhammad Ali was Cassius Clay, he and many other Black Americans grew up with the belief that Africa was a savage land, and its people just as savage. It was, after all, what mainstream white culture taught.

In interviews, he offered degrading comments about the continent, saying it was nothing more than “alligators and living in mud huts.” 

But his entire outlook shifted after the 1960 Olympics.

Having won gold, Cassius returned to Louisville, Kentucky, to experience the same hatred he had before.

Deeply impacted by this and Emmett Till’s mutilation, a young Cassius learned that no matter how much wealth or success he obtained, he’d always be a n*gger in white eyes. 

And so began his transformation into Muhammad Ali.

With guidance from Malcolm X and Pan-African principles, Ali visited Ghana first, and many African countries thereafter. 

All the toxic myths created to cloud our perception of Africa began to unravel. Before Ali’s eye was the vastness, diversity, history, and truth of Africa’s glory - a glory that white supremacy stripped from him and countless others.

More unlearning must be done. Today, misconceptions of Africa being savage and undeveloped persist. But movements like Black & Abroad’s “Back to Africa” campaign continue to dismantle these condescending stereotypes.

Just as it did for Ali, a trip back home may be the key to obliterating these misconceptions once and for all.

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