Thank you, Muhammad Ali
Your name is your spirit.
Oddly enough this concept was not introduced to me through Roots, but rather by way of The Greatest, Muhammad Ali.
When I learned that Muhammad Ali shed the slave name Cassius Clay, I was around ten years old. I was young enough to be completely enchanted by him, but old enough to understand his humanity. I knew that any name change walked a thin line between shame and pride, and somehow a bombastic boxer tread that line gracefully.
This name change was not only symbolic of his determination to overcome slavery and racism, but also representative of the strength with which he embraced his Islamic faith--both statements particularly frowned upon in America. And to further comment on his grace, he managed to make a bold and unapologetic stance gorgeous; heroic, even.
"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 it."
This attitude translated beyond his name and into both his work as a champion athlete and as an activist. He simply refused to be silenced; refused to cower; refused to be shamed. He stood up against racism, war, and poverty. He walked with Mandela, Malcolm, and Martin. A controversial figure, Ali did the most American thing possible: Stood against America; a violent, bloody America where prejudice prevailed (prevails) and poverty was (is) accepted, if not ignored. He furiously and frequently fought not only in the ring, but in the world.
"I ain't draft dodging. I ain't burning no flag. I ain't running to Canada. I'm staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I've been in jail for 400 years, I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain't going to 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I'll die right here, right now, fighting you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice."
He beat Superman. He put thunder in jail. He shook up the world. He murdered a rock; injured a stone. He taught me that a passionate fight was a graceful one; a gorgeous one; a heroic one.
Thank you, Muhammad Ali. Rest in power.