Posts Tagged ‘Muhammad Ali’

Muhammad Ali

(Pic: rollingstone.com)

Muhammad Ali was a global figure, even before the word was widely used.

He was loved by people of almost every nation. Remember, he came onto the scene at a time when there was hardly any larger than life non-Caucasian or Muslim role model on the word stage. With his skills, confidence, fine looks and, and most of all, his insistence that he was accepted for who he was, Ali ignited and inspired the imagination of millions.

I would also argue that many countries at that time were still in the post-colonial, newly independent years, and Ali’s unvarnished bravery and success subconsciously represented the possibilities that black and brown people could aspire to.

The name Muhammad Ali become the most well-known name in the world.

Like everywhere else, he was very well-loved in Singapore and Malaysia. Because of the time difference between the region and the United States, Ali’s boxing matches would be telecast live in this part of the world during the day.

People skipped school and work whenever his matches would be telecast live. Members of our family too skipped school so that we could huddle in front of the TV to see Ali defeat his opponent.

I remember this episode clearly. At that time, our neighborhood had a provision shop/small grocery shop that made home deliveries. We would telephone the owner with our order. The shop assistant would then cycle to our house with the groceries.

About a week or so before one of Ali’s matches, the shop assistant came to our house to make a delivery. He lingered, made small talk, then he whispered to us that he needed a favour. He wanted us, on the day of the match, to call the shop about 10 minutes before the live telecast would start, and to make an order for a delivery. In that way, he could come and watch the match with us.

After he left, we laughed at his cunning. But we did it. We called the shop at the requested time, and he joined our family as we all sat enthralled watching and cheering Muhammad Ali with the rest of the world.

Exceptional; with a charisma that would be hard to duplicate. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

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obama2The day is here. We all have our own reasons for supporting Barack Obama.

It’s true that Obama’s message of “hope and change” has an emotive appeal for many.

But I think the most important thing for me was that I could identify with his narrative, although I grew up and spent much of my adult life in Asia.

The first thing is that I grew up as a minority in an Asian country. I think you have to live life as a member of a minority ethnic group to understand what is required of you to deal with inbuilt perceptions and racism .

We know how much it takes to be successful. I want to go back to history, as I was reminded by presidential historian Douglas Brinkley on the Larry King show that the world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali played a role in opening the door for global recognition for an African American.

I’m old enough to remember what Muhammad Ali meant to the world in the 1970s and 80s. At that time, there was no non-white role model for such huge success. He represented this shining, brave example all over the world. People everywhere would cut work and skipped school whenever his matches were televised. From the metropolis to the smallest village in Africa, for a long time, Muhammad Ali was the most recognized name in the world.

Today, we jumped to Obama. Whether one admires the United States or not, almost everybody agrees that to be the president of the US is to reach the pinnacle of success, and to helm the most powerful position in the world.

And we want to claim Obama as a part of our identity or as part of our dream, as we did with Muhammad Ali.

Obama also seems to embody or symbolize many of qualities that I identify with or admire. He is biracial, and having lived in different countries, is comfortable with many cultures. He is certainly not xenophobic, and we see in him in him someone who will not see any one people or race as being “lesser” than the other.

He is inclusive; always classy in his bearing and refused to play dirty politics or say nasty things about his opponents in the presidential race, though they threw all kinds of stones at him.

At the same time, in the back of our minds, we also know that to get this far in American politics, you have to have a measure of “killer instincts”. But for a while, it is good to know that a nice guy can still win.

We want to believe that the Obama administration heralds a post-racial era, a new foreign policy that will be fairer to countries and people that the Bush administration have labeled as “evil” and “rogue”.

But we know that there are tough task ahead for the new president. Criticism of his policies and management style is already forming a line in some people’s heads. And we know that oftentimes the position can change the man.

But for now, we bask in the glow of this historic inauguration. It’s incredible when you think that three years ago, nobody thought that a biracial, African-American man would be the President of the United States. Obama’s election says a lot not only about him, but also about all the people who voted for him.

Thank you, Obama, for giving us the belief that despite all the ugliness in the world, there is still enough idealism to try to change the status quo for the better. The world wants you to succeed.

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