As an immigrant who has faced his fair share of racism, stereotyping, and imperialist rhetoric in America and Canada, it is but a natural predilection for me to ally with those who have been struggling for generations and generations for greater rights and restorative justice in those countries.
This has meant that black history, in America in particular but across the planet in general, along with black cultural icons, sports figures, and freedom fighters have been a source of great inspiration for me over many years. This has been especially true since I landed on American shores as a rabble-rousing, albeit legally compliant, immigrant over a dozen years ago.
Indeed, it’s quite remarkable to think about the deep political, cultural, social, and spiritual influence so many stalwarts of the black community have had and continue to have on me; to the point of identifying with the community in a number of ways – deeply problematic though the sentiment might be for a member of a more privileged section among people of color and one who has no roots in America’s racist past. But like it or not, during the many times when I myself get mistaken for black in the Western world, I don’t really care to correct them.
Please don’t think that I’m ashamed of where I come from or who I am. I’m a proud warrior Tamil from the Southern lands of the Indian subcontinent, increasingly rooted in divine feminine spirituality emerging from my Dravidian roots – but very importantly, influenced and alloyed with a whole host of other liberating influences in my life.
Such as a whole spectrum of black history, liberation, icons, and culture.
Indeed, such is the strength of this particularly liberating influence that, if I were asked today to name my three favorite poets, thinkers, freedom fighters, musicians, and cultural icons in that order (you know, by some metaphysical spirit with way too much time on their hands), here’s what I would say – bearing in mind that I’m defining all these categories however I deem fit:
Poets – Maya Angelou, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Pablo Neruda
Thinkers – bell hooks, Arundhati Roy, and Frantz Fanon.
Freedom fighters – Nelson Mandela, Laila Khaled, and Bhagat Singh
Musicians – AR Rahman, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Asian Dub Foundation
Cultural icons – Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali, and Muhammad Ali.
Thus it would be fair to say that I am quite the student of Ali’s life and career.
Few can match his heady combination of powerful charisma, cultural superstardom, and political courage – all coming together at a particularly potent time in America’s recent history to render an iconic story for the ages.
Many have one or the other, maybe even two out of the three, but rarely have we found anyone with all three. It’s not an easy combination to have, with the political courage often being the toughest of the three to find.
Take other great sportspeople. You find many with great cultural stardom because of their talented abilities, alongside their achievements, fame etc. Some of those stars might even be wonderfully charismatic with engaging personalities, but they tend to not want to blow it all by displaying too much political courage. Those who display amazing political courage, even the really charismatic ones, tend to not have the kind of cultural stardom that comes anywhere close to someone like Ali, bless their brilliant souls.
The same tends to be the case with other fields usually churning out cultural icons with generational regularity – media, pop culture, music, and film.
The rocking, cultural superstars tend to lack political courage with tragic regularity, while those who do have more freedom-fighting public faces tend to, at best, have loyal cult followings.
But I believe we have someone who might just be our next Ali. And I don’t say this lightly (because, I mean, it’s Muhammad freaking Ali we’re talking about here). However, I daresay we have our next, great, black liberation, mass cultural icon.
All three boxes are ticked.
She has that powerful charisma.
She sure as hell has the cultural superstardom (not to mention some killer singing and dancing chops).
And it seems like somewhere along the way, as she multi-octaved her way to fame and fortune, at a time when Black Lives Matter is leading us into a new pan-American struggle for social justice and political freedom, she has decided to fight the good fight publicly.
All the pieces are in place.
Beyoncé could well become this generation’s Muhammad Ali.
(And I don’t even particularly care for her music.)