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Ricky Jones: Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, Jr. were critical race theorists | Opinion

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If surviving lions do not live to tell their story, hunters will take all the credit.” To be sure, it has come to pass that the types of people who once hunted the likes of King and Muhammad Ali now tell mendacious stories that, unsurprisingly, misrepresent those two great lions.

King and Ali were born in 1929 and 1942 respectively, but only two days apart (January 15th and 17th) in Atlanta, Georgia, and Louisville, Kentucky. Because of that closeness, King’s official holiday occasionally falls on Ali’s birthday. Such was the case in 2022.

On that day, Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth fired off a jolting social media post not so subtly criticizing some of his colleagues, “A lot of folks will claim to celebrate the great Martin Luther King, Jr. today, while actively trying to reverse his life’s work. If you can’t honor Dr. King by supporting voting rights and the John Lewis Act, then at least do him the courtesy of shutting the hell up today.” Indeed!

Contrary to their denials, the country’s Republicans are tirelessly working to limit many citizens’ right to vote. Their unsupported claims of voter fraud are lies, but their racially charged voter suppression efforts are all too real.

They are aided by decisions rendered by the current conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court that has all but gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which King and others worked so hard to pass. Harvard law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos opined that the Voting Rights Act is now “close to a dead letter” after the Court’s critical decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee last year. NBC News reports this has enabled Republican legislators in 49 states to draft more than 440 restrictive voting bills. Thirty-four have become law.

Concurrently, people from this camp are pushing a supremacist educational agenda by using previously little-known critical race theory as a cudgel. Republicans in over 20 states (including King’s and Ali’s home states of Georgia and Kentucky) have proposed bills banning substantive teaching about race and racism at every educational level from kindergarten to college, whether they explicitly mention CRT or not.

Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, left, is shown conferring March 29, 1967, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ali was here for his court suit to prevent his Army induction April 28 in Houston. The court refused, however, to block his call-up
These people pretend to embrace both Ali and King when convenient, but often shamelessly use their words in attempts to distract and further anesthetize an already anti-intellectual and ahistorical American public.

For example, Rhode Island Republican state Rep. Patricia Morgan sponsored an anti-CRT bill and brazenly invoked King, “(CRT) seeks to find racism in every part of American society. It is poisonous. It should have no place in our schools.” She continued, “Martin Luther King Jr. looked to the day when all of us would be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin in his 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. America embraced that goal and we have made great progress. Alarmingly, critical race theory does the opposite.”

Of course, those who understand King’s philosophical underpinnings and life’s work know Morgan took his words out of context. She is either ignorant or an outright liar.

Morgan and other anti-CRT advocates miss a crucial point in their hypocrisy. Critical race theory posits that race and racism are best understood in institutional terms, not individual ones. That’s King! King was a critical race theorist long before the term was coined! So was Muhammad Ali!

Now, both men are often posthumously recast and used against the very people and purposes they championed.

King is no longer the hard-nosed critic of institutional racism who was cast out by many of his own miseducated people. Indeed, almost 60% of mentally broken Blacks disapproved of King just before his death in 1968 because they saw him as a disruptive, divisive troublemaker. Whites hated him even more, of course. But now, King the warrior is passed off as a non-violent, non-threatening patsy urging suffering people to turn the other cheek in perpetuity.

Ali is no better. He is no longer the arrogant, fleet-footed, quick-witted, combative Black god who lost everything because he refused to go to Vietnam. Many white Americans saw him as an unappreciative, unpatriotic ne’er-do-well. He was even widely hated in his hometown of Louisville, which remains racially stratified to this day. Ali is now a deracialized, harmless, lovable, quivering teddy bear silenced by Parkinson’s disease. It’s sad and wrong.

Now that the largely milquetoast, emptied-out, co-opted celebrations and proclamations surrounding King and Ali are over for another year, please remember that both were critical race theorists!

If people had followed John Yarmuth’s advice and shut the hell up if they didn’t really believe in what King (and Ali) stood for, January 17 would have been a very quiet day! But those of us who know the truth certainly can’t afford to be muted for as King once said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

Yes, King and Ali were critical race theorists of the highest order. Teach THAT and let us not allow two of our most important revolutionary lions to continue to be twisted into shallow, commercial lambs.

Oh, by the way – King also believed in reparations for African Americans! But we’ll talk about that another time. (smile)

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