Stunningly Beautiful Blackness
Original photograph by Flip Schulke, 1961

Original photograph by Flip Schulke, 1961

The morning after Muhammad Ali died, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the times he called himself “pretty.” A corner of the Ali Center in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, is dedicated to Ali’s prettiness. Boxing then as Cassius Clay, Ali would brag about his good looks and fighting prowess. He’d say (bellow) things like, “I’m loaded with confidence! I can’t possibly be beat! I done had 180 amateur fights, 22 professional fights, and I’m pretty as a girl!” It was trash talk, certainly, but also, at that time, the exhibit reminds visitors, you just didn’t hear of black people calling themselves pretty. They weren’t supposed to have confidence in their looks; there was too much evidence to the contrary. Granted, Ali displayed black folks’ colorism in calling Joe Frazier “black and ugly,” but his braggadocio caught white supremacy with its gloves at its side and delivered left hooks that, while they couldn’t deliver a knockout, did keep black people off the ropes and in the ring.

As he is laid to rest, we live to fight another day.

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