When I first came across a Facebook post stating that Bill Clinton would give the eulogy at Muhammad Ali’s funeral, I thought this to be no different than the many other unsubstantiated rumors people tend to mindlessly spread on social media. Surely, the former president of the United States who shamefully admitted his policies contributed to the unjust mass incarceration of countless Black men and women, couldn’t possibly be eulogizing a bigger-than-life icon whose life was dedicated to freedom, justice, and equality for Black people in America and abroad. Sadly, a quick Google search resulted in articles from Time, ABC News, and a dozen other mainstream outlets confirming what initially sounded like a bad joke.
What made Muhammad Ali a true giant wasn’t his undeniable athletic prowess but his unwavering stance against white supremacy and the system that supports it; the very system Clinton and his cronies have always benefited from. How could Clinton, who in 1992 publicly called out artist/author/activist Sister Souljah for boldly speaking out against racial Injustice, eulogize a man whose unapologetic Blackness made him a living legend? How could a man, who just a couple of months ago, attempted to trivialize and silence the voices of Black Life Matters protesters in a disgusting display of unfiltered condescension, simultaneously honor the life of a man who jeopardized his career and heavyweight title to stand up against the same type of systemic oppression those BLM members protested?
Politicians have always been skilled at revising or ignoring facts and history when it suits them. For example: Dr. King’s message has often been hijacked and reinterpreted to fit the agendas of Democrats and Republicans alike, who use his famed but safe “I Have a Dream” speech as a way to paint themselves compassionate and “of the people” when their politics oppose everything King truly stood for. Clinton himself was able to overlook facts and history in order to eulogize Senator Robert Byrd in 2010, a former recruiter for the KKK in the 30’s and 40’s whose alleged regrets about his racist past didn’t stop him from using the n-word on national TV, just nine years before his death. Clinton, a man willing to pay tribute to a former Klan member who also opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the very year Ali won his first heavyweight championship, will soon be doing the same for a former member of the Nation of Islam and one of the world’s most loved freedom fighter.
I understand Clinton and Ali were friends, and according to a family spokesman, this is what the Champ wanted. I appreciate a man’s final wishes being honored and I admit I’m the one with the issue here. The irony of it all leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. A day after Ali’s death, while on the campaign trail with his wife, Clinton shared his thoughts about the passing of his friend. “You want to be better than your publicity, not worse,” Clinton said referring to Ali. Then looking towards Hillary, he stated, “She’s that kind of person. Hillary’s always going to be better than her publicity.”
It’s hard to ignore how absolutely opportunistic this looks. A known slick talker who along with his wife has made a career out of pandering to the Black community whenever necessary isn’t above exploiting a tragedy to help the Clinton brand garner support and Black voters, smack dab during a presidential primary season that could put him back in the White House. How convenient.
Sebastien Elkouby is a writer, educator, Hip Hop Culture historian, and co-host of Take No Prisoners Radio which will resume mid June 2016 on The Wire 98.5. Find him at SebIsHipHop.com or on Twitter at @SebIsHipHop.