On March 8, 1971, my friends from grad school and I drove from Purdue in my yellow VW bug to watch a large screen presentation of the first Ali-Frazier fight.
Given the imperatives of student poverty, we headed not south to Indianapolis, which was forty miles closer, but north to Gary, which was five dollars cheaper. The moment we walked into the theater, however, I understood what the others did not: five bucks or no, Gary was a mistake.
Other than the fifty or so hardhats sitting together in makeshift bleachers by the exit door, we were about the only white people in the joint...
...Still, the fight proved to be worth the risk. It was both brutal and brilliant as only great fights can be. Going into the fifteenth, it seemed to all of us too close to call.
“OK,” I said to my friends between rounds, “we’re out of here.” They thought me daft and resisted. Sharing some of my Newark experiences, I explained patiently that if Ali lost a fight that the crowd expected him to win, there would be hell to pay, and we’d likely do the paying.
“But we’re for Ali,” my friends protested. We’re for Ali? How had it come to this? I wondered. How could so many seemingly smart Americans be so thoroughly naïve, so utterly delusional?
Forty years later, I am still wondering. Today, my liberal friends tell me, “We’re for Trayvon.” They remain seated, however, in that metaphorical Gary auditorium.
They are the white people who live in the cities, who gentrify neighborhoods, who take public transportation, who attend jazz concerts and blues festivals, and who send their children to urban public schools. If the racial embers they now so casually fan burst into flames, they will be the ones who get burned.
George Zimmerman is their Joe Frazier. Although he is as Hispanic as Barack Obama is black—more actually, as he was raised by his ethnic parent and speaks her language fluently—he has been deemed, in the memorable words of the New York Times, a “white Hispanic.”
As in Frazier’s case, this has less to do with what Zimmerman looks like than the oppressor role he has been assigned in the media’s multicultural morality play.
The play’s basic message is this: despite our black president, “nothing has changed.” Racist cops still conspire with thuggish vigilantes to kill young black men--Emmett Till all over again.
To assure the play’s proper outcome, the media have had to take some dramatic license with the facts, none more visually misleading than the casting of an elfin 12 year-old in the role of the 6-2, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin.....