Batting against racism

After a long hiatus we saw international cricket resuming again as Kemar Roach bowled to Burns at the beautiful Southampton ground after the gap of more than four months. From the month of March no cricket was played due to the pandemic, as whole sporting action across the world came to a grinding halt. It was an unusual scene of watching a rather ‘quite’ game which used to be the electrifying and buzzing spectacle with every ball bowled and every shot batted. There was a unique and altogether ‘new spirit’ being felt in the field  which started with a loud and radical message of ‘cricket against racism’ as players from both teams knelt as a mark of protest before the start of the game. This ‘bold posturing’ sent the powerful message of cricket community standing against the racial injustice and in support of ‘Black Lives Matter’. The players from West Indies team wore black gloves on their right hand, which they raised in a fist while kneeling echoing the protests made by the sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. There was a radical symbolism and communitarian sense being observed as Black Lives Matter flag was waved from the West Indies balcony. Protests have generated discussion on systemic ‘discrimination’ on the basis of race across the world of sports, including cricket. Earlier this month Daren Sammy spoke out and alleged racism while he was playing in the IPL. Chris Gayle also came in supports of Sammy adding that “Racism is not only in football, it’s in cricket too”

The game was about to get exciting as the rain paved the way for one of the magisterial and powerful discussion on Sky Sports themed the racial discrimination amongst the blacks. During rain interruptions, the conversation turned out to be the historic half-hour of sports broadcasting. Starting with the quote from James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” this was followed by the stirring and inspiring  dissection of race between  Michal Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent- the first black woman to play for England. Michal Holding-West Indies legendary cricketer often christened as ‘Death Whisperer’ because of his thundering style of bowling stance and making the batsmen having their having their hearts in their mouth. Every cricket enthusiast remembers the encounter between Holding and Geoff  Boycott at Kingston in 1981 which has been described as the ‘fastest and most ferocious gambit of all time’. Holding repeated the same fearless ‘spirit’ this time with only difference being he had a mike in his hand this time.

They started the discussion with both of them recounting their experiences of ‘race’ in the field and off the ground. Holding pulled out a rousing speech highlighting the need to end ‘institutionalised racism’ and batting for educating ‘history’ to the people from both black and white perspectives. He reiterated that vociferously as “Education is important…… When I say education, I mean going back in history. What people need to understand is that the thing stems from a long time ago, hundreds of years ago”. Holding delved onto the ‘dehumanisation of the black race’ and how ‘education’ can help in eradicating this as “The dehumanisation of the black race is where it started. People will tell you that’s a long time ago, get over it. No, you don’t get over things like that and society has not gotten over something like that. How do you get rid of that in society? By educating both sides – black and white. ” Holding then beautifully made an intelligible transition into the theological basis of racial stereotyping by invoking the image of Jesus Christ. He remarks “Look at Jesus Christ and the image of Jesus Christ – pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Where Jesus came from, who in that part of the world looks that way?” Holding sparkles with more brightness as he calls out the structural and cultural ‘brainwashing’ with respect to  ‘blackness’ by saying , “Again, that is brainwashing to show you what the image of perfection is. If you look at the plays of those days, Judas who betrayed Jesus, he’s a black man. Again, brainwashing people to think ‘he is a black man, he is the bad man.”

Holding’s speech is quintessence of the lesson on ‘racial biases’ at par with the likes of Cornel West, De Bious, and James Baldwin etc. He further finds the link in the historical appropriation of undermining ‘black intelligence’ by popularizing this fact as “’These lights that are shining on us. You can tell me who invented the light-bulb – Thomas Edison invented the light-bulb….’Can you tell me who invented the filament that makes these lights shine throughout? Nobody knows, because it was a black man”. He singles out the majoritarian and white-dominated historiography in America by stating “’I was not taught in schools – Lewis Howard Latimer invented the carbon filament to allow lights to continuously shine. Who knows that?.. ‘Everything should be taught. When you go back through the schooling as a young man, I remember my school days. I was never taught anything good about black men”

From the theological, literary and to historical underpinnings of ‘race’ Holding transformed the game of cricket into the marvel of unique ‘radical space’ of calling out the facts as they are laying bare the dark realities of racial discrimination across the world .Cricketing world has rarely seen such a display of ‘schooling’ the immediate facts and ills society is wreathed in. Holding went on further and took on to the ‘politics of textbook’ which is more prevalent these days almost everywhere of amending and re-writing history of your convenience across nations. Reminiscing about his school days he comments “Everything should be taught. When you go back through the schooling as a young man, I remember my school days. I was never taught anything good about black men….History is written by the conqueror, not by those who are conquered. History is written by the people who do the harming, not those who are harmed. ‘We need to go back and teach both sides of history.”

This event got accolades across the sports fraternity as the extraordinary ‘show of wisdom’ in the field. Graeme Fowler- former English Cricketer writes this on Holding’s momentous words as “I wish Michael Holding was our Prime Minister. He’s spoken more articulately, intelligently, passionately and honestly in the last fifteen minutes than Boris has in his entire public life”. Robin Chipperfield- renowned Sports presenter states “That’s the most powerful half an hour of TV I’ve seen for a long, long time. The Michael Holding story about the invention of the filament light bulb was extraordinary”.

Tailpiece

Michal Holding’s masterpiece redefined the values and ideals of ‘sports’ by illustrating the power of sending the message to the people having the sole aim of ‘enjoying the game’. Mike Selvey while describing Holding’s commentary states “Now in the commentary box, he is gentle but fearless, a rational critic who beguiles with his deep fruity measured Jamaican twang”.  Watching the sports events for more than twenty years this event has highly been one of the finest moments of the game for me. With this refining and insightful commentary on ‘race’ Holding’s brilliance resonates with other epic sports moments like the Kaepernick’s gesture in NFL quarterback in 2016 and Muhammad Ali’s refusal to join the US army in Vietnam.  Lastly this event stimulates us to the reality of using any platform for shining the light of truth transcending the regimented forums for the specified aims. The ultimate takeaway from Holding’s speech was this “Until we educate the entire human race, this thing will not stop”. Indeed a powerful message..!

Mir Sajad is a Researcher, Department of Geography and Regional Development University of Kashmir