All the recent publicity and retrospectives about Muhammad Ali stirred me to watch a few clips of his fights; he really could move beautifully. I was also curious to see if he had actually said himself that all white people are the devil, as some had recently mentioned. Sure enough, he had, as you can see for yourself here and here.
There's no point in calling Ali a "racist," since that term has been rendered all but meaningless through overuse. It's far more interesting to ponder whether what he said was true, and what the implications of his statement are.
In a sense, Ali was right: white people did invent bombs that rained from the sky, in fact created just about all of the current weapons of mass destruction, and they did conquer and subjugate other peoples. And, more specifically of interest to Ali, the white man did enslave the black man
You can hardly argue with those claims. But was it a matter of being more evil? It's not as if the other races didn't invent weapons of their own -- the bow and arrow, the spear, the club, and the sword -- and use them, to fatal effect. The other races simply lacked the inventiveness to fashion better weapons.
As far as whites having conquered other peoples, once again, that's unquestionably true. But there is no race on earth whose history does not encompass war and murder and slavery and rape. Blacks enslaved other blacks in Africa (and then sold them to whites for transport to the New World). Genghis Khan conquered all of Asia and eastern Europe. The Triple Alliance of the Aztec Empire, especially Tenochtitlan, conquered all within reach. And tribes in South America would regularly raid neighboring villages and steal each other's women.
The only difference seems to be, whites were simply better at extending their dominion.
Does that make the white man the devil? Maybe it does. But, as long as we're being honest, let's admit why it's so.
It's because he was more resourceful.
And, if the white man is to be called the devil for having invented the atomic bomb, should he also be called an angel for having invented the refrigerator, the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, the artificial heart, and so on?
Somehow, no one ever seems to see it that way.
The white-man-is-the-devil mindset is really not all that far in spirit from the cargo cult mentality of the Melanesian Islanders: "White man have powerful juju, he can rain down water in bottles [or death] from the sky."
The Devil, after all, did have supernatural powers. (And to a primitive mind, an object which can fly does seem magical.)
The idea that the rest of humanity are just powerless victims vis-a-vis the white man is not only passive and defeatist, but cedes mental superiority to him as well. Had Muhammad Ali really thought about the implications of what he was saying, he might have been a tad more reticent.