Michael Holding’s emotional anti-racism message left me marvelling at this great man

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A report by Graham Spiers for The Times of London.

I grew up in a house which adored and revered Martin Luther King, the civil rights leader of the 1960s. My father, a Baptist minister, read MLK, quoted MLK in his sermons, and made direct connections between his Christian faith, black injustice and social justice in general. As a child I couldn’t escape these themes of righteousness, as the Bible put it. They seeped into me from a very early age.

Much of that experience has come back to me this week while watching Michael Holding, the great West Indian cricketer, now in his 60s, speaking about the Black Lives Matter movement. Like Dr King, Holding was thoroughly convincing in his emotional testimony. Twice he broke down on live TV while outlining the cruel, routine prejudice that people with black skin have to suffer, yet Holding still managed to deliver an articulate and powerful message.

Anti-racism is never so convincing as when delivered by those — like King and Holding — who have been on the receiving end. While some of the great campaigners of history have had a white skin, it is when a black man or woman spells out their ordeal that I find it most arresting. Tears rolled down Holding’s cheeks as he spoke of the racism suffered by his parents, and he went on to deplore “the dehumanisation of the black race” over hundreds of years which, here in 2020, we are still trying to be rid of.

Like many I choked up listening to Holding just as I was impressed in a very different way by the manner in which Graeme Souness, in a separate TV studio, also spoke recently about the scourge of modern racism.

Souness knows he has led a cushy life, softened by the greatness he knew with a football at his feet, but said he now regrets not being more robust in confronting moments of racism encountered during his career. “I’m a white man, I’ve not lived in a black skin, so I’ve not [felt] the prejudices,” Souness said. “But I’m annoyed with myself now that I didn’t challenge [racism] more than I did in the past. But if it happened tomorrow, I’d be in their face.”

People sometimes grow bored with the racism debate — I’ve even seen glimpses of that regarding #BLM on social media this week — just as in Scotland some claim to be bored with sectarianism. I always think this is worth pausing over: people are actually bored by the prejudice being suffered by others? Really?

Holding has reminded me again that sport, in its powerful way, often cuts right to the heart of humanity and the truth about our lives. Here is a great cricketer, who lifted a nation’s hearts with his heroic on-field antics, who believes that something far, far more important is at stake and needs addressing. Holding’s greatness has given him a platform — and a microphone — and he doesn’t want to waste the opportunity. I marvel at this great man.

My children take their lead from such figures. I notice, without any prompting from me, that Black Lives Matter is significant to them, it makes them hate racism all the more. I love the way our young generation today have an instinctive revulsion for prejudice based on skin colour.

They are certainly not “bored” with racism. On the contrary, they detest it.

 

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