Event

M. Cooper Harriss, Indiana University

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Muhammad Ali’s Exceptionalist Double Cross, M. Cooper Harriss

“I am America!” proclaimed Cassius Clay, announcing his conversion to Islam in 1964—a denomination echoed by President Barack Obama on the occasion of Muhammad Ali’s 2016 death: “Ali was America.” Separated by a half-century, these claims stand at cross-purposes. The former takes exception to the very exceptionalism that Obama claims for the boxer in the latter statement. This essay traces Ali’s relationship to US exceptionalism, a trajectory inextricable from Ali’s identity as both a globally-significant American Muslim in an Islamophobic age and his simultaneous emergence as an American icon. What are the terms of Ali’s double cross?

Respondent: Jane Rhodes, University of Illinois at Chicago