Education is key to fighting racism, says West Indies Holding legend

Educating young people is the most effective way to fight racism because armed with the facts they can challenge their peers, West Indian cricket legend and anti-racism campaigner Michael Holding told AFP.

The 68-year-old – nicknamed ‘Whispering Death’ when he played a pivotal role in the fearsome West Indies pace attack in the 1970s and 1980s – has raised his profile among a new generation unaware of his sporting achievements, with his passionate stand against racism.

His award-winning book “Why We Kneel, How We Rise” — which includes contributions from black sports stars like Usain Bolt and Thierry Henry — is, he says, part of helping that education process.

The 2021 book came about after Holding gave an extraordinarily moving speech during Sky Sports’ coverage of a 2020 Test between England and the West Indies.

It came at the height of sportsmen taking the knee following the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer in May 2020.

Since then, Holding has given 60 talks, which he says is a more constructive way to channel his emotions.

“I feel frustration, I don’t feel fury,” he said in a phone interview from his home in the Cayman Islands.

“So much bad has happened and people don’t want to do good even though they are faced with all these facts and continue to ignore it and pretend otherwise.

“I don’t want to get upset and upset because then you mess up and talk nonsense.”

Holding’s latest interview was with 90 head teachers in England.

“I wasn’t asking them to change the history books but to expand the curriculum,” he said.

“Not talking about just one group of people, as in white history, but including those who have been erased from history.

“It doesn’t fit the narrative, but they should teach everyone, not just Cromwell and Churchill.

“You can’t ignore half the story and highlight others and never mention what blacks and Asians have achieved.”

One such example is black inventor Lewis Howard Latimer, who invented the carbon filament to ensure the world wasn’t constantly changing light bulbs.

“(Thomas) Edison obviously invented the light bulb, but it wasn’t very practical because the filament burned out in no time,” Holding said.

“A black man invented the carbon filament which made it operational. Latimer made an effective light source but nobody talks about him, we don’t learn these things in school because he’s not a White man.

“It’s been the narrative for centuries, that the black man is insignificant.”

– ‘No baby’ –

Holding sees the battle as a battle against the influences of an older generation on children.

“A principal said that in their school their children understood, they understood,” he said.

“But, as they said, children spend 17% of their time in school under the guardianship of their teachers and 83% at home, which is a problem.”

Holding thinks it knows how to balance that.

“My response was that you need to encourage them to challenge their parents and grandparents, not in a confrontational or disrespectful way, but with facts.

“Teachers need to give these facts and inspire confidence in children…so they can go home and challenge their parents.

“That’s how you solve this problem. It’s not an overnight solution.”

Holding still believes taking the knee is a key part of the fight against racism despite feeling the gesture has lost its power.

“When critics say it’s old-fashioned, they miss the point,” he said.

“Taking the knee is not something that will move the needle.

“However, it is a signal that racism is still a problem and when are we going to treat this as a problem?”

However, he believes that progress is being made “slowly, slowly, even if it’s just small steps”.

“We’re going in the right direction if people change their thought processes.”

Holding says everything he has achieved in cricket as a player and commentator has given him a platform, but he is now engaged in a bigger fight.

“Everything I did once on the cricket ground is insignificant. It’s nowhere near as big an issue as this,” he said.


Helen D. Jessen