More than a year has passed since Michael Holding brought the cricket world to a standstill and spoke poignantly on Sky Sports with Ebony Rainford-Brent about his experience of racism. It could easily have been a memorable one-off. But Holding is on a roll.
He recently wrote a book, Why we kneel, how we get upThat’s part history lesson, part advocacy for equality, part anger at a system that, he argues, has dehumanized the black race for centuries.
There are big names in his sights. “Boris Johnson came out with a statement saying you can’t go back and edit history,” he told Sportsmail. History has already been edited. What we want is the true history, not just what fits one group of people.’
Michael Holding isn’t kicking his retirement lightly and isn’t taking a stance on racism
Holding is now 67 and could have easily made his way into retirement, his reputation as one of cricket’s greatest fast bowlers and the comment box’s most resonant voices. But his conscience is pricked. At one time, his attitude to racial abuse was turning the other cheek. Now he says that approach was selfish.
The result is a powerful piece of work, written with the help of journalist Ed Hawkins, that should dispel any doubt – if any – about the toll racism takes on its victims. It’s one of the sports world’s most eloquent expressions of a Black Lives Matter movement that took on a new dimension last year after George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.
Using his celebrity wisely, Holding arranges for interviews with other black A-list athletes. Hope Powell, England’s first black football manager, says dog poop is being pushed through her letterbox. Makhaya Ntini talks about his despair at being written off as a ‘quota’ cricketer, despite 662 wickets for South Africa. Thierry Henry describes ordering an Uber in New York and watches the car speed past as the driver clocks in on his ethnicity.
Last year, the cricketing legend delivered a poignant speech in the wake of the murder of George Floyd
The 67-year-old has spoken with names such as Naomi Osaka (L) and Thierry Henry (R) for his book
Holding also spoke to Australian aboriginal star Adam Goodes about the toll of racism
Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, tennis player Naomi Osaka and aboriginal Aussie Rules footballer Adam Goodes are all taking part. It is not pleasant to read. Nor is it intended.
“I’ve brought in these big names to show people how, regardless of whether you’re famous, once you’re black skin, you’re victimized, discriminated against,” Holding says.
“As Thierry Henry says, once he had a hat-trick, it was ‘Hi Mr Henry, what can I do for you?’ That’s what black people have to do to become “normal” – they have to become a big star. But once he went somewhere they didn’t know him, he became an ordinary black man again.’
Nevertheless, the book has a positive message at its core: get to know yourself about the past, says Holding, and you will be less likely to harbor ignorant views in the present. He is hopeful, but with caveats.
“I think America has made greater progress than the UK over the past year,” he says. “I don’t see any real progress in the UK. I hear a lot of talking. In America, I see big companies putting in huge amounts of money for programs that try to level the playing field. I don’t see that in England.
The commentator believes the United States is making great strides in the fight against racism racism
However, he doesn’t believe the UK is close to leveling the playing field for everyone
‘A department store [Sainsbury’s] posted a Christmas ad with a black couple, and the abuse they got… One comment was, “Okay, when is our white Christmas ad coming?” An ITV quiz show featured three black couples, and again the abuse they faced. I thought the UK would have jumped aboard this thing much faster than the US.”
The book is more about society than cricket, but cricket inevitably rears its ugly head, and some of Holding’s anger has been directed at those seeking to denigrate the all-conquering West Indian team for whom he won 249 wickets in 60 tests.
As he puts it now: ‘When England got the chance to pit four fast bowlers against Australia in 2005, with Steve Harmison and those guys, and Ricky Ponting got punched in the face at Lord’s, everyone was like ‘brilliant bowling’. Come on!’
But he is also wary of administrative promises to fight racism within sport – not least because of England’s decision to stop taking a knee mid-summer. Where others saw the politicization of the BLM movement, Holding saw an unequivocal gesture.
“When you support a cause, you support the cause voluntarily,” he says. “Nobody has to tell you to support a cause. And the universal recognition of supporting that cause is kneeling.
Holding focuses in its new book on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other big names
“If you stand in silence for one game and you say to yourself, ‘Oh, we’ve done it, we don’t have to do anything more’, you’re not supporting anything. That’s just ticking a box and saying we can move on now.’
Why we kneel, how we get up is in no mood to continue, and Holding has gone to great lengths to educate itself and its readers about historical injustice.
Did you know about the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus? Or Lewis Howard Latimer, who invented the light bulb (Thomas Edison usually gets the credit)? Or Matthew Henson, who may have beaten all the newcomers to the North Pole? They were all black and all fell victim to what Holding calls “the white parchment of history.”
He is all too aware that society’s brainwashing is ubiquitous: His mother’s family stopped talking to her when she married a dark-skinned man. “Some chapters were very painful,” he says. “I used to send chapters to my relatives. One of my sisters called me and said, “Mikey, I can’t read this. I can’t go through this because I know it’s the truth.” “Even I, given the number of times I had to read the book, I couldn’t get through those chapters anymore.”
Holding on to the issue of “white privilege”, and being impatient with those who misinterpret it. “Some white people say, ‘I’ve never gotten anything, I have to work hard for everything I have.’ That’s not white privilege. It means that the obstacles placed in front of you have nothing to do with the color of your skin.’
He also shared his disappointment at the England team leaving the knee before the games
Holding looks for tangible changes to bridge the gap and level the playing field
He recalls the story of his wife, Laurie, who is of Portuguese descent, who enters a hotel in Canada with a brown-skinned colleague during a business trip. While she ‘just walks in’, her colleague is stopped and asked what he is doing. Later, the colleague asks Laurie if she noticed. When she says no, he refers to ‘white skin: the world passport’.
Holding adds without judgment or rancor: ‘It is the privilege. It doesn’t occur to many white people.’
He is not unrealistic about the work that remains if the playing field of society has to be really level. One chapter had to be removed from the book because his interviewee feared harassment. The interviewee was Rainford-Brent.
But he notes the growing number of white faces at BLM marches in the US, the conviction of Derek Chauvin, who killed Floyd, and is more hopeful than he was a year ago. And while he continues to support taking a knee, he considers it a starting point.
‘Take a knee, yes, good gesture, let the people do that. Putting up a statue of a black person at Lord’s, yes. A beautiful painting by Viv [Richards] at Lord’s – fantastic. But let’s go beyond those things and see tangible things happen.’
One day they might even think of a statue of Holding.