Arthur Ashe

Solve this problem: Your daughter’s playing with a doll, a gift she just received from a friend.  The doll is white. 

1968: John Carlos’ black power salute Arthur Ashe wins the first US Open. 1970: Toni Morrison The Bluest Eye the problem of “whiteness” as a standard of beauty Arthur Ashe wins The Australian Open. 1972: Bettye Saar The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. 1975: Ashe slowballs Connors to win Wimbledon “no matter what I do, or where or when I do it, I feel the eyes of others watching me, judging me.” Arthur avoids tennis clubs where he is not allowed, skips tournaments he cannot enter, turning and turning as contemplative as inward as Rembrandt, his favorite artist. In Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer,” Ashe sees the “close kinship between admiration and envy” he must feel when contemplating John Carlos or Muhammad Ali—black athletes who could protest in ways Ashe’s personality and patriotism would not allow. Ashe always soft-spoken and behind the scenes. “The problem with you, Arthur, is that you are not arrogant enough” (Jesse Jackson). White racists told Ashe how to live.  Black activists told Ashe how to live. Should he take the white doll away from his daughter during a nationally televised benefit for the Arthur Ashe Foundation of Aids the year before his death? Does the the burden of race weighs more than the burden of AIDS? Nelson Mandela in prison reads “A Hard Road to Glory,” Ashe’s three volume history of the black athlete. Ashe cannot abide any sacrifice of dignity, any sacrifice of morality, the question always always how can a black person live a life of freedom and dignity. In his excursions to South Africa to play tennis, Ashe did as much as anyone to challenge the system of apartheid. Mandela in America smiling that smile when someone whispers Ashe’s name in his ear: “Ah, Arthur is here.”

*much of the material here is taken from Ashe’s Days of Grace

This writing first appeared in Another Chicago Magazine.

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