Michael Holding's view is that that education holds the key to addressing racism
Michael Holding is adamant about how life would have turned out for him had he grown up in Britain and experienced the racism that his colleague Ebony Rainford-Brent endured as a child.
“I don’t think I would be alive today," he says, ruefully. "As a young man I was a bit fiery. I kicked a stump out of the ground in New Zealand so can you imagine me going through what Ebony went through? No, I would not have made it.”
Holding kicks over the stumps in frustration after a decision for caught behind is turned down against New Zealand
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Racism, and its consequences, has always weighed heavy on Holding. It is what prompted his passionate, angry unscripted monologue to a Sky camera last summer – part of an award-winning package which also featured an emotional contribution from Rainford-Brent. It was shortly after that Holding was contacted by sports stars such as Usain Bolt, Thierry Henry, Naomi Osaka and Hope Powell, all of whom urged him to commit his thoughts to writing. The result is a book, Why We Kneel, How We Rise, although Rainford-Brent’s testimony was too upsetting for her to read in the book, so Holding agreed to remove it.
There is little cricket in the book and it is not about sport. It is about racism in society, something Holding experienced while playing county cricket and on tour in Australia with the West Indies. He did nothing about the abuse at the time, and carries that guilt now. There is a rising anger in the book, which is well researched by Holding and his ghost writer, Ed Hawkins, and builds his argument relentlessly, as if he is still probing away at Geoffrey Boycott’s off stump, that education holds the key.
“Growing up in Jamaica I didn’t experience racism. I experienced it every time I left Jamaica. Each time I experienced it I just told myself ‘this is not your life, I will soon be going back home.’ And if I had made a stand my career would not have lasted as long as it did, I would not have had a long television career. We have seen through history that black people who stand up for their rights and call out injustice are victimised. Mercy, if I had spoken out they would have said ‘another angry young black man get rid of him.’ I would have been another person on the dung heap.”
Holding is speaking on Zoom from the Cayman Islands, where he lives during the English winter after selling his house in Florida. “I did not want to live in Donald Trump’s America. I know he is not president now but 74 million people voted for him. Those 74 million people are still there.”
The why we kneel part of the book describes racism across the ages and all over the world. The sports stars add their own experiences: a young unknown Usain Bolt being told by a shop assistant in London that he would not be able to afford a designer watch, Thierry Henry on taxi drivers in New York refusing his fare while Hope Powell speaks about excrement thrown at her front door as a child.
“I did not involve them so they could say what hard times they have had. I could find hundreds of people like that to describe all those bad issues they have been through. Interviewing them showed that whether you are a poor black person, or a rich black person you still get affected by racism. People have said why would Charles Barclay or Michael Johnson be worried about this, they are multi-millionaires but if your skin is black you still get affected especially in places where you are not known. Then they are right back to being ordinary black men.”
There are some very bleak moments that are painful to read. “I sent a chapter to my sister and she said she could not read it. The ones about lynchings and dehumanization, the picture of three black bodies hanging from the tree that was turned into a postcard. People posting it saying ‘Hi how are you, I am in Alabama.” Come on. There are bits I don’t want to read again.”
West Indies 1976 tour to England features in the Holding's book
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
The most revealing cricket story is Holding’s retelling of the 1976 tour to England and a match at the Oval. Not the famous Test when Viv Richards hammered 291 and Holding scorched England with 14 wickets but a county match against Surrey earlier when Clive Lloyd told his batsmen to go out and spend time at the crease rather than chase down a gettable total. The West Indians in the crowd booed; the team were angered by the response and could not understand why.
“I did not have a full grasp of the situation at the time. I did not get it until I was mixing in British society on a more regular basis. In the 1980s I started coming here regularly with West Indies and played for Derbyshire. I was living here. I would be stood on a corner with a group of friends hailing a taxi and the taxi driver would turn off his light and turn it back on when he passed us. You say ‘s*** is this what people live with?’ I then understood why people wanted the West Indies to win every time they played because it made them feel as if they had worth. ‘I am from where these guys are from. I am just like them. They are champions and I can feel it about myself’.”
Holding has been critical of England not taking the knee as soon as the series against West Indies ended. He calls them pathetic virtue signallers in the book. “They sent a bad signal. Because it was a black team you take a knee? When the white people come here you don’t take a knee because it does not affect you? No. That is totally the wrong attitude to take. Maybe they thought we have ticked that box so we can move on. I’m not trying to force anybody to do anything because either you agree with the cause or you don’t. If you don’t then don’t try and pull wool over people’s eyes.”
He defends taking the knee against accusations of supporting the politics of the Black Lives Matter movement and believes statues of slave traders should be removed.
“People are looking for an excuse. When you attack something you are looking for a weak spot to attack and those who don’t want to accept that black lives matter will look for whatever they can pull at to bring down that movement so they look at the political aspect of it. They will say it is a political movement promoting this and that. All I am promoting is black lives matter as a fact not as an organisation. We need to recognise black lives matter. You need to feel it in your heart.
“I don’t think you can continue to celebrate people who were involved in slavery. I have never seen a statue of Hitler anywhere. He was an evil man so you don’t celebrate evil. Anybody who thinks slavery was not evil then sorry you have a problem so why celebrate it. Take the statues down, put them in a museum where people can study and learn about them but you cannot celebrate them. If you can’t understand that then I can’t help you.”
Education is the theme of the second half of the book, about why he feels it is important to change the way history is taught, even in the Caribbean where curriculums still teach the same version of events he learned at school in the 1960s.
“Lots of people go through life being told things and absorb them and it becomes truth to them. Even me, growing up as a young man, I was taught things as a young man that I later realised were lies. You are told certain things to suit a certain narrative. Unless you go looking for the truth and read other things you go through life believing what you are told. How could Jesus Christ look like he does? He could never have looked like that but that is what you believe because that is what you are told.
"We grow up believing Christopher Colombus discovered all these places but how can he discover these places when people are already living there. What he did was make Europeans aware of it. Because of the European arrogance it does not exist until they are aware of it. That is arrogance. That is the way they teach people. I am trying to educate people about the real history, not the one set of history people want you to know.
“People like role models to aspire towards. That is why so many black achievers in the past have been airbrushed out of history because it does not suit the narrative. Those have the false impression that white race is superior to black. ‘Oh I did not realise a black guy invented this or that.’ Also a black person knowing we produced great people in the past so will lift them.
"Secondly, I need the white people to understand what white privilege means. It does not mean you had a free ride. It does not mean things are given to you and you don’t have to work. What white privilege means is that whatever obstacles you come across it is not because of the colour of your skin. Black people hit obstacles before they open their mouth, before people recognise what they are capable of doing because of the colour of skin. White people don’t have that.”
He knows he will face flak. It will anger white people but you cannot bowl fast and aggressively like Holding did so majestically for so long without a strong character. “There are a lot of haters out there waiting. I don’t care. Let them come. I will debate anyone on the subject. There will be some who don’t want to know and I can’t help them but hopefully enough will read it, think about it and understand and say yes things have to change. This ain’t right.”
Why We Kneel, How We Rise (S&S UK) by Michael Holding is available in all formats from June 24.