Holding is not soft-pedalling his way to retirement with new book

Michael Holding’s poignant Black Lives Matter speech stopped the cricketing world last year… after speaking with Usain Bolt, Thierry Henry and Naomi Osaki for his new book, the West Indies legend is not soft-pedalling his way towards retirement

  • Last year, Michael Holding stopped the cricketing world with a poignant speech 
  • The cricket legend’s conscience has been pricked and he has written a new book
  • Why We Kneel, How We Rise demonstrates the toll racism takes on its victims 
  • Holding, 67, speaks to the likes of Usain Bolt and Thierry Henry about racism
  • He believes that the Britain has some way to go to level the playing field 

Over a year has passed since Michael Holding stopped the cricketing world in its tracks, speaking poignantly on Sky Sports alongside Ebony Rainford-Brent about his experience of racism. It might easily have been a memorable one-off. But Holding is on a roll.

He has recently written a book, Why We Kneel, How We Rise, that is part history lesson, part plea for equality, part rage against a system which, he argues, has spent centuries dehumanising the black race.

There are big names in his crosshairs. ‘Boris Johnson came out with a statement saying “you can’t go back and edit history”,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘History has already been edited. What we want is the true history, not just what suits one set of people.’

Michael Holding is not soft-pedalling his way into retirement and taking a stance over racism

Holding is 67 now, and might easily have soft-pedalled his way towards retirement, his reputation secure as one of cricket’s greatest fast bowlers and the commentary box’s most resonant voices. But his conscience has been pricked. Once, his attitude towards racial abuse was to turn 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 ought to dispel any doubts – if any existed – about the toll racism takes on its victims. It is one of the sporting world’s most eloquent expressions of a Black Lives Matter movement that entered a new dimension last year following the murder of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis.

Holding uses his celebrity wisely, securing interviews with other black A-list athletes. Hope Powell, England’s first black football manager, talks of dog excrement being shoved through her letterbox. Makhaya Ntini tells of his despair about being written off as a ‘quota’ cricketer, despite 662 wickets for South Africa. Thierry Henry describes ordering an Uber in New York, then watching the car speed past as the driver clocks his ethnicity.

Last year, the cricket legend made a poignant speech in the wake of George Floyd’s murder

The 67-year-old has spoken to the likes of Naomi Osaka (L) and Thierry Henry (R) for his book

Holding also spoke to aboriginal Aussie rules star Adam Goodes about the tolls of racism

Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, tennis player Naomi Osaka and the aboriginal Aussie Rules footballer Adam Goodes all join in. It is not a pleasant read. Nor is it intended to be.

‘I involved these big names to show people how, irrespective of whether you are famous, once you have black skin you are victimised, you are discriminated against,’ says Holding.

‘As Thierry Henry says, once he got a hat-trick, it was: “Hi Mr Henry, what can I do for you?” That is what black people need to do to become ‘normal’ – they need to become a big star. But once he went somewhere they did not know him, he went back to being an ordinary black man.’

Despite this, the book has at its heart a positive message: educate yourself about the past, says Holding, and you will be less likely to harbour ignorant views in the present. He is hopeful, but with caveats.

‘I think America has made greater strides in the last year than the UK,’ he says. ‘I don’t see any real progress in the UK. I hear a lot of talk. In America, I see huge corporations putting up huge moneys for programmes that will try to level the playing field. I don’t see that in England.

The commentator believes that the United States is making great strides in combatting racism

However, he does not believe that the UK is close to levelling the playing field for everyone

‘A department store [Sainsbury’s] put out a Christmas ad with a black couple, and the abuse they got… One comment was: “OK, when is our white Christmas ad coming?” An ITV quiz show had three black couples, and again the abuse they got. I thought the UK would have jumped on board this thing a lot quicker than the US.’

The book is about society rather than cricket, but cricket inevitably rears its head, and some of Holding’s ire is directed towards those who sought to denigrate the all-conquering West Indian team for whom he took 249 wickets in 60 Tests.

As he puts it now: ‘When England had the opportunity to field four fast bowlers against Australia in 2005, with Steve Harmison and those guys, and Ricky Ponting got hit 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 the sport – not least because of England’s decision to stop taking a knee halfway through last summer. Where others saw the politicisation of the BLM movement, Holding saw an unequivocal gesture.

‘If you’re supporting a cause, you support the cause willingly,’ he says. ‘No one has to be telling you to support a cause. And the universal acknowledgment of supporting that cause is taking a knee.

Holding takes aim at UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other big names in his new book

‘If you stand in silence for one game, and you say to yourself, “Oh, we have done it, we no longer have to do anything”, that’s not supporting anything. That’s just ticking a box, and saying now we can move on.’

Why We Kneel, How We Rise is not in the mood to move on, and Holding has gone to great lengths to educate himself and his readers about historical injustice.

Did you know about the Roman emperor Septimius Severus? Or Lewis Howard Latimer, who invented the incandescent lightbulb (Thomas Edison usually gets the credit)? Or Matthew Henson, who may have beaten allcomers to the North Pole? All were black, and all fell victim to what Holding calls ‘the white parchment of history’.

He is all too aware that society’s brainwashing is pervasive: his mother’s family stopped talking to her when she married a darker-skinned man. ‘Some of the chapters were very painful,’ he says. ‘In the early days, I was sending chapters to my family members. One of my sisters called me and said: “Mikey, I cannot read this. I cannot go through this, because I know it’s the truth.” ‘Even me, given the amount of times I had to read the book, I couldn’t go through those chapters again.’

Holding is good on the question of ‘white privilege’, and impatient with those who misinterpret it. ‘Some white people say: “I have never been given anything, I have to work hard for everything I have got.” That’s not white privilege. It means that whatever obstacles that have been placed in front of you have nothing to do with the colour of your skin.’

He also shared his disappointment in the England team abandoning the kneel before games

Holding is looking for tangible changes to be made to bridge the gap and level the playing field

He recalls the story of his wife, Laurie, who is of Portuguese heritage, entering a hotel in Canada on a work trip with a brown-skinned colleague. While she ‘just waltzes in,’ her colleague is stopped and asked what he is doing. Later, the colleague asks Laurie if she noticed. When she says she didn’t, he refers to ‘white skin: the world’s passport’.

Holding adds, without judgment or rancour: ‘It’s the privilege. It doesn’t occur to a lot of white people.’

He is not unrealistic about the work that remains if society’s playing field is to be truly level. One chapter had to be removed from the book because his interviewee was fearful of intimidation. The interviewee was Rainford-Brent.

But he notes the growing number of white faces on BLM marches in the USA, 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 regards it as a starting point.

‘Taking a knee, yes, good gesture, let people do that. Putting up a statue of a black person at Lord’s, yes. A beautiful painting of Viv [Richards] at Lord’s – fantastic. But let us go beyond those things, and see tangible things happening.’

One day, they may even think about a statue of Holding.

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