Muhammad Ali, who passed away Friday, was beloved by millions for his sharp wit and his outspoken self-love as a radical black Muslim — but that hadn't always been the case.
In 1974, one month after knocking out Joe Frazier in the infamous "Thrilla in Manila" world championship fight, Ali made an appearance on the Phil Donahue Show, where he answered questions from a mostly white audience on his Islamic faith, boxing career and retirement plans.
In resurfaced footage, the then-32-year-old boxer shoots down a white woman who criticized his "arrogance":
WOMAN: I don't like his arrogance.
ALI: That's because I'm black.
WOMAN: No. No. No, sir.
ALI: You don't like a n***ger talking like this.
ALI: Listen, woman. Everybody black watching this show knows why you don't like the way I'm talking. You don't like it when a n**ger talking to you like this. N**gers never talk to you like this before. Don't tell me what you don't like. You don't know who you're talking to. I don't care about what you don't like. This is about people liking to see me get my butt whooped.
The woman in the video goes on to imply that she also deals with oppression as a minority because she's from England. The world famous boxer gave her a brutally honest reality check.
WOMAN: Listen, I'm in the minority in this country.
ALI: You're a minority. What minority are you?
WOMAN: I'm from England.
ALI: Oh, you're a minority! You're from England! You own England and America. You're white. You can go to any city you want. Oh, you're from England. You're more freer than me. You're from England. Didn't you say you're the minority? You know you can go to towns, move in neighborhoods, you can buy things, you can open a business in downtown Chicago and do business. And I can't do it, but you're from England! So you got some nerve to come back and be mad at me because I'm proud and I want to fight and be confident and get my people to be proud and fight. We in the minority too. We've been a minority for 400 years, and you're freer than me, and you're from England.
Then another white woman offered a more traditionally "white feminist" defense, implying that women face more obstacles than many black Americans. The legendary fighter wasn't having any of it.
WOMAN 2: She's a woman though
ALI: Whatever, she's a white woman. She's in a white society, and I'm not going to get into that. The [white] woman is more freer than all black people in Chicago.
WOMAN 2: I don't know about that.
ALI: Well, I know about that and you're a hypocrite.
For Ali, telling the world that he is "the greatest" was about fighting against the prejudice and discrimination directed at black Americans.
His behavior was often framed as arrogant, but given the racism black Americans faced at the time, it could be argued that instead his words were an act of radical self-love. Four decades later, black people continue to face pushback when taking pride in their identity.
Given the history of American racism, Ali's unapologetic retort is a timeless and resonant statement.
Watch the full exchange here: