In his first career as one of the world’s best fast bowlers, he glided to the crease, his feet seeming barely to touch the ground. He was elegant, stylish, and devastating. They called him Whispering Death. But on 8 July 2020, during a rain break on day three of England’s first Test against the West Indies at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl, Sky Sports commentator Michael Holding turned it up to 11, and the world heard.
The rain meant that a feature starring Holding and fellow commentator Ebony Rainford-Brent, the first black woman to play cricket for England, could go out in full. The two spoke affectingly of their visceral reaction to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers; their own experiences of racism as Black athletes and Black people; and the now unignorable message of the Black Lives Matter movement and the ideas of racial justice that it is fighting for.
“If you don’t educate people,” said Holding to close his part of the piece, “they’ll keep on growing up in that sort of society and you’ll not get meaningful change…when you say to somebody ‘Black lives matter’ and they tell you ‘all lives matter’, or ‘white lives matter’, please, we Black people know white lives matter. I don’t think you know Black lives matter. So don’t shout back at us that ‘all lives matter’. It is obvious, the evidence is clear, that white lives matter. We want Black lives to matter now.”
"If you don't educate people, they'll keep growing up in that sort of society and you'll not get meaningful change."
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) July 8, 2020
Clips of the segment sped around the Internet, racking up millions of views, retweets and comments, but neither Holding nor Rainford-Brent were satisfied with mere message-sending. Rainford-Brent, already the driving force behind the African-Caribbean Engagement programme with the support of Surrey CCC where she is Director of Women’s Cricket, has taken her agenda of structural reform to the highest levels of English cricket, in particular England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tom Harrison.
Holding does not have a position with any governing body, but he does have a channeled forcefulness and clarity of expression that few in the game can match, and we will soon be seeing that come to the fore in print. Leading UK publisher Simon & Schuster have announced that they have acquired the rights to publish a new book by Holding, evocatively titled Why We Kneel, How We Rise. Due for release in June 2021, the book will promote an agenda of anti-racism re-education through the testimonies and experiences of iconic Black athletes from across the sporting world.
“I had messages, emails and other communication from people of all ages, races and religious persuasions, thanking me for what I had said and hoping that it would make a difference. From these and other conversations, I came to realise I couldn’t just stop there; I had to take it forward – hence the book, as I believe education is the way forward, and I am hopeful this book can help in this regard.”
Why We Kneel, How We Rise promises to shine a light on the history of Black athletes as winners and as icons. And in the here and now, when the current British government has all but outlawed teaching in schools of those legacies of trauma and of slavery’s role in establishing modern capitalism, its publication cannot come soon enough.