UMass DL Ali Ali-Musa weighs in on Charlottesville

  • UMass senior defensive lineman Ali Ali-Musa, makes a tackle last year at South Carolina. COURTESY UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass senior defensive lineman Ali Ali-Musa, shown here last year at BYU. COURTESY UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass senior defensive lineman Ali Ali-Musa hopes his background and personality might help break down stereotypes. THOM KENDALL FOR UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass defensive lineman Ali Ali-Musa is shown during spring practice, March 28 at McGuirk Stadium. Ali-Musa, who went to high school in Virginia, weighs in on Charlottesville and race relations in the United States. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass defensive lineman Ali Ali-Musa (90) forces Florida running back Lamical Perine (22) to fumble during the first half of the MInutemen’s game at Florida Sept. 3, 2016. AP

Friday, August 18, 2017

AMHERST — Ali Ali-Musa shook his head Monday as he talked about Charlottesville while leaning on the railing outside the UMass football locker room.

The junior defensive end went to high school in Virginia and still has family in Annanadale, a Washington D.C. suburb that’s just over 100 miles northeast of last weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally that turned violent.

“It was extremely hard to watch. I have family (in Annanadale) so I was partly worried,” he said. “It’s just heartbreaking to see all this negativity.”

Ali-Musa was born in Nigeria. He emigrated to the United States when he was 9 and is on a legal path to citizenship. While he doesn’t practice Islam himself, his father does. Since last year’s presidential election, there’s been increased hostility toward Muslims, immigrants and African-Americans. Ali-Musa identifies with all three.

“I don’t want to say anything to the president, but he’s allowing all these white supremacists to have a voice,” Ali-Musa said. “Now they’ve found somebody to stand up for them. You’re not supposed to stand up for hate. It’s basically saying we haven’t changed a bit. There’s still hate between people.”

According to a Washington Post story that quoted research from Public Religion Research Institute, “the average white person’s friends are one percent black,” a factor that influences reactions to news events.

Ali-Musa hoped if people got to know more people from outside their own culture that they’d be less likely to hold onto stereotypes. It’s easier to hate a nebulous abstract group than a person you’ve gotten to know.

He’s eager to share who he is and talk to people and hopefully break down some stereotypes one person at a time.

“I want my name to be more exposed,” said the 6-foot-2, 275-pound lineman. “I want people to see there are people like me, who come from a Muslim background with an African name.

“I can show by example. People fear what they don’t know. If you get to know me I’m a nice guy. I’m a truly genuine person who you can talk to about anything,” he continued. “But the first thing people notice is that I’m a big black guy with a blue du-rag who plays football and was born in Africa.”

Ali-Musa, a sociology major, said UMass has been a welcoming atmosphere and thought the diverse nature of a large university was valuable for people learning each other’s background.

He was particularly saddened knowing some people would be raised racist before ever having a chance to get to know someone from another culture.

The Charlottesville image of the child in Ku Klux Klan attire approaching the African-American policeman that has been prominently shared on social media, particularly affected Ali-Musa.

“We can’t let kids grow up hating,” he said. “You’re teaching your kids to treat kids who aren’t like them different. That’s what starts these killings in schools and bullying. It’s all sad.”

Ali-Musa said he wished he was in position to make more of an impact and hoped more prominent athletes would lend their influence to the cause, and not just African-American athletes.

“Everybody loves an athlete. We need more athletes to speak up. We need Peyton Manning, LeBron James. We need them to talk about the issues going on,” he said. “People will listen to white people more. A black person can say that and people don’t take it as seriously. If we had more people talking about it, that’s a start to bring awareness.”

He hoped Charlottesville would foster those conversations and eventually inspire progress.

“What happened this weekend was an eye-opener to some people. People have said that racism has dissipated or it’s gone. This weekend showed it’s very much alive. There are still some people out there who hate, just because they were brought up like that,” he said. “We see all this hate. Everyone talks about it, but nobody is really doing anything about it.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage