28 February 2008

Looking Back?

This is a now iconic image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at Men's 200 meter Medal Ceremony the 1968 Olympics. Smith won the Gold Medal and Carlos the Bronze. Australian Peter Norman won the Silver Medal and wore a human rights badge in solidarity with the two Americans. Smith and Carlos have been in the news several times recently here and here. Forty years later the pervasive racism these athletes were protesting persists in the United States.
P.S.: A comment from Stan Banos prompts me to add this afterthought. I mostly grew up in a small, quiet, insulated, mostly white working class city in Western Massachusetts that was dominated by a single employer. I was barely a teenager when this picture was taken. I recall seeing it and thinking that Smith and Carlos were acting outrageously, not in the sense that their protest was despicable or inappropriate, but rather in the sense that it was extra-ordinary. I no more knew what to make of this than I knew what to make of Rosa Parks or Muhammad Ali or Ella Baker or Malcolm X or Martin Luther King. It is a shame that Smith and Carlos have not been recognized as American heroes in the way these other men and women have been.

I look back on this photograph now and think Smith and Carlos were incredibly courageous and, indeed, patriotic. Their protest called attention to the outrage of racism in the U.S. and, by doing so in a venue suffused with nationalism, they called attention to the massive discrepancy between American ideals and American reality, a discrepancy that rendered the former mere platitudes. That discrepancy remains and our ideals remain platitudes. We needn't look back, we only need to look around.

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Blogger Stan B. said...

I was very young and didn't quite grasp all that this act portrayed and symbolized. I just knew it was very unusual, very cool and very brave.

Still do...

28 February, 2008 23:25  

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