31 August 2008

Black Power Salute: Not what you thought

This recent op-ed in the New York Times talks about the "black power" protest at the 1968 Olympics.
Walking toward the stand — his wife had by then passed the gloves along to the runners — he decided to “represent the flag with pride, but do it with a black accent.” Wearing their medals, they raised clenched, gloved fists as the national anthem was played — Smith his right, Carlos his left. It was done, Smith says, “in military style” — Smith was in the R.O.T.C. at the time. “My head was down,” he says, “because I was praying.”

“I wanted to embody my pride and love for what America is supposed to be,” he told me. “There was no hate, no hostility shown or intended.” It was not, contrary to how it has been portrayed in the media, intended as a black-power salute.

(My emphasis)

This piece indicates serious revisionist history: either by the writer of the piece, or by the media in the wake of that event. It makes the point that it was the Olympic Committee which forced Smith and Carlos to leave the US team and the Games fter the salute. But in the 1936 Olympics, no such sanction were made upon German athletes who made the Nazi salute.

See also Alvin Williams commentary on politics and the Olympics in last weekend's Mid-Ocean News.

Take-home point: the interpretation of this salute says more about the interpreter than the original symbol.

And, for the record, I think the VRA objections to the PLP's use of the salute are ridiculous. I don't like the salute from a political standpoint, but that's politics.

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