Monday, 14 July 2008

Mexico Olympics revisited

This month the BBC broadcast a programme: Black Power Salute. The programme notes read:

"Film about one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, when the radical spirit of the Sixties upstaged the greatest sporting event in the world. Two men made a courageous gesture that reverberated around the world and changed their lives forever. There were a number of unforgettable performances at Mexico City Olympic Games and many world records were broken, but the enduring image from the 1968 Games was when African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved clenched fists in support of the Black Panther movement during the Star Spangled Banner, after receiving gold and bronze medals for the 200m sprint. They were subsequently banned from the Games for life. This documentary asks what inspired them to make their protest, why it carried such a powerful message and what happened to the unlikely revolutionaries following the Games."

This excellent programme will hopefully be replayed on other BBC channels in the near future.

The producers managed to capture the broad sweep of history which culminated in the black power salute in 1968 but also brought the story up to date. The San Jose State University, where the runners studied, unveiled a statue in 2005 in commemoration of the runners stand at the Olympics, but then you have to ask where was the Australian Peter Norman who came second?

My thinking was that the statue should really be complete as Peter Norman also participated in the protest by wearing a supportive badge, a group of black and white athletes fighting against discrimination. As ever a little knowledge is dangerous! Staff at the university have informed me that the second place has been left deliberately empty so that people can take their own stand and participate in this iconic image.

In the light of the recent fracas caused by Jesse Jackson's comment re Barack Obama, the statue clearly highlights how life moves on and new perspectives come into view. Even the "old style" Jesse Jackson protest ideology becomes outworn and is usurped by refreshed ideas. Have we gone beyond "them and us" and now we are all to be engaged?

For further on this is a recent "Communities Dominate Brands" blog:

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