As we approach the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games, I was reminded of this iconic photo of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
I encourage you to read the linked article, “Fists of Freedom,” as it provides an excellent background for the photo, which, as the article states, is often seen without context.
These champions, Black Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Australian silver medalist Peter Norman stood in solidarity as part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) movement.
This group expressed opposition to the Vietnam war, apartheid, antisemitism, and racism. They were calling for the removal of the head of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, who was a known anti-Semite and white supremacist. Because of the powerful gesture, rumors swirled that Smith and Carlos’ medals were taken away by the IOC. That, in fact, was not the truth, but was intended to deter further gestures.
U.S. National papers were not kind in their coverage of the event, and this fact reminds me of how courageous these men were. Because these Black athletes risked everything for which they had toiled their entire lives, because they believed in something so strongly and powerfully, I am inspired by these men.
I will be taking a special interest in the Olympic Games this year. I will be participating in the Ravellenic Games (formerly the Ravelympics) for the first time. The Ravellenic Games are hosted on yarn-crafting social network Ravelry, and serve as a way for yarn crafters to challenge themselves to stitch to the limit during the Olympic Games. The mass cast on coincides with the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.
As the captain of Team Mexico Art Like Bread, an international and multicultural group of diverse yarn crafters, and as a member of Team Cocoa Puffs, where I will represent with my brown skinned sisters, I will remember that making something is a meaningful act and an act of courage. Although we are doing something we love, our stitches are not frivolous. The recent debacle with the U.S. Olympic Committee reminded us that something we know and love is not readily embraced. That which we love could be taken away.
I am reminded that even a simple act can be either purposeful or neutral. We don’t have to give up our dreams, or our rightful places on the podium, to make a deep impact.
What if Smith and Carlos had boycotted the Games, as was originally called for by the OPHR? Certainly the course of history would have changed, not only for these two athletes, but for the entire movement. By participating, they gained their deserved personal reward, brought glory to their country, and provided us, the interpreters of history, with an irreplaceable visual code to open dialogue and reflection about these important issues.