These are symbols of protest being displayed in the streets of the US, Canada and many other world cities today. But which symbol does one support?
The symbol on the left originated during the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City. Two winning American athletes, Tommie Smith (Gold) and John Carlos (Bronze) raised their black-gloved fists when they stood on the victors’ podium. After the shock of this visible protest subsided, the media learned what was behind the demonstration. Smith explained their demonstration was not a gesture of Black Power, rather it was a salute to Human Rights. The athletes reinforced their philosophical protest by wearing ‘human rights’ badges on their jackets.
The names of these athletes have faded with time, the symbolism of the raised fists has not. Their demonstration is regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympics. The impact of their action may be arguably minimal, maybe negligible given the names: George Floyd, Breonnna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Sam DuBose, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, William Chapman, Michael Brown. How much longer must the list be before we finally practice social equality?
Aggressive symbols have affected little change. Peaceful ones have more appeal, more acceptability with many people but what has been their impact, their effect? Another athlete tried peaceful tactics. Colin Kapernick, the National Football League quarterback, knelt during the playing of the national anthem back in 2016. His career was destroyed. He never played in the NFL again. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has done some serious backpedalling when a number of players, Patrick Mahome, the best known of them, demonstrated in support of today’s protesters. Explain that about-face to Colin Kapernick.
Many people, colour notwithstanding, may find the open-handed symbol more acceptable because it connotes non-violence, non-aggression. Mahatma Gandhi would proudly support it. Same for Nelson Mandela. Equally so, Martin Luther King. And where has it brought us?
How much closer have we gotten with violence, property destruction, and fatal mayhem? The clenched fist has failed to move us forward with significance. Thankfully, the protesting mobs of today respond to their their better angels and have not resorted to the negative, destructive modes of protest. The protesters and demonstrators deserve all the accolades which can be heaped on them for demonstrating restraint and reserve. But accolades are not what these people seek.
These protesters want real and lasting change. Police brutality must cease, now. Balanced and equal justice must be used in our judicial system, now. Social and economic equality must become the norms of our society, now.
How do we affect real, concrete and constructive change? No more studies. No more commissions. No more discussion. No more talk. We need action.
Our models have paid lip service to racial and economic equality. The bandaids have not solved the issues. Have food banks done it? Have government financial support cheques done it? Have promotional posters and media campaigns done it? Are we making progress?
Perhaps our models need drastic reconsideration. Perhaps adults need to be called to action. Perhaps teaching our children in schools needs reinforcement aimed at adults. Perhaps the targets of our past campaigns have been inadequate. Young people are not the problem. Perhaps our aims have to be redirected, refocused.
We do not need symbols, be they aggressive or otherwise. We do not need more talk, more demonstrations, more protests. We need people to rise up and act.
Believe in equality and justice and act on those beliefs. We can change the error of our ways. We should. We must.