When we think of the symbols of the Black Power movement, the fist is the first thing on my mind. Why the fist? Where did it start? Why is it etched so deeply in our cultural memory?
Perhaps the most prevalent image of the fist in American history is the 1968 Olympic salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Silent, strong, black gloved fists raised to the air, heads bowed. In their shining moments, Smith and Carlos took the spotlight off of their achievements and put it on the suffering and struggle of Blacks in America.
Courageous, nonviolent, and simple but rebellious and dissentious all the same. Together, they stood on that platform, victorious. Not only did they win medals for their athletic talents but they brought the attention of the world to the Civil Rights struggle and they instilled a strong sense of pride in Black Americans. All by simply raising their fists.
What would happen if the year was 2012 and Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and other Black Olympians take the podium and accept their medals but do so with their heads bowed and their fists raised? Would the reaction be as swift and firm as it was in 1968? Does the fist still hold so much clout?
When Smith and Carlos showed the world their pride, they were marked as unruly radicals who subverted a sacred moment by marring it with their politics. Their love for their country and desire for it to stand up to the moral code it promised was considered disruptive. They were banned for life. That simple salute changed the way sports and politics interact. One of the most powerful, and most memorable moments in Black history, in Olympic history, in sports history started with something as simple as two raised fists.
Unity. Solidarity. Strength in numbers. An understanding that we are all one unit. A call for action. A rally cry for oppressed people. Militancy. Protest. Pride. These are just a few things expressed by a clenched fist. Does that power of expression still remain?