I can’t overstate the import of what the world saw this past week. For the first time ever the people of the US elected an African American president, Barack Obama, and the value that such a moment carries is immeasurable. A bare 40 years have past since Bill Russell became the first African American head coach in the NBA. 10 years ago the world saw the first black CEO of a Fortune 500 company (how ironic is it that Franklin Raines became CEO of — wait for it — Fannie Mae!!!!) There are innumerable examples of things like this all highlighting the magnitude of this moment. But perhaps none more than this one;
40 years ago this year African American sprinters Tommy Smith and John Carlos were evicted from the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games after they raised their fists in protest over the issue of civil rights and as a gesture of black power and unity. While some folks argued that such protests and political action had no business in the Olympics, it’s worthy to note that Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee at the time and man responsible for their suspension, had also been President of the United States Committee in 1936 and made no formal objection to the Nazi salutes given in Berlin. I can’t help but wonder at the feelings that must still be resonating with Tommy Smith and John Carlos today, watching another African American stand on the podium of the highest office in the land, as the President of the United States.
I must also point out, of course, that the 2nd place getter in that infamous race was an Aussie, Peter Norman, and it was his idea that John Carlos wear Tommy’s left-hand glove, after John had forgot to bring his gloves to the ceremony. Peter supported their cause and wore an Olympics Project for Human Rights medal to the ceremony. Unfortunately, he passed in 2006; I’m sure it would’ve meant a lot to him to see this election (Tommy Smith and John Carlos were pallbearers at his funeral).
This has nothing to do with photography, true, but it has everything to do with photography. Louis Armstrong said it best, perhaps, when he said, of art, ‘what we play is life’. There’d be little art in this world if it weren’t for this thing called life we get to experience. It’s through moments like this, profound moving moments, that I connect with something inside that pushes me forward a little further. What just happened this past tuesday still rattles me; rattles me in a good way, in a positive way, a way that can only be a step forward for my humility, for my humanity, regardless of political convictions. I don’t care whether we’re republicans or democrats or libertarian or communists or business people or farmers or musicians or teachers or whatever – we’re people, and that must always come first, must come before economics, before foreign policy, ideology, etc.
To see such enormous support for an African American candidate, to see him elected clear winner as the president is an expression of why this country is the “United” States of America. We’ll probably never entirely step away from things like racism, but they sure look better from a distance. This country put more than a few more miles between herself and that nasty business this week, and for that, above all else, we should be happy and proud.
Congratulations, and Cheers, America.