Monday, September 1, 2008

Stop Hitting Yourself

Dear Editor of the Register Guard,

In his Mailbag letter (September 1), Jack Roberts writes that after Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists in the air while receiving their Olympic medals in 1968, millions of white Americans took this as a sign that "nothing they did for black people would ever be enough," and they suddenly decided to revert to their racist ways.

Tragically, Roberts informs us, this happened right when we were so close to "uprooting the last remnants of discrimination in America." Roberts concludes his letter by stating that Smith and Carlos are directly responsible for setting back the cause of civil rights in America.

I'd like to posit that it is actually Roberts, and all the people like him, who have always and continue to set back the cause of civil rights in America by arguing that it is actually black people who are responsible for the racism in our society. It's not that Roberts wants to discriminate against black people, he tried to "give" them their civil rights, but they are just so ungrateful that there's nothing he can do but "backlash."

Of course, Roberts writes in a long tradition stretching back to antebellum America of white men finding the source of their racism in the character of black men. Hopefully, we are nearing the end of that tradition, but until that time, it is the responsibility of all who strive for equality in our society to keep raising our fists and fighting men like Jack Roberts.


dave3544 said...

I wanted to add this paragraph, but I ran out of "words" because I actually sent this one.

Maybe, in the future, Roberts would be kind enough to write in to let us know how much better relations between Native Americans and whites would be, if only Sitting Bull had not so brutally attacked Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Or maybe he could tell us of all the advantages migrant labor would have today if only Casar Chavez had not alienated white farm-owners with his agitating tactics.

gabbagabbahey said...

I was watching a documentary on the BBC about the '68 Olympics, and apparently the Australian sprinter who took silver in that race wore one of their (Carlos and Smith's) human rights badges on the podium. I didn't go into much more detail unfortunately (and god knows what his attitude to Aborigines was) other than to point how that standing up to racism wasn't just a 'black' thing.

ash (on leave) said...

Damn, Dave. That's awesome. I'm glad you actually sent this one.

chad said...


great letter.


I'm away from home right now so I can't grab the book to cite it, but Dave Zirin's book What's My Name Fool: Sports and Resistance in the United States, has an interview with (I think) Carlos, where he lays out how everything unfolded. It is enlightening, and the rest of the book is pretty good as well if you have an interest in sports and politics and the ways they intersect.

dave3544 said...


I've read about Peter Norman before, but not much. It is my understanding that he wanted to join Smith and Carlos in raising his fist, but they thought that it would muddle the message. He wore the badge instead. He was a strong support of aboriginal rights.

Norman got in as much trouble with the Australian Olympic Federation as did Smith and Carlos. When Australia hosted the 2000 Olympics, he was not honored or included in any way.