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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mexico City Olympics and U. S. Civil Rights

In 1968, the Olympics were held in Mexico City. One event many people remember was the medal ceremony for the 200 meter runners. Two African Americans, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists and looked down away from the flag. The Olympic Committee was so angry, they were sent home and stripped of their medals. You can read about this story in blog posts by Duane Shank and Jerrod McKenna. Keep following the links, and you will learn even more. It is an intriguing sequence of events in a year of great turmoil and change.

I was struck as I read the statements and watched the video clips. I was 10 years old when these Olympics took place, and I remember the protest clearly. It was the first widely televised Olympics, and the first time I was paying attention. I remember a getting a feeling that the protest was inappropriate. Listening to some of the criticisms in the online clips, I was reminded of the vocal criticisms of Smith and Carlos.

White folks who have sought to come to grips with their formation in a racialized world have learned that even when they have made progress, they still can be surprised to discover uncritical responses embedded in their racialized historical memories. I found myself looking at these events with the eyes of a 10-year-old who had been taught not to hold racial hatred but who was confused by the intersection of racial injustice, sports, politics, and patriotism. My initial memory of the events brought back the judgment that these young men should have found another way, another time, and another place to express their political views.

For decades I have been critical of the devotion shown to the U. S. flag, freely referring to it as idolatry. Moreover, I have been intensely engaged in issues of race intellectually and personally for over a decade. It would seem that I would have thought through Mexico City by now, but I guess my attention never settled on it long enough to think through my earlier reactions. This time, as I read about the political context in the U. S., the International Olympic Committee, and Mexico, I was awakened to a whole new way of looking at Smith and Carlos. As I learned of their deliberate acts of protest, it made complete sense.

Whatever I've learned, there is always more. I look forward to the opportunity to watch the new documentary about these events, Salute!, and to looking at Tommie Smith's book Silent Gesture.

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