Perhaps the most disturbing feature of contemporary society is that it appears racism is rearing its ugly head in areas of life well beyond sport. In this regard there seems reason to believe that if this phenomenon continues we may soon find ourselves back where we were several hundred years ago or much worse.
There was a time when people of the darker hue spoke up and took action against what they perceived as racism they were the ones that the international media chided for reverse racism. The situation today however compels some in the media to ‘call a spade a spade’ and identify the re-emergence of open, naked racism on a more global scale.
Those who have taken the time to seek an explanation for the growth of racism in the past would acknowledge the plethora of literature developed by those who sought to develop a pseudo-scientific rationale for racism, including an attempt at suggesting that people of colour had smaller brains and much less of the material that contributed to human intelligence.
The existence and experience of blacks and native Indians in some western societies tell an ominous tale of the conditions under which human beings were treated by others, merely because of their colour. To the lighter folks the existence of people of colour was more than a mere aberration. They had no right to exist. However, since they existed, they could only be used as human fodder, the ‘scum of the earth’.
We are aware of research that revealed the deliberate strategies implemented in some developed countries that committed people of the darker hue to the fringes of education. In some advanced industrial countries, they were thought only capable of participating in sport and music, having been deemed incapable of academia because of the size of their brains or the pervasive nature of their brawn.
It is most interesting that even when they proved themselves exceptional in the world of sport and again in the world of entertainment they had to wage an incessant war of sorts to get their talent sufficiently recognised to be allowed into the mainstream in both areas of endeavour.
At a time when we claim to have advanced significantly as human beings the re-emergence of vicious racism in so many parts of the world is disturbing and poses a major threat to peace in the affected countries and indeed in the entire world.
Racism in sport
The world is replete with examples of the immense struggles that people of colour had to engage in to gain recognition of any sort.
Jim Thorpe, the American Indian
The athletic performances of American Indian, Jim Thorpe, highlighted by his double gold medal performances at the Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, 105 years ago in the pentathlon and decathlon events, counted for little as his race was not considered worthy of anything.
His involvement in minor league baseball saw the International Olympic Committee (IOC) strip him of his medals. International pressure eventually forced the IOC to recant but only to the extent of giving his family two token replica medals in 1982. An article in The Smithsonian of 2012 written by Sally Jenkins, observed, “…Countless white athletes abused the amateurism rules and played minor-league ball with impunity. What’s more, the IOC did not follow its own rules for disqualification: Any objection to Thorpe’s status should have been raised within 30 days of the Games, and it was not.”
Many consider the action of the IOC to be mere window-dressing. The Smithsonian article noted, that the IOC, in agreeing to give Thorpe’s family the two replica medals in 1982, declared, “The name of James Thorpe will be added to the list of athletes who were crowned Olympic champions at the 1912 Games.”
However, the IOC went on to declare, “However, the official report for these Games will not be modified.”
Thorpe’s athletic performances should have allowed him to be known as one of the greatest athletes of all time. Unfortunately for him, he was done in by the reality of life at the time.
Many sprinters even to this day acknowledge Jesse Owens as one of the greatest of all time. Yet, many have come to understand the immense racism that pressured him in sport in the very early part of his athletics career.
Owens’ place in history is very much a result of the fact that as a black athlete he defied the Hitlerism concept of breeding a super race of white people. That was more important than anything else, as far as many were concerned. In their anxiety to have Hitler embarrassed at the Olympics the same political leaders and international media ignored the harsh reality of Owens’ experiences as a man of colour in the USA and around the world at the time. His achievements on the track did not necessarily translate into anything that earned him and people of his colour a better ‘place at the table’.
In his later years Owens fell afoul of many black athletes because they felt that he had lost his own appreciation for the fact that while his particular circumstance may have been different, the reality of racism continues all around him.
Summer Olympics 1968
The Summer Olympics of 1968 in Mexico Coty, Mexico, will long be remembered for several outstanding feats. Many would recall the innovative high jump technique of Dick Fosbury now institutionalized in the sport of athletics – the Fosbury Flop. They would recall the world record setting long jump of Bob Beamon.
However, almost everyone everywhere would remember, forever, the awards ceremony for the men’s 200m featuring Tommie Smith (USA), Peter Norman (Australia) and John Carlos (USA).
The two Americans raised their black-gloved right clenched fists during the playing of the USA’s national anthem while Peter Norman, an anti-racism advocate, wore a “small badge that read: “Olympic Project for Human Rights” — an organization set up a year previously opposed to racism in sport.”(Montague, J. CNN 2012)
Many may have forgotten the turbulent 1960s, especially the years leading up to the Games.
US President, John F Kennedy (1963), Malcolm X (1965) and Martin Luther King Jr (1968) had all been assassinate din the USA. In Mexico, students were being massacred almost indiscriminately. The world watched in awe as the war in Vietnam raged even as there was a battle against racial segregation in the USA and several African nations.
Norman of Australia paid as much of a p/rice for standing up on the podium with his little badge as did the Americans who raised their fists in defiance. He never competed for the country again.
More recent cases
Chris Bond, writing earlier this year makes reference to the book, ‘Sport and Discrimination’, that “has put racism, sexism and homophobia under the microscope. The academic book, co-edited by Dr Daniel Kilvington – Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Leeds Beckett”. The main tenet of the book is that while there are claims everywhere of significant progress made in the fight against discrimination, “….It takes place in various forms and various places. …Fewer and fewer fans are getting arrested for racist chanting, but racism is very clever and so is discrimination and it can operate in subtle ways. What we’re seeing now in football, for instance, is overt racism has migrated from the stands to social media ….Racism, sexism and homophobia still exist, they’re just operating under the surface. Discrimination is institutional and it’s invisible but that doesn’t mean it’s not there and that’s why it’s important that we raise awareness.”
In 2013, Basketballer, Jeremy Lin spoke to “racial bias in professional basketball. Lin’s insights also underscore stereotypes across the news media and among fans”.
One year later, many may recall, we had the unfortunate incident when a fan threw a banana at Barcelona player Dani Alves during a game in Spain.
The owner of the Clippers basketball team, Donald Sterling, was banned for life for the racial comments he made.
There was the abhorrent scenario where “eight white wrestlers from Phillipsburg, New Jersey, were suspended from the state tournament after they posed for a photo in their school colors surrounding an effigy of a black rival hanging from a rope – a set-up many say evoked a lynching”.
Last year, 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, took a knee during the national anthem. His protest against racism in the USA is growing all around the country and threatens to engender significant consciousness of the racial problems encountered in that country and others around the world much like what happened several decades ago. This time around however, there is social media to help spawn the message.
Bringing it home
Here in our own St Vincent and the Grenadines, one administrator dared to insist that “Black people are afraid of white people”. One did not expect to hear that in this country in this historical period but it was stated and the individual seemed to believe that to be the case.
The statement was not made to one other individual but was instead stated in the presence of several other people. That is disturbing but instructive.
That in this day and age we can have someone even thinking that in our once beautiful country is bad enough. That anyone could dare to speak such words tells us to be wary of what some already believe is a growing trend.
If we do not know and understand our history we are not likely to do anything to effect change.
With the global tendency to the re-emergence of racism in almost all aspects of life it is important that we in St Vincent and the Grenadines avoid any suggestion that this should somehow be tolerated in our country.
Racism has no place in society today. Indeed, it should never have happened in the first place. It was always a justification for the systematic and systemic oppression of people of colour. The world has shown that people have rights that are fundamental and one of those is to be acknowledged as equal to all other peoples.
There is no place for racism in sport, here or anywhere else.
Let us commit ourselves to waging an incessant war against any attempt at allowing the suggestion that in today’s Vincentian society, “Black people are afraid of white people”, to take root.