Jul 30 2012

1968 Olympics Black Power Salute: Ever Wonder What that White Guy Was Thinking?

Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, 1968 Olympics

When American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black fists in protest and solidarity at the Mexico City Olympic games in 1968, I was much too young to understand the significance of the moment. I do remember the controversy it stirred.

I have vague recollections of the negative and positive opinions voiced over the years by the adults in my world regarding whether the two men were heroes or fools. I recall that most of my people were of the opinion that it took immense courage for those two young men to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

What I don’t remember is anyone ever discussing the white guy who stood there with them.

Ever.

He was the second fastest man in the world. Was he too stunned to move? Did he know in advance that this “political” statement would be made in his moment of glory? Was he as appalled by the black power symbolism as much of white America seemed to be? Was he just a bystander, or did he know in advance that he would be a participant in a civil rights protest of world-reaching proportions?

That white guy’s name was Peter Norman. On that day at the summer games Norman had just earned the 200 meter dash silver medal for his home country, Australia, and yes, he was well aware of the protest in advance. Peter spoke with his co-medalists about their plan, told them he believed in what they were doing, and wore a button on his jacket identical to the ones worn by Smith and Carlos which read “Olympic Project for Human Rights,” a black American organization formed in 1967 by amateur athletes.

The founding statement of OPHR read (in part):

We must no longer allow this country to use…a few “Negroes” to point out to the world how much progress she has made in solving her racial problems when the oppression of Afro-Americans is greater than it ever was. We must no longer allow the Sports World to pat itself on the back as a citadel of racial justice when the racial injustices of the sports industry are infamously legendary…[A]ny black person who allows himself to be used in the above matter… is a traitor to his country because he allows racist whites the luxury of resting assured that those black people in the ghettos are there because that is where they want to be… So we ask why should we run in Mexico only to crawl home?

Norman agreed with that premise, stood proudly with Smith and Carlos, and like them, he paid a heavy price for it.

Most people who are knowledgeable about that moment in history know Smith and Carlos were ejected from the games immediately and stripped of their medals. Though some in the black community hailed the men as heroes, their “official” reception back in the U.S. was beyond frigid. Both men had difficulty finding jobs and Smith was dishonorably discharged from the Army Reserve for “UnAmerican activities.” Both received death threats.

The Los Angeles Times described the raised fists of Smith and Carlos as a “Nazi-like salute.” Time magazine replaced the Olympic logo’s motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” with “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier” in their scathing version of the event. The Chicago Tribune called the act “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” Sports writer Brent Musberger, in another reference to Nazis, called the two men “a pair of dark-skinned storm troopers” who were “airing dirty clothing before the entire world.”

And then there was Peter.

He returned to Australia to suffer a lifetime of sanction and ridicule. Though no Australian to date has ever been clocked running faster than him, Norman was never invited to represent his country in the Olympics again.

“As soon as he got home he was hated,” explains his nephew Matt Norman, director of the film “Salute!” a documentary Matt filmed about Peter’s life before and after the 1968 Olympics.

After hearing he’d been cut from Australia’s Munich team (despite qualifying) Norman quit running, and in 2000, when his country hosted the Olympic games in Sydney, he was not invited.

“At the Sydney Olympics he wasn’t invited in any capacity,” says Matt Norman. ”There was no outcry. He was the greatest Olympic sprinter in our history…He suffered to the day he died.”

Though Carlos and Smith were eventually restored to their proper place as activists and heroes in the struggle for civil rights in America, and both were honored in 2008 at the ESPN Espy awards, Norman died an unsung hero in his homeland on October 9, 2006.

At the funeral both Smith and Carlos gave the eulogy, announcing to the mourners that the U.S. Track and Field association had declared the day of his death “Peter Norman Day” — the only time in the organization’s history that such an honor had been bestowed on a foreign athlete.

Carlos & Smith carrying Peter Norman’s coffin in 2006. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Both men helped carry Peter Norman’s coffin before it was lowered into the ground. For them, Norman was a hero.

Carlos referred to him as “A lone soldier,” for his determined stand against racism.

“Peter Norman is my brother from another mother…” said Carlos. “I’d die for him…”

For more information about the film visit Salute the Movie.

To read an excellent article about the Olympic black power salute and the events surrounding it, DO NOT MISS this informative piece by Dave Zirin, who is also the co-author of The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World.

 

Awesome trailer for the film Salute, the Movie. Glad I watched it. Inspiring:

“I believe in human rights…” – Peter Norman, 6/16/1942 – 10/3/2006

 

UPDATE:

“Salute” the Movie is now available for streaming on Netflix!


Jul 8 2012

According to ‘Abraham Lincoln’ Harriet Tubman Shouldn’t Be So Black

There are two things the American masses can’t seem to get enough of, revisionist history and vampires, so, hey, why not mash up the two and make a quick box office buck?

Enter film maker Tim Burton (yes, thee Tim Burton) and his just released bright idea, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” a re-imagined version of our 16th President as a hatchet-wielding, freedom fighting abolitionist on a quest for vengeance against the blood-sucking, slave-eating Confederate vampires who murdered his mother.

I’m guessing the film is as over the top as it sounds, which is probably why critics have mostly panned it; but, I can’t actually speak on whether this flick has any redeeming qualities, because, out of respect for Harriet Tubman, I will never see it.

(Yes, thee Harriet Tubman)

If you know even a little bit about Araminta Harriet Ross Tubman, you know that she stands as one of the greatest human beings who has ever inhaled oxygen on this blue marble we all call home.

No, that is not an exaggeration.

Harriet Tubman is a super hero’s super hero.

If you don’t know much about her, we’ll just place the blame for that squarely on the educators who cheated you. If you don’t learn more about her after today, there will be no one to blame but you. Google is, after all, the great equalizer. Or, you could read “Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People,” which is (at the time of this posting) absolutely free on Amazon.com

It is really difficult for me talk or write about Harriet Tubman without being overcome with emotion, because, even though I know many, many details of her life story (a story that is beyond amazing), I am painfully aware that the details I DO know are but a tiny fraction of all that this woman was, all that she saw, and all that she suffered so that others might live in freedom. Gazing at her picture both inspires and shames me; I am reminded of how much I have not done in comparison to this woman’s breathtaking life of service.

Born into slavery c. 1820, Araminta “Minty” Ross was forced to perform hard field labor from the time she was a small child. She witnessed several of her siblings being sold off to other owners (never to be seen again) and she once heard her mother, Harriet Greene Ross, threaten to split open the head of anyone who tried to sell her remaining children. That threat (which worked) was Minty’s first exposure to the idea of “resistance,” but it would not be her last.

Minty was permanently disabled at age 13 when she refused to help an overseer catch an escaping slave. The overseer threw a heavy metal weight at the fleeing slave and it missed and struck Minty in the head. Her owner allowed her two days to recover from the trauma, after which she was forced to work the fields with blood from the wound dripping down her face. She suffered with epileptic and narcoleptic spells for the rest of her life as a result of the injury.

Minty eventually married a free black man named John Tubman and adopted her mother’s name, Harriet, as her own. Never contented to be a slave, Harriet Tubman soon began plotting her solo journey North to freedom. Though her husband threatened to turn her in if she tried to run, Harriet escaped to Philadelphia where she established a base of operations and dared to return to the South twenty times to lead hundreds of souls to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Tubman famously never lost a passenger–a feat she attributed to a pistol at her side and direct communication from God.

Never captured, Tubman eventually served as a spy and nurse during the Civil War, became a suffragette after slavery was abolished, established a home for the aged, lived to be 93 years old, was buried with full military honors and has this inscription on her headstone:

“Servant of God, Well Done.”

So, when filmmakers start messing around with this woman’s legacy, those who love and revere her are definitely going to sit up and take notice.

What we notice about this Burton film is that somebody (Casting agent? Executive Producer? Director?) decided it wasn’t important to portray Harriet Tubman as the dark-skinned daughter of Africa that she most definitely was.

Harriet Tubman (left) & the actress cast to play her 

Tubman’s direct ancestors are believed to have been of the Ashanti tribe from what is now Ghana, West Africa. She was not “mulatto” and she received none of the advantages during her life (literacy, freedom, income, protection) that might have come from being mixed with the slave master’s blood.

Harriet Tubman’s dark skin is central to her story as a black American woman, and anyone who knows and respects the history of Africans in America would know that.

Which raises the question…

Why was Jaqueline Fleming even in the running for this part? (I get why she took the role, but it is lost on me how she could be cast here.)

Casting a movie is never haphazard. Casting agents are like character chemists who are responsible for connecting the audience to the actors and the actors to one another. Their expertise is generously compensated, and their track records are what get them gigs. A quite prolific casting agent, Mindy Marin, cast this movie, though she may not have had the final say in how Harriet should be portrayed.

But someone did. And someone decided she shouldn’t be so black. Someone decided Harriet Tubman should look less like herself and more like Jaqueline Fleming, and that someone had a reason which is left open to speculation.

So, let’s speculate:

Perhaps the closer a woman of African descent is to looking like a white woman, the more palatable she becomes to the audience.

And when a woman of African descent is darker-skinned it seems we are more comfortable if she stays in her place.

Removing Harriet Tubman’s pigment for the purpose of making her more “palatable” to an audience is called E R A S U R E. Distorting Harriet’s image so that it can no longer serve as an example of heroism to the successive generations of brown girls who resemble her is called E R A S U R E.

Erasure must be socially sanctioned if it is to be effective.

So, don’t sanction it. In honor of a great black American woman who devoted her life to freeing slaves and being of service to her fellow humankind, please do not support this film.

“I freed a thousand slaves; I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” -Harriet Tubman

And, if it’s not too much trouble…

:-/

…contact the film’s producers to let them know why:

@20thcenturyfox @bekmambetov @SimplyBurton

Bekmambetov Projects, Ltd.
11600 Dona Alicia Place
Studio City, CA 91604
Ph:(818)755-0640
Email: kathy@bazelevs.com

20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Attn: Scott Rudin
10201 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Ph: (310)369-1000


Jun 30 2012

Here’s Why I Love Kola Boof

“I wish, so much, that I hadn’t stayed with the bodies over night. Because that is how I received my imagination…I could hear their blood going into the earth…And I know TOO MUCH.” -Kola Boof

Naima Bint Harith (a.k.a. Kola Boof)

Whenever I think of Kola Boof, I see an image of Naima Bint Harith, a little girl with gorgeous deep brown skin, a sweet smile and shining eyes, who, at age six, witnessed the murder of her parents.

Naima’s father, Harith Bin Farouk (a light-skinned Arab/Egyptian) and her mother, Jiddi (a blue-black Gisi-Waaq Oromo from Somalia) were both slaughtered in retaliation for Harith’s “crime” of speaking out against the enslavement of the charcoal-skinned Sudanese by the lighter-skinned Arab ruling class.

During the first night of her new life as an orphan, Naima’s innocence was dyed blood red as she spent the dark hours before dawn lying alone and traumatized with her parents’ lifeless bodies.

Within days of the murder, Naima’s Egyptian grandmother informed her orphaned grandchild—the only living child of Harith and Jiddi—that her skin was too dark for her to be welcomed into their light-skinned family. Little Naima was put up for adoption.

When I think of Kola Boof, I think of that little girl who should have been happily skipping along the banks of the Nile with her parents, but, who was instead violently and callously flung into a war against white supremacy that no human being should have to (but every human being should be willing to) fight.

It is not lost on me that had Naima’s father been unconcerned and complacent in the face of the injustice he saw, he would still be alive. Her abandonment and suffering are born of his sacrifice. Our complacency is a twisting knife.

If you don’t know who Kola Boof is, I’m going to have to let you Google her, because trying to sum up this writer/activist’s life and work in a few paragraphs is an impossible task.

Suffice it to say that the Sudan-born, D.C.-raised author of “Diary of a Lost Girl,” “Long Train to the Redeeming Sin,” and “The Sexy Part of the Bible,” writes edgy, thought-provoking, paradigm-shifting literary prose (and, at times, vicious, profane, irreverent twitter rants) that have led journalists, fans and haters to variously label her “genius,” “disturbed,” “talented,” “polarizing,” “brave,” “racist,” and, increasingly, among her hundreds of blocked haters on Twitter, “crazy black bitch.”
Though Boof can at times be found at the center of distracting social media hurricanes (like the recent drama in which she boasted about regularly sexing Djimon Honsou during his marriage to Kimora Lee Simmons), her impassioned and important message is that the earth’s dark-skinned black woman is systematically disrespected, hated, insulted and erased by those who, influenced by white supremacy, cannot or will not recognize her black beauty and her intrinsic perfection as a creation of God.

It astounds me that anyone disagrees with that message, as it is quite apparent that in every country or culture on this planet that is heavily influenced by European values, dark-skinned women with black-African hair and features are rarely held up (for its sons and daughters to look to) as models of what is beautiful, marriageable, or worthy of admiration.

Don’t even get me started on the American entertainment industry and its proliferation of images that relegate dark-skinned women to the roles of maid, mammy, slave or sex worker. But it’s not just the media that is guilty. Too many young dark-skinned girls are tormented by their family members and bullied from toddlerhood, with the terms “African,” “dark” and “nappy” being viciously hurled at them like profane weapons.

Insult is added to this injury when darker-skinned black women are uninvited or invisible in situations where light-skinned or biracial black women (whose physical features are closer to the “white ideal” of beauty) are welcomed to show off their “black” beauty. If you need an example of this blatant disregard for the plentifully pigmented sisters among us, click here, or here, or here, or here, or here.

It also astounds me that so many lighter-skinned people who profess to be about “erasing racism,” “honoring diversity” and “building unity” are so resistant to understanding Kola’s life experiences or at least listening with an open mind to her observations about the annihilation-by-rejection and psychic injury dark-skinned women are being subjected to around the world.

I get that folks are turned off by Boof’s caustic delivery and her irreverence-bordering-on-hatred for some of the world’s most revered institutions (such as Christianity and Islam). I get that people are offended by the sweeping negative generalizations she makes about the inhabitants of entire countries (especially since she so deeply and righteously resents the negative generalizations made about black women). I get that people are shocked and repulsed by Kola’s disregard for what she sees as repressive and oppressive Western moral codes.

What I don’t get is how there is this loooooong line of individuals ready to invest their energy in attacking Kola for her lifestyle, her opinions and her temper, yet there are so few champions who are willing to speak up about the HUMAN RIGHT so many black girls have been denied—the right to be seen, to be admired, to be protected and to be cherished.

I admit I am frequently appalled at the words Kola Boof uses to voice her rage against her detractors—especially the vitriol she reserves for black American men (whose psychic injury she acknowledges, but cannot forgive); but even when she is at her angriest, my gut feeling about this sister is that she created “Kola Boof” to be the warrior she needed but didn’t have on the day her parents died–a ferocious defender who should have been there to protect little Naima—the generous, intelligent, soft-hearted, world-embracing spirit that lives inside Kola.

Given the mountainous struggles that little girl faced (severe trauma, several abandonments by parental figures, adapting to American culture, learning English, rejecting colorism…) it makes perfect sense to me that her alter-ego Kola would (on the surface, at least) be so FIERCE.

Anyone who knows even a little bit about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder a severe childhood trauma creates, knows that one of its key components is an easily triggered and exaggerated fight or flight response. It is an extremely difficult to control SURVIVAL response that has nothing to with intelligence or morals or wisdom.

Among the many symptoms PTSD sufferers deal with are:

Physical ailments with no apparent physical cause
Sleeplessness
Fear for their safety; always feeling on guard
Feelings of shame, despair, or hopelessness.
Difficulty controlling emotions.
Impulsive or self-destructive behavior.
Changed beliefs or changed personality traits.

I don’t know Kola personally and I don’t know the degree to which any or all of these symptoms affect her life, but her writings, her online presence and her tweets seem to indicate that there is much residual injury that she lives with daily. If she is suffering from PTSD, I see no reason why her life’s work to restore THE ORIGINAL AFRICAN WOMAN to her rightful pedestal of dignity and respect should be diminished by it.

“I am a very SAD, broken, damaged human being…And I live, literally, by the grace of GOD. The pain in my vagina I have spoken of…but rarely the pain in my brain and my heart.

My teeth and my bones hurt me like headaches, because I am so broken and damaged EMOTIONALLY.

People read my books and ask, “How can you write like that?” It’s because I live in constant emotional “psychotic” pain.

Don’t they understand that I saw my parents killed in front of me? Do they think a child can EVER grow up and get over that?

And now I wish, so much, that I hadn’t stayed with the bodies over night. Because that is how I received my imagination. From that night, when I could hear their blood going into the earth. I suddenly had an “imagination”. And it’s very…

And I know TOO MUCH.

Much of the vicious attacking you see me do…is mainly to make people AWARE of the rage and bitterness that they create in the world…simply by accepting the world the way it is.

That’s why I tell people…don’t accept it…REBEL.

Because although it’s too late for Naima…it’s not too late for the daughters of the future.

When YOU SEE me hurt someone, strike at someone…I’m just trying to set a new example for the MULES of the world….that we mustn’t go down without loud screaming and fighting.

…I don’t see myself living that long, and I just want to give…as an artist….what the people NEED.

And I pray for my sons to be OK. I know I’ve taught them how to make generations and where inside themselves to find answers and to find me.” -Kola

Although I have never met Ms. Boof, I interacted with her online many years ago and did speak to her once on the telephone after she wrote an amazing poem for me entitled “Angels and Insects” which she posted at the African American Literary Book Club (AALBC) discussion board where she and I crossed paths.

An inter racially married white woman on that discussion board who called herself, “Moon,” had become the target of Kola’s rage when (among other things) she refused to acknowledge that white and light-skinned privilege exists at the expense of black women. Kola was trying to get Moon to realize that privilege and injustice are inseparable and that her white privilege had a cost that she simply chose not to acknowledge (which is another privilege).

Moon was the source of much conflict on that board because she was a white visitor to a black online forum who was always in “teach” mode, and she did not seem to respect the opinions of the black women whose life experiences differed so greatly from hers. Moon was convinced that simply by mothering her mixed children and teaching them that love sees no color she was actively promoting the unity of the human family. “I don’t walk in brown skin,” she wrote, “I can sure teach children about love.”

Being the product of an interracial union myself, I joined the debate. (Forgive the use of CAPS; it was an intense conversation):

“Your children deserve more than your LOVE. They deserve to LEARN what it means to live in a society that will try to convince them they are BETTER because they came from YOU. Who is going to WORK DAILY and DILIGENTLY to undermine that lie in your household?

I am not a hater, Moon. I KNOW in my SOUL that all human beings are ONE CREATION, and these designations of racial categories are not REAL. But that does not mean human beings are not behaving as though they [the labels] are real. WE are all affected by our socializations regarding race, skin color, hair texture, innate intelligence, morality, etc. etc. etc.

You cannot toss me indescriminately onto the heap of black women who you consider jealous of you and your husband, or simply hate your whiteness. My mother is white and my father is black and I can speak on the subject of white privelege personally, because having white skin and blue eyes I am treated with UNEARNED deference just about everywhere I go.

One of the few places my physical appearance is not automatically “respected” is in the company of black women I don’t know. That is when I humbly SHUT MY MOUTH AND LISTEN so that I can LEARN more about what it means to be a black woman in America — and thereby understand more clearly what it means to be a member of the human family.

I don’t agree with everything Kola says, but I don’t take what she says personally either. I know she is “FIGHTING for her life…” Her fight to lift up black women does not diminish me….WHAT are YOU fighting for MOON? The rights of all humans, regardless of skin color, to love and intermarry? That right already EXISTS. As you said earlier, your life is proof of that.

Show me proof that Kola’s BLACK SONS are held in HIGH REGARD by this supremacist society. She is fighting for THEM, MOON. And for EVERY BLACK BABY who will be shown and told (maybe by YOUR children) that they are NOT PERFECT EXACTLY AS THEY WERE CREATED. They will be told that if their father had lain with a Scandinavian or an Asian or a Mexican or ANYTHING but their AFRICAN MOTHER they would be more beautiful or smarter or healthier or… (you know the list you’ve heard it many times).”

Kola’s response to my post was immediate, and, I believe, sincere.

…I have never denied that I have many prejudices against Bi-racial people and white people—despite that fact that I am, technically, Bi-racial and that my White Arab birth father was a great, great man who dedicated his life to the dismantling of “White Supremacy”. He called it “the world’s only true religion”.

But my “prejudice” against Bi-racials and Whites is not what I…..REALLY…..feel when I’m alone, topless in the mountain streams praying. I feel LOVE for those people—only I keep it a secret, because I fear they are against me and my sons.

It seems there are two realities co-existing within this daughter of a slain freedom fighter. There is Kola Boof, the consummate REBEL whose words and actions are symbols of her RESISTANCE to being controlled, ignored or annihilated by the spirit of white supremacy that destroyed her family and threatens her progeny.

And then, there is Naima Bint Harith whose broken heart did not lose its capacity to love us all.

I wrote and posted this short poem on the AALBC discussion boards eight years ago. It still reflects why I love her:

Naima peels back her own skin
with life-sharpened nails
and we peer inside

inside her

and exclaim,

see, a huge heart
oh, and innards
soft, open, vulnerable

and in her exposure
we are exposed
safe, selfish, cowardly

and still
she names us
sister

Click here to read “Angels & Insects” by Kola Boof.