High Country News
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High Country News

The West has a role in reimagining the U.S.

Our notion of ‘American exceptionalism’ has collapsed. What will replace it?

The killing of George Floyd in May has sparked a nationwide uprising, calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racial inequities in the United States.

was not yet born in October 1968, when U.S. Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze medals, respectively, for the 200-meter dash. As The Star-Spangled Banner played over the loudspeakers inside the Mexico City stadium, the two men bowed their heads, and each raised a black-gloved fist to the sky. They stood shoeless on the podium, wearing black socks to protest Black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent Black pride.

“If I win, I am an American, not a Black American,” Smith said during a press conference afterwards. “But if I did something bad, then they would say ‘a Negro.’ We are Black, and we are proud of being Black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

For their gesture, both Smith and Carlos were thrown off the U.S. Olympic team, but they became instant heroes for many of us around the developing world. Their salute to the Black Power movement amid the ongoing civil rights struggle and the rising death toll of the Vietnam War, their silent protest, spoke to me years later, when I was still a child. I grew up in Venezuela, in a society that liked to define itself as “post-racial,” even though your neighborhood and the color of your skin made you a target for the cops, deprived you of opportunities, increased the chance you’d die young. Today, I’m an adult living in United States, where the raised Black fist is now omnipresent, even commodified, marking everything from T-shirts to mugs.

Read more here: https://www.hcn.org/issues/52.8/south-social-justice-the-west-has-a-role-in-reimagining-the-u-s

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High Country News

High Country News

Working to inform and inspire people — through in-depth journalism — to act on behalf of the West’s diverse natural and human communities.