Why aren’t black folks protesting the Beijing Olympics?

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
- Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

Watching the pro-Tibet protesters clashing with the police during the torch relays through London and Paris the last couple of days made me think about how we as human beings have become disconnected from real injustices going on around the world.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Dr King’s assasination, I went to a panel discussion at a local college on how much – or little – racial equality has progressed in America over the weekend. After the panel discussion, I met up with an African American friend I haven’t seen in a while for drinks and catching up on each other’s lives.

The discussion about protesting the Beijing Olympics over Tibet, Darfur and other “abuse ventures” China takes part in came up.

“I don’t think the Olympics is an appropriate place to protest politics,” she said. “I watch the Olympics to escape all the bad things going on in the world and to support good athleticism and feel like a part of the international community.”

I stopped her there. I can’t think of a better place than the Olympics to demonstrate on behalf of a cause. With the evolution of the internet and 24-hour cable news networks, now more than ever anyone or anything can become an instant cause celebre.

Furthermore, doesn’t she know that Olympics has always been a staging ground for political activism?

This year also happens to be the 40th anniversary of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos making black power fists when they received their medals in response to racial injustice in America at the Mexico Olympics. This begs the question: Why are African American athletes not questioning the racial injustice of China financially supporting Sudan, a country that is persecuting thousands of blacks in Darfur?

Gone are the days of a Muhammed Ali-like figure standing up for what is right.

Debra Dickerson and Orin Starn made great points recently about the deafening silence from today’s black athletes on politics.

From Orin Starn

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the famous black power protest at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Two American sprinters, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand during the Star Spangled Banner. They wanted to spotlight poverty and racism just months after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and riots in Newark and Detroit.

Can we expect any such protests at the Beijing Olympics this summer?

No. The era of the activist athlete is over. We’ve entered the age of the corporate sports champion, the superstar as a global brand who shies from politics to keep full market share.

Consider the contrast between 1968 and a more recent medal ceremony controversy. At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, Reebok was the official U.S. Olympic team sponsor, but Michael Jordan and other American basketball stars had big Nike endorsement deals. The players decided to drape American flags over the offending Reebok logo on their team sweats during the gold medal ceremony. Here the dispute no longer concerned the great social questions of the day. It was about the arithmetic of marketing and the endorsement dollar.

A couple of weeks ago there was outrage in the blogosphere about the “controversial” Vogue magazine cover with basketball star LeBron James and model Giselle Bunchen. What we really should be protesting about is the fact that James refuses to sign a letter about the killings in Darfur drafted by his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates.

What would Dr King say about this today?



At Monday, April 07, 2008 4:12:00 PM, Anonymous Malinda, South London said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Where is the outrage in the black community?

At Monday, April 07, 2008 4:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the black community doesn't take on campaigns that would actually benefit all of us anymore. Like you mentioned, we are wasting time over Lebron James looking like an ape on Vogure mag, and absolutely no time on problems wer really need to deal with. We need to not only protest Beijing not only because it's a black concern, but also because it is the right thing to do as human beings. King is rolling in his grave.

At Monday, April 07, 2008 4:37:00 PM, Anonymous Jacob in NYC said...

Dude, I didn't know Lebron James didn't sign a letter in support of victims in Darfur. Now, there is a reason to protest!

Thanks for sharing this

At Tuesday, August 19, 2008 1:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Black America and I mean Black America - the Black America Dr. King fought for. Black America must focus on the poverty, racism, that is going on right at home. Tibet and Darfur are issues white liberals love simply because it makes them feel good and they do not have to face the real issues at home. Black America must not get distracted. Carlos and the brothers protested in Mexico against American racism, oppression and injustice to Black Americans. Back to Black, keep the focus.

At Tuesday, August 19, 2008 2:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real question is why are not liberal white Americans that have the funds to fly to China and protest about Tibet using their resources to protest the oppression and racism ob Black and Hispanic Americans. Black America must concentrate on the severe poverty racism they face in the land of milk and honey. Wake up Barack, Camelot is fantasy American racism is real, as you now must face. Denying your brothers, denying your father and your religion does not translate into acceptance.


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