One thing that really annoyed me last week was reading this article “Ban the black power salute says VRA” in the RG last Friday. You have no idea how incensed I was to read some of the ridiculous assertions or confusions being made by the Voters Rights Association (VRA) in reference to the Raised Fist salute. I can kind of see where they were coming from, but quite frankly they are way off the mark and this position of theirs comes across as, well, asinine quite frankly.
I know that both Comrade Rowland (two posts, here and here) and the crew over at BermyOnionPatch have written responses to this article as well, and I’ll try not to cover too much of the same ground that their posts took care of rather adequately. What I’m going to try and do is give a little history of the Raised Fist, its relationship with the Roman Salute (more commonly known today as the Fascist Salute), and how I think the VRA got the wrong end of the stick and what the significance of this confusion means.
As a side note, I would like to say that I retain great respect for Brother Stuart Hayward. I know that many in the Party regard him with some degree of suspicion for a variety of reasons, but to be honest he does make some good points and is profoundly committed to the welfare of our country. While we may not always like what he says, and how he says it, I don’t think many of us can deny that his contributions to our discourse are of great value. As for Geoff Parker, I really don’t know this individual and as such can’t comment on him too much. From reading the RG article in question, the initiative to ‘ban the Black Power salute’ seems to stem from him and his confusions concerning its symbolism.
As for the VRA itself, what can I say? I think they are well-intentioned, and many of their proposals for reforming our political system should be discussed in greater detail. I find their claim to be a ‘grassroots organisation’ though to be rather laughable, and feel that alot of their position’s coverage in the media – especially the RG – overly inflates their importance and displays a distinct political agenda on the part of the media. This should not influence ones receptions of their positions, which I do believe need greater discussion to our greater benefit, but quite frankly it does. The VRA, largely due to their portrayal in the media, is concieved in many circles as essentially a proxy for various UBPesque politricks. I am not saying they are necessarily a front for UBPers, but more that that is how they are percieved. Absurd positions like this one on the Raised Fist serve only to cement this perception amongst many who would otherwise support their plans for democratic reform.
The Raised Fist – What it is and what it means:
The exact history of the Raised Fist (also known as the ‘clenched’ or ‘closed’ fist) is unknown, but it is generally thought that it attained its modern meaning in the labour struggles of the 19th Century, where organised labour in the form of industrial unions, political theory and political parties also originated. As I joined the labour movement it was related to me that the fist served two symbolic purposes. The first of these was to give a visual representation of that great labour refrain ‘United we stand, divided we fall’ with the fist representing that individual fingers (divided) were weak in and of themselves, but these individually weak fingers could unite in the form of a fist and become incredibly strong (unity). The second symbolic importance was the more obvious ones of defiance and strength. Therefore the fist came to represent solidarity, defiance and strength.
Later on it also took on another, but related, symbolism, that of anti-fascism. Many Fascist groups decided to use the Roman Salute as a form of solidarity amongst themselves. The Roman Salute is the open palm salute more commonly known today as being the Nazi salute. The raised fist took on the symbolism of direct opposition to this fascist symbol.
In Europe, and pretty much everywhere outside of North America, the Raised Fist is used and understood in the contexts elaborated above. It is widely regarded as demonstrating solidarity with democratic and oppressed people throughout the world, be they ethnic groups (minorities), repressed nations (Saharwis, Kurds), or workers struggling for justice.
In North America though, more so in the US and Canada, but even still within the Caribbean, many people recognise the Raised Fist as being representative of Black Power ideologies. This is quite simply because of the fact that the Black Power groups, especially the Black Panthers were perhaps the most well-known users of this symbol, with the 1968 Olympics providing one of the most memorable images of the Raised Fist. Despite this the Raised Fist is not restricted to black Power; rather Black Power militants used the symbol for its symbolic meanings in its own right and was never used by them as a symbol exclusive to Black Power.
A Quick History of the Roman Salute
The Roman salute, more commonly known today for its use by fascists in the 20th century and by neo-fascists and the extreme right since, was originally used as a revolutionary symbol. Thought to have been the symbol used by the Roman Republic, and hence its proper name, the gesture was used by the French Revolutionaries in the late 18th Century, and by sympathetic revolutionaries throughout Europe at that time. Much of the rhetoric and imagery of these revolutions took on the flavour of the Roman Republic, and this symbol was an example of this.
It was later coopted by the authoritarian counter-revolution of Napoleon. Despite this, it remained a symbol reminescent of the revolutionary period. It was coopted by the Italian Fascists, reinforcing their ideology of a new Roman Empire. This was then adopted by most other fascist organisations, most famously by the German Nazis. Due to the skillful use of modern propaganda techniques, both by the Nazis for their own reasons, and by the Allies in their demonising of the fascists, the Roman Salute was strongly identified almost exclusively with fascism. Its earlier original symbolism has become extinct for all practical purposes and the gesture is almost universally known as a fascist symbol.
Where the VRA Erred
As I’ve said above, in North America, of which Bda is certainly very much a part of, geographically and socio-economically, especially in terms of media dominance, the Raised Fist is most commonly known for its use by the Black Power movement. This in itself is fine, as that movement used it for the meaning of solidarity, defiance (to oppression) and strength (in unity). However, a significant portion of White America, and by extension White Bermuda, has some rather distorted perceptions of what exactly the Black Power movement, and its most well-known organised group, the Black Panthers, represented.
To many of these people the Black Power movement represented anger, criminality, revenge and violence. It cannot be denied that elements of these were certainly present within the movement. Nor I think can there be any question why these elements were present, especially in light of the historic and brutal oppression of Africans within the Americas, something that continued long after formal emancipation in the form of apartheid Segregation and other more subtle and institutional racism.
However the Black Power movement was above all else a revolutionary movement, and the vast majority of its members were not interested in revenge, violence or criminal acts. It sought more a rejection of an internalised inferiority complex, one created and sustained by a racist society, as well as a revolutionary transformation of society towards the foundations of a truly non-racialised society. Again, it must be acknowledged that there were criminals, there were those in the movement that were after revenge and used violence means that they justified with the formula of the ends justifying the means. On the whole though these elements were in the extreme minority, and there is sufficient evdince that many of these positions were actuall agents provacoteurs acting with the intention of undermining the revolutionary message of the movement.
It is illustrative of the fear amongst Whites that has been exploited by the White elites in order to reinforce their control that the perception of the Black Power movement then and now – as reflected in the VRA’s call to ban the Raised Fist – that the Black Power movement is today caricutured as racist, venomous, divisive, violent and revenge driven. Any one who bothers to conduct even some preliminary research into the movement will see how false this caricuture is of the movement.
The VRA erred in that they have fallen for this false interpretation of the Raised Fist in the context of the Black Power movement; in fact in their ignorance they serve only to reinforce this false perception. It is the acme of ignorance to equate the Raised Fist with fascism as they do. The whole debacle of the VRA on this position betrays it as being shackled by false interpretations of a minority White base. While this is unfortunate in itself, its wider importance is that it serves as a sympton of continued White fears that with a Black majority Party in power in Black majority Bermuda they (Whites) are going to be, and in the minds of many, are being, persecuted under a form of ‘reverse racism’ or Black revenge for the injustices of the past.
As with the Black Power movement, it cannot be denied that there are some extremist fringes that do indeed fit this caricuture within the general progressive labour movement. But it is the hieght of fantasy to imagine this is the dominant (by far) ideology within this movement. The fact that these bogeymen of reverse racism continue to pop up are indicative of how much some elements of the White community are living in a fantasy nightmare world of their own making.