GET REAL: Power of American media
IN AN ADDRESS made to the United Nations, Errol Barrow said: “We shall not involve ourselves in sterile ideological wranglings, because we are exponents not of the diplomacy of power, but of the diplomacy of peace and prosperity.
“We will not regard any great power as necessarily right in a given dispute unless we are convinced of this, yet at the same time we will not view the great powers with perennial suspicion merely on account of their size, their wealth, or their nuclear potential. We will be friends of all, satellites of none.”
Prime Minister Barrow presented the vision of Barbados as a nation of reason, impartiality, and independent perspective. This ideal of objectivity and unbiased judgement is easier to speak of than it is to practise.
An example of such a selfless commitment to justice was provided by three athletes at the Olympic Games in Mexico, 1968.
The new world record holder in the 200 metres was Tommie Smith. He took the podium to receive his award. On his left was the third-place winner John Carlos.
When the American anthem began to play, the two black Americans each bowed their heads and raised a black gloved fist into the air. The gesture was meant to support the civil rights movement and bring attention to the plight of black Americans suffering as second class citizens in their own country.
They became immortalised in history. Not for their athletic achievements, but for the symbolic social and political statement they made on the platform. They were not alone.
To the right of Tommie Smith was the silver medallist, Australian Peter Norman. While Smith and Carlos eventually became international icons, Norman has largely been forgotten outside of Australia.
However, all three men suffered as a result of the protest. The International Olympic Committee immediately expelled the two black athletes from the games. When they returned home they were abused by the US media and faced regular death threats.
Peter Norman was also targeted. He was reprimanded by the Australian Olympic committee and ostracised by the Press for supporting the protest. He was not chosen to represent Australia at the next Olympics despite qualifying for the sprints.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos had told Peter Norman what they were going to do. Norman responded: “I’ll stand with you.” John Carlos said he expected to see fear in the white Australian man’s eyes, but all he saw was love.
All three men could have returned home to a hero’s welcome. Smith and Carlos could have easily raised their situation above that of the average African American, and Norman, who still holds the Australian 200-metre record would have been hailed as one of Australia’s greats.
In 2012, six years after his death, the Australian government had to issue an official apology for the way Norman was treated after his support of the Black Rights protest.
It is one thing to stand up for your rights. It is another to stand up for what is right. Especially when it is not directly your fight.
Errol Barrow says: “We will not regard any great power as necessarily right in a given dispute unless we are convinced of this.” However, the seemingly natural tendency of human beings is to stand on the side of power, whatever that power may be.
The American movie industry is an influential power.
Barrow also said: “We will be friends of all, satellites of none.” Yet it can be argued that the media colonisation of Barbados has made it, culturally a satellite of the US. We have been content to feed off of the US media industries rather than building our own.
Four A-list celebrities are currently taking a stand against a perceived pro-white and anti-minority Hollywood establishment bias. Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Spike Lee, and Michael Moore plan to boycott this year’s Academy Awards. Of the four, Moore is white.
This story is relevant to Barbados considering the immense influence the American media has here. Especially considering the large black population (even if you don’t think Barbados is a black country).
Our economic ties and dependence on American media have made us sympathetic to American biases and interests. We side easily with the perspective of this world power. One wonders what role Hollywood and US news plays in our response to the issues of Muslims and to ourselves.
How different would our attitudes be if our own media networks were not satellites of the Western media and provided a more balanced coverage of world affairs. If most Barbadians knew about the role American and European governments have played in creating and supporting Islamic Fundamentalists, would we be more sympathetic to mainstream, moderate Islam?
Peter Norman’s decision to side with his African American brothers was influenced by his Christian upbringing. Like Errol Barrow, his was the diplomacy of peace and prosperity, not simply of power.
He chose to go against the grain of his country when it was wrong and stand for what was right.
We all are trying to make our lives match our ideals. Is Barbados a Christian nation or a nation of Churchians, to use the word of fellow columnist Toni Thorne. When Muslims look into the eyes of their fellow Barbadians, will they see the love that John Carlos saw in Peter Norman’s eyes? Or will they see the fear induced by US media?
And say what you will about the US, it is a country that has come a long way from the US of 1968. Muslim women are allowed to take their US ID photos with their hijab on.
Adrian Green is a researcher, writer, performer. Email Adriangreen14@gmail.com