Monday, September 28, 2009

Can Visuals Make Arguments? How do Visuals Make Arguments?

Visuals Make Arguments through emotional appeals to the viewer. Visual arguments are sometimes overtly political as shown in this image from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. This image is immediately recognizable to the viewer as it is one rare instance of visual political rhetoric. Tommy Smith and John Carlos deserve their place in our history as true symbols of Black Power. An important detail that is frequently overlooked was what the two athletes wore during the awards ceremony: “Both were shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride. Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. and wore a necklace of beads which he described ‘were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage’” (1968 Black Power Salute, Wikipedia). The details of this photo are what matter, and a close analysis and reading of these details will reveal the power and significance of this transformational image. Both Tommy and John are looking down during the playing of the national anthem. They were not looking at the flag that represents their oppression; they were not assenting to the American system that disrespected them. They were showing the flag symbol and the anthem symbol what disrespect looks and feels like. They showed whites how routine white pride looks to black people. When the Black Power salute occurred, it really shook up the sporting world because everyone who was watching saw the silent protest for civil rights in an international sports setting that is supposed to forget about social and racial justice. It put racism on trial for all to see. That is why I have such a powerful connection to this image. It was the light in the darkness that showed white people what was really happening in the United States: the separate but unequal status for black people that was being put in front of white people’s eyes because only a dramatic act, only an outcry, would have a chance of being noticed.

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