Take a moment and really look at the above image. Study it. Study the color and shapes. Imagine its texture.
What comes to mind when you look at the image? What emotions arise as you view this image? Do you feel empowered, disempowered, or indifferent? Do you know its name? Do you know what this image represents? What are its origins? What is its meaning? Does the image matter to you?
An image carries a message, a meaning. Often that message is the meaning intended by its creator. The viewer can appreciate the image and meaning in the way the creator intended or the viewer can develop a different meaning based her or his experience, culture, and present moment.
According to Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright in Practices of Looking, visual experiences do not happen in isolation, but “they are enriched by memories and images from many different aspect of our lives.” Sturken and Cartwright argue that as “humans we give objects meanings … we create them, gaze on them and use them as a form of communications.”
We interpret images.
The name of the above image is Clenched Fist or Raised Fist. Its creator is not known. On Wikimedia, the image is listed as in the public domain because it was published before 1977.
On October 16, 1968 at the Summer Olympics, John Carols and Tommie Smith, both sprinters, raised their fists and bowed their heads during the national anthem in unity to bring attention to the inequality in our country during that time.
Since that time, many people in different positions have utilized the raised fist to send the same message.
Not everyone is in supports the raised fist and its meaning. Some find it threatening, disrespectful and controversial.
Just look over the images I have listed above one more time. Do you feel threatened or disrespected?
Sturken and Cartwright write, “viewing is a relational and social practice whether one looks in private or public… images generate meaning.” We cannot deny this relation and the fact that images “communicate” a message to us. What the image says depends on us. It depends on the viewer’s openness and willingness to receive the image’s meaning. Even then, we often still have our biases and assumption about its meaning.
Some of the persons in the pictures above have been accused of being disrespectful. Meanwhile, those pictured are trying to protest inequality, just as Carlos and Tommie did in 1968.
The 16 Black Female Cadets at the US Military Academy in West Point were accused of being racists because they held raised fist in their group picture. I was glad to read that the military did not agree.
What does this have to do with adolescents? The symbol of unity, strength, defiance, and resistance is used by many, including adolescents.
In July of 2016, four teenage young ladies from the ages of 16 to 18 years old, were the driving force behind a silent sit-in protest in Millennial Park in Chicago. They launched a protest against gun violence and police brutality that started on Twitter.
They put to shame the words of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the 18th Century French philosopher, ” who wrote, At sixteen, the adolescent knows about suffering because he has suffered, but he barely knows that other beings also suffered.”
These four young ladies knew suffering and they took a stand. This is an illustration of Opposition as Advocacy in action, as well as an example of adolescents who are capable, responsible, altruistic, and competent.
Please read their story and share what you think about how adolescents can use technology and their voices to mobilize others and to partake in their culture’s legacy of taking a stand against discrimination and social injustice.