United on the Mexico podium by their fierce opposition to racism, Tommie Smith, Peter Norman and John Carlos used the medal ceremony for what has become an iconic moment of public protest. Its durability as an image of anti-racism in sport and beyond is testament to the global platform the Olympics provided. Even before satellite TV and digital media, the dignified audacity of the three medal-winners became an overnight world-wide news story.
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 offered another iconic Olympic memory of sport and race. As the twenty-first century began Eric Hobsbawm’s, description of the role of sport in providing a popular expression of national identity amongst the debris of globalisation became increasingly relevant: ‘The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of named people.’ As part of this process a sporting contest can sometimes crystallise social or political changes within a nation. When Cathy Freeman, the Australian Aboriginal sprinter, streaked around the track to win the 400 meters gold medal, kitted out in an all-in-one skin-tight green and gold Lycra suit complete with hood, she was chased every inch of the way by the light of thousands of camera flashes capturing her moment of glory. This was more than an instant of supreme sporting achievement. For Australia’s Aboriginal community it represented recognition and inclusion from the majority white population – however temporary it ultimately proved to be. Inequality, discrimination, racism, and disputes over land rights didn’t disappear just because Cathy was a national heroine. Her success was the exception, not the rule, but for a moment it pointed to a different version of Australia.
These moments of opportunity provided by sport are vital in constructing any kind of progressive conversation around issues of race and nationality. Especially in the wake of London’s 7/7, one day after the city was selected to host the 2012 Games, a caricature of multiculturalism has been used as cover to break with the kind of celebratory diversity that the Olympics bid had seemed, at least for one of those moments, to represent. In Singapore, as the London bid presentation approached its climactic ending, Seb Coe welcomed on stage thirty youngsters, ‘Each from East London, from the communities who will be touched most directly by our Games. Thanks to London’s multicultural mix of 200 nations, they also represent the youth of the world…’ And what a mix too. ‘Their families have come from every continent. They practice every religion and every faith.’ Was there any box in the table of diversity these kids didn’t tick? It was a compelling image of London as a global city. But this was a flimsy populism, a kind of corporate multiculturalism, a presentation of a cosy team picture of unity through diversity which obscured the realities of representation.
As he paraded the youngsters ‘representing’ London across the Singapore stage it might have been useful to ask Coe, or even the kids themselves, a few questions: What was it like living in and growing up in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney, among the poorest boroughs in the city? What jobs did their parents have, if they had jobs at all? What opportunities in terms of health, education and housing could they look forward to? How confident were any of them that they and their families would be able to afford the tickets to watch the Games they were on the stage to promote?
The forces of integration and difference reflect a set of power relations and consequential resistance which, like the national identities they help to define, are always in motion. These help to portray the ways in which all national identities are never entirely fixed but a process in motion. Sport plays its part, a very important part, in this process, but its role is partial and over-hyped at the expense of examining why the black athletes who represent Britain on the pitch, in the ring, or on the running track are not replicated in anything resembling equal numbers on Trade Union executives, or on the front benches, or on the committees that run sport’s governing bodies.
Writer on race and sport Dan Burdsey provides a poignant and powerful observation of how the racialisation of sport is often experienced. Apart from the athletes on the track, ‘You will often see a significant presence of minority ethnic people in the stadium: they will be directing you to your seat or serving your refreshments. The racialised historical antecedents, and continuing legacy, of these roles – entertaining or serving the white folk – should not be lost within the contemporary clamour of positivity.’ An Olympic Park built at the epicentre of three of Britain’s most multicultural boroughs which is experienced in this way will expose much of the inclusion and exclusion which persist in our society, or at least it should if anybody cares to notice.
Mark Perryman is the author of the forthcoming Why The Olympics Aren’t Good For Us, And How They Can Be available at a pre-publication 15% discount now from www.orbooks.com/catalog/olympics/
Labour's 1983 election campaign has long been used to say it is impossible for a leader like Jeremy Corbyn to win any election from the left. Alex Nunns digs out the truth
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
2 May open meeting for artist-led poster campaign: End Tory Rule
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform