Today I stumbled across an article posted on Facebook that touched me on many levels. Not only is the story touching and inspiring (I highly recommend you head over and read it) but it also shows how society worked and how fragile we are. On top of that it highlights once again that pictures can be deceiving.
When I looked at the picture for the first time I really saw the two black men with their fists in black gloves and raised while the white guy is standing there, glancing at something. I agree for me as well he seemed not interested, maybe even annoyed about what was going on behind him.
And then I read the story.
And I learned.
I learned about Peter Norman, an Australian athlete, whom this exact moment of glory would cost his career and much more in the aftermath. A man who stood up for what he thought was right although he knew it would cause him issues. A man I would label as incredibly inspirational.
I did not know about him nor how strict the apartheid laws in Australia were at this time. Now I know.
Peter Norman stood up for his two colleagues, he did it in his way which obviously was already too much for his home country. He got stripped off all his glory on return home and banned from competing for his country although he performed well enough to qualify. What he did that day cost him job opportunities as well. He never received an official apology from the government while still alive.
Back in the change-resisting, whitewashed Australia he was treated like an outsider, his family outcast, and work impossible to find. For a time he worked as a gym teacher, continuing to struggle against inequalities as a trade unionist and occasionally working in a butcher shop. An injury caused Norman to contract gangrene which led to issues with depression and alcoholism.
As John Carlos said, “If we were getting beat up, Peter was facing an entire country and suffering alone.” For years Norman had only one chance to save himself: he was invited to condemn his co-athletes, John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s gesture in exchange for a pardon from the system that ostracized him.
A pardon that would have allowed him to find a stable job through the Australian Olympic Committee and be part of the organization of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Norman never gave in and never condemned the choice of the two Americans.
No pardon, no apology from a government until the Sydney Olympics in 2000!
I remember how excited everyone was for the Olympic Games to be held in Sydney back in 2000. I also remember the discussions about the way the native Australian people were treated and how much apparently changed after the Olympics. It seemed like this country had to officially clean up its act. The question is what was really done and what was just “make-up”. But that’s probably material for an entirely different post…
It took the Australian government another 12 years until they finally formally apologized to Norman’s family. Too late for the athlete who passed away in 2006. Mindboggling…
When we moved to Australia we thought it’s a forward moving country. We thought it’s open and human rights are above everything. Obviously it was not the case (yet).
While preparing for our citizenship test a couple of months ago there was that one sentence we read over and over again:
Australians believe in peace, respect, freedom and
equality. An important part of being Australian is
respecting other people’s differences and choices,
even if you don’t agree with those choices. It is about
treating people fairly and giving all Australians equal
opportunities and freedoms, no matter where they
come from, what their traditions are, or whether they
are male or female.
I was trying to find out when the booklet “Australian Citizenship – Our Common Bond” was published for the first time. The earliest I was able to find was 2007… It took the government another 5 year to apologize after publishing an official document in which it was stated that Australia respects other people differences and choices.
I’ve definitely learned a lot today.
Pictures can be deceiving. Words can be equally. So maybe we should try to take a look behind them before we judge and see the real story to it.