The raised clenched fist has historically been known as a symbol representing Black power. It expresses defiance and solidarity. Athletes have sometimes used the powerful gesture as a political statement. And, globally, it stands for fighting oppression.

The raised fist salute has become a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly following the horrific killing of George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, which sparked protestors worldwide to flood the streets to demand justice. 

Demonstrations erupted once again in August when a white Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, during an interaction that went out of control. Blake was shot in the back seven times  ̶   in less than 3 minutes  ̶  after the first officer arrived at the scene. The police, responding to a domestic call, gunned him down as Blake’s three children, ages 3, 5 and 8, sat just feet away.

The physical gesture, raised high above heads, accompanied demonstrators who flooded Kenosha streets in solidarity.

Black Lives Matter founders campaigned against ongoing, systemic racism towards Black people. The movement used the clenched-fist symbol since 2014, following 18-year-old Michael Brown’s death as he was shot six times by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The symbol grew to prominence as a representation of the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose; and has been widely used ever since in protest signs, on clothing apparel,  and on social media, to signal strength and resistance. It even became an emoji in 2015.

Knowing this, UMOJA Magazine asked: What does the iconic raised fist truly symbolize nowadays?

Tereneé Brielle feels the ancestors inside her. Because of their sacrifices and tenacity, she will not allow their efforts to go in vain.

“Since I was a child I was always reading Black history books. In elementary school I read The Watsons Go to Birmingham and learned about my history. I especially read books by Angela Davis, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers. I began to understand the power in the raised fist and how it is a symbol for our people and how we try to uplift our people. … It gives me great pride knowing the raised Black fist is being past down generations after generations.”

Claude Gilmore, vice president of the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce and deacon at Mount Zion Baptist Church, says the raised fist stands for hope.

“As a part of the Black Lives Matter Movement, I raise my fist to stand for against systemic racism and injustice against Black, Brown and Indigenous People’s as well as symbol of hope and solidarity to fight for those who are voiceless and oppressed.”

For Kenneth Cole, the Black Power fist symbolizes strength while building Black people up. 

“I raise my Black fist in solidarity, solidarity with the past, present and future movements for Black liberation. The Black fist has historically symbolized Black power and the fight for Black power is a commission that seekers of justice must take as we work to dismantle the notions and systems of white supremacy. It is important for our own survival that we recognize the need for Black power and that we actively engage in building Black power. A fist symbolizes strength. 

There are many things that one can accomplish with their hands. You can maneuver your fingers to write words, paint a picture, cut hair, operate a computer and to do so many other things. However, there is a reason why most self-defense classes teach how to throw a proper punch with a closed fist. We have realized that one of the most powerful blows a person can render in their own defense is throwing a fist. In fact, professional boxers must have their hands registered as weapons because of what they are able to do with their fists. And in this way as we fight against white supremacy, affirming the movement for Black power we raise our fist to the sky in representation of that power. As we bring our fingers together, we raise our fist as a symbolic weapon that represents strength, dignity and unity. When we do this we commemorate the legacy of our ancestors like Stokely Carmichael who came before us to start the movement for Black power, we stand in solidarity with the liberation work that is currently being done for Black lives and we affirm our hope for the state of the future of Black people.”

The strength, honor and determination that infused the spirt of our ancestors channels through the skyward, clenched fist of Percy Brown Jr.

“I was in the Audubon Ballroom (in upper Harlem in New York City) and had just stood in the place where brother Malcolm was assassinated. At that moment, raising the fist was an acknowledgment that the spirit of Malcolm had touched me. Beyond that, the fist to me represents nation building or Black nationalism. I personally believe we have the capacity to change our collective condition if we unify. And that’s the last meaning of the Black first to me, solidarity.

“It’s also symbolic of Maat … the ancient Kemetic goddess that represents truth, justice, harmony, balance and righteousness.”

Black people have lived through a long history of racial injustice and senseless, institutionalized violence. At 21, Millie Beville, says this isn’t their battle to fight alone.

“Raising my fist symbolizes that I stand with the Black community and that I do not put up with racism of any kind.”

At 20, Bobby Loggins said the raised fist is a powerful gesture of defiance and solidarity. Clenching fists in unison, also pay homage to the Black power movement used it as a gesture to represent the struggle for civil rights back in the 1960s.

“Historically and now we are oppressed people.  We raise our fist as a sign of unity and togetherness.  Fighting for equality for all.  It means I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters as we are now fighting for our rights and for our voice’s to be heard.  We are tired and feed up with the deaths of our Black men, Black women and children.  We need change and we need it now.”

Voting equates change to Courtney S. Hayward. The 35-year-old said her power comes from using her hand to cast her election ballot.

“I grew up in the south. My parents taught me that it is important to vote and held elected officials accountable. Be active and protest how you feel is appropriate. Just do more with that raised fist.”

Victoria Beville, 16, said she raises her fist to show her commitment to not being silent. White silence equates to consent.

“When I raise my fist … I raise my fist in solidarity with the Black community, the Asian community, the LGBTQIA+ community, women, and any and every other oppressed group of individuals. I am not Black, Asian, etc… But I see you. I hear you. I stand with you. And, I will fight for you, with you.”

Photo by Rebecca Radix

Ayomi Obuseh is a member of Impact Demand, a youth-led group that has been one of the organizing force behind several of Madison’s ongoing protests for racial justice.

It means unity, family, support, and love. There’s a sense of strength and power when you hold your fist up and shout.  That can only be described as beautiful!