The United States Military Academy at West Point has launched an official inquiry into a group of 16 black, female cadets who took their traditional pre-graduation photo, raising their clinched fists in the air — a gesture historically associated with the anti-American “Black Power” movement.
“We can confirm that the cadets in this photo are members of the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016,” said West Point’s director of public affairs Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker in a statement. “Academy officials are conducting an inquiry into the matter.”
The military academy’s investigation will determine whether or not the young women in the photo broke any Army Command Policy rules.
Under the section marked “political activists,” the Army Command Policy states that West Point cadets may “register, vote, and express their personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Army.”
— Jack Monell, PhD MSW (@jackmonell) April 29, 2016
The photo — which is a time-honored tradition among graduating cadets of West Point — first sparked controversy last week, when popular military publication The Army Times said several of its readers were upset and claimed that the cadets were in breach of Defense Department policy.
Over the weekend, former drill sergeant and Iraq War veteran John Burk, wrote a blog linking the West Point cadets to the anti-police organization Black Lives Matter.
“The fact that it could offend someone by its usage qualifies it as a symbol that goes against Army policies,” Burk told the New York Times. “It’s not the fact that they are wrong for having their beliefs, it’s the fact they did it while in uniform.”
Perhaps the most historic use of the black power salute was when black American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos lifted their clenched fists in the air during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
The black power fist pump was also a feature of singer Beyoncé’s racially-charged Super Bowl halftime performance, in which the pop star performed the Black Lives Matter-themed song “Formation” alongside a slew of backup dancers dressed in Black Panthers paraphernalia.
— Rowdy T Northlondon (@rowdytukgoon) February 8, 2016
However, some say the West Point photo is not offensive.
In a Facebook post entitled, “This is Not About a Fist,” West Point alumnus Mary Tobin writes, “I refuse to allow my young West Point sisters to be railroaded, ostracized, demonized, degraded, and humiliated without speaking up on their behalf.”
“They are proud. Point blank,” Tobin wrote. “And while I would not have advised them to display ‘the fist’ while taking this traditional picture, my advice would’ve been solely rooted in the fact that we exist in a very racially and politically charged environment and not everyone will understand what you meant.”