Haute Volée pole-vaulter Megan Clark made the best of this Covid-19 competition season and was transitioning smoothly into her off-season when an Instagram post brought her up short. Learn from Megan below about how to create a truly inclusive athletic environment and culture that we can be proud of. Thank you, Megan, for your immediate instinct to share your experience and your willingness to educate all of us!
The other week, Vaulter Magazine reposted an image from a pole vault club that prominently featured a confederate flag. There was no pole vault going on in the photo, just people standing under a collection of flags watching video. It was offensive, divisive, and absolutely unacceptable to post or share. So I took to Instagram and voiced my opinion. This sort of post does not embody the pole vault community, and as members and leaders, we have an obligation to stand up for what is right. So I did. Simple, right? Vaulter Magazine takes the post down, apologizes for posting it, and we all move on. But that’s not what happened.
Yes, they took it down and privately apologized, admitting that it never should have been reposted and assuring me that it would never happen again, but then people started defending it, defending them, and blaming me for creating “a lynch mob mentality.” This tells me that there are a lot of people who still don’t understand the problem. Here are the facts. It was a confederate flag. It is a symbol of hate that inspires fear. It does nothing but divide our community. It should never have been posted, and we should take issue with that sort of hateful content regardless of who posts it. We do not need that in our lives, in our sport, or in our community.
For those of you who fall into the it's-not-a-confederate-flag, it's-part-of-a-flag-collection, or the why-are-people-so-offended camps, let me just explain something to you: The privilege of looking at a confederate flag without feeling fear is just that, privilege. Some have remarked that it is a confederate-ish flag that I interpreted one way or another. I implore you to take another look at it. It’s a confederate flag with a punisher symbol on it, inside of which, the confederate flag is completed. It’s hard to reconcile that people were not aware of this when that was the first and only thing I saw. That flag, whether part of a collection or not, incites fear-- fear of violence, fear of oppression, and fear of tyranny. The atrocities that have been perpetrated under, and in the name of that flag against people that look like me are too many to count. Just knowing that you’ve created an environment that draws this fear out of people should be enough to take it down.
The privilege of looking at a confederate flag without feeling fear is just that, privilege.
For those of you who think the confederate flag is a symbol for “states’ rights,” I urge you to think about which “state right” they fought and died to protect. It was the right to oppress and enslave black people. It’s that simple. And for all of you who remain unswayed by my argument above, know that our federal government recognizes the confederate flag as a symbol of hatred. It’s banned on every Department of Defense installation worldwide. That flag was created and flown by people who were fighting AGAINST the United States to keep slavery. It was never and will never be the symbol of American patriotism.
As for those who feel I’ve created a “lynch mob mentality,” I ask you to look at yourselves. Is it wise or prudent to use a term that describes violent crimes committed against black people in this country for centuries to describe what is going on here? Absolutely not. As an athlete and member of this pole vault community, my responsibility is to create an inclusive, supportive environment online and in person to our youth, regardless of who that offends. They deserve to feel safe and welcome in our sport, despite the stark lack of racial diversity in pole vault.
Obviously, I do not support the propagation of fear and violence in our community in any form, including that of hate mail or death threats. Those of you who think that backlash from my (or anyone else’s) call to change is the source of violence, I challenge you to consider that the action, not my reaction, incited people. The people responsible for posting/reposting/sharing are being portrayed by many as victims, and those of us who spoke against the racially charged photo are posed as aggressors. We all have to accept the consequences of our actions, whether we believe we deserve them or not. For me last week, one consequence was finding out which of my sponsors would unconditionally support me, and which would balk and threaten to withdraw support.
This is not about me or Vaulter Magazine, but instead, about creating an environment and culture that we are proud of. We need a community that comes together in times like these. Racism is running rampant in our country, and it is our responsibility to fight it where we can. I hope those of you who were missing the gravity of the situation now have a better understanding. Knowledge is power, and I hope we all become better equipped in this fight to stop racism in our community and in our world.