The clenched fist | Inquirer Opinion

The clenched fist

/ 05:14 AM January 04, 2019

How you gesture with a clenched fist indicates your political inclination or affiliation, which is also reflective of your frame of mind and emotional state.

The clenched fist held high, slightly angled forward, has long been a symbol of militant protest. If you do this gesture, you are probably a leftist, showing defiance or protesting everything from high prices to human rights violations. Or you’re just a plain angry person, with no political ideology but angry about something just the same.


Holding your clenched fist up high generally implies protesting based on principle and fighting for a just cause. It has no clear threat of violence, unless your fist is also holding up an assault rifle.

If you hold a clenched fist straight out at chest level, then you are of the Duterte variety, signifying a straight punch to the solar plexus, a mailed-fist policy toward illegal drugs, corruption, an inefficient bureaucracy, militants, terrorists and noncompliant, pesky women, especially if they are senators or vice presidents.


If you are holding up a clenched fist but with your elbow bent at shoulder level, then you are probably a basketball player, celebrating victory and indicating your resolve to fight for school or country.

There was an iconic instance, though, when sportsmen held their clenched fists straight up. This was during the 1968 Mexico Olympics, when medal-winning black American sprinters gave the “black power” salute as they stood on the podium while The Star-Spangled Banner played. (Now, still protesting racial discrimination, many National Football League players have resorted to going down on one knee as the American national anthem is played, which is actually a far more “respectful” form of protest.)

This just goes to show that everything is political, even something supposedly neutral or fair or construed to be a constructive channel of aggression, like sporting games. In the case of the protesting American Olympians in 1968, rightist supremacist politics triumphed when they were kicked out of the games and widely criticized in the name of Olympic “purity.”

In whatever position, even hidden from view, clenched fists indicate protest, anger, resolve, being mentally closed, or combativeness. A hidden clenched fist can be indicative of stress or a seething anger that can’t be expressed.

When out in the open, a clenched fist, to use a popular word nowadays, weaponizes the human person. At its most basic level, of course, a clenched fist may be necessary for survival, as when you have to fight off a threat. Our hands, designed for grasping and manipulating objects in our environment, and for caressing or nurturing others, can be transformed into weapons for hitting and hurting others when we engage, literally, in fisticuffs.

But like anything human, a clenched fist is not necessarily bad. Of course there are many things to protest. Of course there are many things to punch in the solar plexus. But important as well is the ability to distinguish when to clench or not. We may be a hospitable, open-handed people in general, but should we remain that way even as our seas and islands are occupied and militarized by a foreign power?

Clench-fisted or open-palmed is who you may be, no matter your circumstances, just as you may be one or the other, depending on circumstances. In the Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water,” the bad guy, who has his ring finger and small finger bitten off by the reptile-like aqua god, laconically makes light of his misfortune by saying something like, “I still have my trigger finger and my f—k finger, so I’m okay.” That would be a source of comfort, indeed. One can still make a fist, no matter how small. And yes, even without our ring fingers and small fingers, we can still shoot each other and screw each other as we always have.


Our hands express who we are, and just like anything, they can only be as good as the purposes to which we put them.

Roderick Toledo is a freelance communication projects manager.

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TAGS: clenched fist, gestures, opinion, Philippines, political affiliation
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