Colin Kaepernick and Nike: The good with the bad

Do you think Colin Kaepernick ever gets sick of his agency being stolen from him? I do. I get sick of it. I mean, if every time I did something people went out of their way to find whatever they could to be offended by and no one even tried to understand why I did that thing, I’d probably get sick of that pretty quickly.

What will it take to get some of these white people to actually acknowledge just one of the things Colin Kaepernick is talking about?

I mean, he says, “Let’s talk about police brutality.”

Here are their responses so far:

“No.”

That’s it. That’s all of their responses. Sure, it’s dressed up a little bit. Sometimes it sounds like

“That’s not how you address this issue.”

“Shut up and do your job!”

“Protest on your own time!”

“I don’t agree with what he’s saying, but I respect his right to say it!”

“Nike is bad!”

All of those responses are a refusal to address the issue.

And that one about Nike though…

There’s a man starving to death. He’s crawling slowly, panting. Dying. Then he finds, of all things, a Twinkie. He unwraps it and takes a bite. He immediately starts to improve. His blood sugar begins to balance. His heart rate evens out. His vision is clearing. He begins to take a second bite, but just before he can a very well-fed man with a mouthful of cupcakes interrupts him to explain how just how unhealthy Twinkies are.

The well-fed man doesn’t see the situation of the starving man. He doesn’t give the starving man healthy food or show him how to get it. He definitely doesn’t consider what could have led to their food disparity in the first place. No. Instead the well-fed man continues to lecture the starving man, all the while convinced he is helping. But he’s not helping. Can’t even understand him, talking with his mouth full like that.

Right now, this is how it feels to listen to some of these white people talk about Colin Kaepernick and Nike.

Like it or not, our world is run by governments or corporations. Too often it’s just a terrible knot of the two. As a Black person, I look at the government side and I don’t see myself represented. But from the police all the way up to the president, what I do see is a whole lotta motherfuckers who’d just as soon see me in prison or dead.

Then I look to the corporate side. Not much there either, but now I see Nike. I know it’s not ideal. It’s not even good, but it’s a whole lot more than what I had just a few days ago.

Yes, I know Nike does some very evil things and no, and there’s no excusing it. They exploit brown people in every way around the globe. But what they’re doing right now, giving voice to a man who is trying to stop the police from killing me and mine, it’s a good thing.

Both things can be true.

Yes, they are just trying to capitalize on a social justice movement, but they’ve also supported LeBron and Serena.

Both things can be true.

The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is evil. Giant media conglomerates perpetuate all the evils in the world. The whole planet would be infinitely better off without any of them. But ABC brought us Shonda Rhimes, who has helped to normalize Blackness in immeasurable ways. You don’t stop the evil that is ABC by clutching your fucking pearls at Shonda Rhimes.

Black and brown suffering on one part of the world does not cancel out Black and brown suffering on another part of the world. It’s not zero sum.

Both things can be true.

But really, the thing is this. I don’t give a fuck what you think of Kap’s choice of corporate sponsor if:

  • You haven’t already stolen the agency from every white public figure with a corporate sponsor.
  • You haven’t acknowledged that the actual problem is a world in which a Black man needs a corporate sponsor for you to even acknowledge him.
  • You own shoes or clothes or a car or a device or any other goddamned thing produced by brown, enslaved hands.

We live in a world of corporate hegemony that is an overwhelming horror tangled into a generations-long knot made from every kind of string, wire, rope and chain. It’s a knot that needs to be untied and I hope you’re one of the people trying to untie it. I just hope you’re not gonna spend all your time on these goddamn shoelaces.


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Photo of Nike campus courtesy of Nike Inc.

Freedom of speech isn’t a blank check

Welcome to this episode of The Whitest Things in the World: Free Speech Edition!

Free speech? Really? That whole concept is just about the weirdest, most hubristic fantasy anyone could ever imagine, but holy shit, do white people believe in it! I swear, only a group of people encased in the arrogant armor of their own permission would ever believe in this tooth fairy bullshit.

First of all, people who bring it up the most get it wrong. All it takes is one disagreement on the internet to reveal the sheer mass of people who think “Freedom of Speech” means freedom from consequence.

“I can’t believe he got fired for saying that! Whatever happened to freedom of speech?”

Well, nothing happened to it. You just never actually knew what it meant. FYI, it means the government can’t punish someone for speaking out, but I understand where you are coming from. When you are part of a protected class, suddenly not having permission to do something probably strikes at the core of who you are just now perceiving yourself to be.

If you’re part of a group that has never had its rights withheld, actual laws written against it, or been murdered, bombed, tortured, treated as a disease or experimented on by the government for just being part of a group, the difference between an angry comment on social media and government sanctioned violence may be unclear.

This kind of misunderstanding is at the core of racism. Race itself—as it is currently understood in this country—exists as a hierarchy. White is on the top, Black and Native American on the bottom. Everyone else somewhere in between, but all closer to the bottom than the top. Racism is the exploitation and reinforcement of that hierarchy.

That’s why “nigger” is fighting words and “honky” probably sounds funny to you.

Everyone instinctively knows this, but that won’t stop some white people from claiming they experience racism. And even though they look like everyone from the people on the money to the white-sanctioned “official” Jesus, some white people will even say they’re the ones who actually experience racism.

Also, and I know you’re not gonna like this, you shouldn’t be allowed to say whatever you want. It’s a bad idea. Absolute free speech only works if everyone is of equal social standing and speaks only in good faith. And probably not even then.

All it takes is one stroll through 4chan to see that absolute freedom of speech eventually devolves into who can hate the most the fastest. The thing about hate is that it’s destructive, so if you are reliant on any kind of order in your life, which you infinitely are, hate is something you can’t allow.

I know some of you are having a hard time following that idea, but guess what? It doesn’t matter. Your speech is already limited. If you don’t believe me, just walk up to the next cop you see and tell him you plan on murdering him. If he arrests you, just explain to the judge that you have freedom of speech. Then, when you’re on the stand, just lie and say you never did it. If the judge tries to call you out on it you just tell that judge, “Eat shit, motherfucker.”

Everything should work out just fine. Seriously though, you’re censored in ways you don’t even realize.

Now, at this point some of you may be wondering whether or not I am pro-censorship. To you I will say pay closer attention! Censorship exists. Some of it is bad and some of it is good, but the topic itself is nuanced.

People need to be able to speak truth to power.

But in order for that to happen, other people need to get honest about just who’s got the power.


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Any rat can learn a single maze; that doesn’t make the rat a genius

Y’all. We gotta stop calling Stephen Miller a mastermind. Seriously. We’re calling him a mastermind way too much. He’s ain’t no mastermind. He’s and idiot who benefits from a system that is designed to benefit him.

That shit is obvious from the second you even start to think about it. He’s taking peoples’ rights away, but this country doesn’t just give out rights. In fact, it often takes droves of people fighting as hard as they can for as long as they can and sacrificing everything they have including their very lives just in hopes that a generation they’ll never even meet can have the most basic dignity of being recognized as human.

The people who have accomplished that are goddamn masterminds. But guess what. Those rights can be taken away pretty easily. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one because any fucking fool can start a fire.

So, no. Stephen Miller is not a fucking mastermind. He’s an imbecile that can only even exist because this country values its own fragility over its competence. He’s the soft ooze that leaks from a machine built to produce hard ooze.

I think the reason this bothers me so much is that calling Miller a mastermind continues down the path of the destruction of a clear and obvious reality (for now). I mean, if you’re a Nazi or Republican or whatever else you wanna call it, sure, Miller is a mastermind. For you and your standards that’s probably true, but the rest of us should fucking know better.

Like, the president is obviously a hateful, feeble-minded, overly sensitive coward who is somehow incapable of even baring this country’s most basic standard of humanity. Obviously. Or, you know, as his supporters believe, he’s a fair-minded, wise, tough warrior-champion, who is M-ing AGA.

Those people can believe that. I’ve spent my life experiencing worse than that from those people, so I’m fine with it. I expect them to think Miller is a mastermind, but if you’re not on their side, let’s not give this turd the benefit of the shine.

Now, listen. I’ve spoken about this before, but I was homeless for a little while when I was a kid. And I lived in a youth shelter for a minute. I got there right around the same time as this other kid, Billy. We were very similar. We were both gangly nerds who read a lot and couldn’t break the habit of talking too much about shit no one else cared about. In those ways, we were very different than the other boys at the shelter.

The other boys were tougher and more prone to violence. And, of course, because this was in Maine, they were all white. Billy, too.

Guess which one of us got our ass kicked every other day.

Did you guess me?

If you did, you are wrong. Believe it or not, Billy bore the bruises. This was because we had come from very different places. I came from foster homes where I was often the only Black person at school and always the only Black person at home. I had to learn how to stay out of peoples’ way. Not Billy, though. He came from a place where you could provoke anyone as much as you like because you could always yell for the teacher and walk away victorious.

Unfortunately for Billy, the shelter was nowhere near where he was from.

He’d provoke another kid, and run to the counselor. Sometimes he’d make it. Sometimes he didn’t, but even when he did, the counselors had to turn their backs sometime and vengeance is patient. Billy couldn’t square the environment that created him with the environment he was in, so the environment squared him. Over and over.

I left the shelter before Billy, so I don’t know if he ever learned. I like to think that he did. I like to think that he’s doing well in the world and no one ever says of him, “That guy should’ve gotten his ass kicked more as a kid.”

Now, look: Am I saying that Stephen Miller needs his ass kicked? Not in public, I’m not.

What I am saying is that he’s the product of his environment. We have systems that are made to create Millers and because the Millers are created by those systems, the Millers know how to use the systems.

A rat raised in a maze will know how to run that maze, but only that particular maze. In the end, a rat is gonna be a rat. He’s gonna run. He’s gonna spread disease. A rat can’t change what it is and neither can we.

But we can change the maze.


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Photo by John T from Unsplash