Just (don’t) do it

The fireworks have really been flying, but not overhead — instead, they’ve been over a shoe design. By now, most people reading this should be aware that Nike had planned to release a red, white, and blue shoe with the Betsy Ross flag on its heel, but recalled the design after Colin Kaepernick raised some concerns. Then, as it generally does whenever Kap weighs in on an issue, all hell broke loose.

Is Kap in charge of Nike? Does he hate America? Does Nike? Are his detractors racist? Do they hate him personally? Am I ever going to stop asking questions?

I don’t know; I’m not an expert on any of this. Which means, of course, I have opinions — as does everyone else. And, I suspect, somewhere amidst all of the opinions, generalizations, and questions, sits the truth. I believe the search for it should tell each of us something about ourselves.

I’ll start by sharing some things about myself. I am patriotic. I love my country. I think the Constitution is brilliant. I abhor tyranny. I admire the concept of a democratic republic. I wouldn’t want to live under any other type of government. True democracy is tempting, but would probably be complicated to introduce to a population as large as ours. So I’m content with what we have, and I respect the founding fathers who risked everything to break ties with a monarchy and form a new nation, with a radical type of government. And that’s what I celebrate today.

I love Independence Day. Always have. The parades, the fireworks, the gaudy once-a-year outfits — all of it. It’s good fun. I love flags, too. I believe true patriotism resides in the heart, and needn’t be proven by waving a flag. But I love looking at flags. I’ve always enjoyed the history of U.S. flags, since I was a little kid. And the Betsy Ross flag has always had a special place in my heart, for whatever reason. I guess I liked the geometry of it — the numbers and the shapes. The perfect circle of 13 stars on the blue rectangular field, plus the thirteen stripes — all of them with significance, even the colors. And it perfectly captures a moment in time that has always fascinated me. Which takes me back to my admiration of the rebels who knew they faced certain death if their plans didn’t work. But their plans did work, and they created and successfully defended a new nation.

That doesn’t mean they got everything right, though. Hell, we still don’t have everything right. I don’t expect everyone to feel the way I do, nor to celebrate with my zeal. We have American citizens today whose ancestors weren’t considered citizens under the new government in 1776. Even worse, they were considered chattel, and sentenced to lifetimes of hard labor as slaves of the rebel Americans who broke away from another country because they wanted liberty. Is it any wonder some of these citizens don’t get as excited about Independence Day as the rest of us? And is it any wonder they don’t invite us to the cookout?

So, what does this have to do with the Betsy Ross flag? (Sorry, more questions.) According to the first reports, Kap told Nike that flag is offensive to some African Americans. And some of the outrage came from that. How dare anyone get offended by the flag? Mitch McConnell added, “If we’re in a political environment where the American flag has become controversial to Americans, I think we’ve got a problem.”

I agree with him — we do have a problem. But the problem isn’t that people are offended. There’s more to the story. According to subsequent stories (see here and here for more info), what Kap said was, the Betsy Ross flag has been appropriated by white nationalist groups as their totem — and that should outrage any patriotic American.

The Gadsden flag underwent a similar journey, and I hate that. I admire that flag as a symbol of the bravery of the colonists who stood up against a tyrannical government back in the 1700s. But today it’s being used by self-styled “rebels” for more nefarious reasons. Hell, these people did the same thing with a frog. They ruin everything they touch.

So, upon learning something they hadn’t originally considered, Nike execs changed their minds. And now they are the targets of individuals in our government who call themselves “conservative” — a political philosophy that eschews, among other things, the idea of the government interfering with private business. Not so in this case…

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey wanted to withdraw incentives for Nike to have a plant in his state — he actually wanted to punish them for changing their mind about a business venture. “Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike. We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history,” he said, despite that fact that Nike didn’t denigrate anything. They made a business decision, y’all. That’s it.

So a business rethought a product and pulled it, and people now hate them. If you’re among the people calling for a boycott, I would ask you why. Why do you care? They haven’t hurt you or our nation in the least. Might you possibly have other reasons for your anger? Could it have anything to do with Kap? Or could it be something worse? Because I honestly can’t think of one good reason for wanting to damage a company simply because they decided not to sell a product.

Usually, boycotts take place because a company actively does something — usually something harmful. Lately, the trend has been to boycott over the things a company doesn’t do — they don’t agree with our philosophy, they don’t advertise with our favorite talking head, they don’t sell a certain product, they don’t speak out enough, they don’t stand when we think they should stand. And we react with petulance. Come on, we’re better than that.

Detractors deride Nike’s decision as giving in to PC thought, a gripe that has always bothered me. Political correctness typically refers to nothing more than slight modification of the way we speak or refer to something, out of deference to other people’s feelings. In other words, it means being polite. And nice. And kind. At no cost. What’s wrong with any of that?

No one has said we can’t like the Betsy Ross flag. No one has told us not to display it. One company decided to not risk offending customers by putting it on their product — where it was going to look pretty tacky, anyway. Seriously, go look at the shoes; I can’t imagine how Nike ever thought they would sell. I already said I love that flag, but it looks stupid on the back of a shoe. Not to mention, it’s a little disrespectful to use it as a marketing gimmick, and to put it on someone’s heel. Sure, these aren’t Nike’s given reasons for having recalled the product, but I think that’s part of the problem — the touchstone for the reversal. People are incensed because Kap was involved.

So what if he made the initial phone call? It was still Nike’s decision, and they made that call. If they hadn’t mentioned him, if they hadn’t given any reasons at all, I bet 99 percent of the current detractors wouldn’t have blinked an eye at the recall. There would have been a few disappointed collectors out there, perhaps. Hell, some of the current detractors might have cheered, for the reasons I mentioned above — they might not have wanted to see the flag on a shoe to begin with.

But, because Kap was involved, and possibly because Nike made this decision in deference to the feelings of black Americans, people are outraged. Calling for a boycott and screeching about being PC are tantamount to stomping your non-flag-adorned little foot in a tantrum. A U.S. governor is willing to sacrifice his state’s citizens’ jobs because he’s so incensed at a company that did something nice for black people — let that sink in. If this is what really bothers you, then shame on you. That type of thinking is decidedly unpatriotic.

We’ve lost nothing but the opportunity to buy a tacky pair of shoes. Please, let’s move on from this. In order to do so, please think about it from other points of view. Even if racists hadn’t appropriated the Betsy Ross flag, could you really blame black Americans if they didn’t feel pride when looking at it? The nation born under that specific flag was still suppressing them.

Some people celebrate today for the birth of a nation. Some people celebrate the liberty they had at that time. Some celebrate the potential for liberty that existed at that time, but wasn’t in place yet. Some don’t celebrate at all. I have no ill will toward any of the above.

Someone might join in today’s celebrations for the fun aspect of it, but perhaps in their heart, they feel more patriotic on June 19 (“Juneteenth”), when we celebrate the 1865 ending of slavery. And even that has some shame to it, as it was two months after Lee’s surrender and two and a half YEARS after the Emancipation Proclamation, but hey, what do you know about that — somehow white Texans had failed to share the news with their black slaves. Do you think maybe that celebration holds a special place in the hearts of those slaves’ descendants? And do you really begrudge them that? Maybe they much prefer the 35-star flag that was the official U.S. flag on that date, or maybe the 50-star flag that flew over the civil rights marches of the 1960s. Can you really blame them?

What it comes down to is, white people don’t get to tell black people not to be offended at the atrocities we’ve committed against them — even those of us who’ve never hurt anyone, or those of us who didn’t come from slave-owners. Just because I like the Betsy Ross flag, I can’t expect the next person to feel the same way. I’m not offended when I look at it. I don’t see it as a symbol of tyranny. But I’m not going to tell those who do, they’re wrong. Because they’re not. These are opinions, and they aren’t worth all the trouble people have kicked up over them.

And Nike apparently felt it wasn’t worth the trouble of offending people with its intended shoe design. It’s that simple. If you don’t understand why it might have offended someone, then instead of bellowing that they shouldn’t be offended, perhaps you should ask them why they are. Share some suds, then share some ideas. I plan to ask some of my black friends about it, to ask them if it offends them, and why. Please, try doing the same.

Then, instead of making fireworks, go out and watch some.

Happy Independence Day, and may we all eventually be invited to the cookout.

About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at www.danbain.net; thanks!
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2 Responses to Just (don’t) do it

  1. keithakenel says:

    “…white people don’t get to tell black people not to be offended at the atrocities we’ve committed against them — even those of us who’ve never hurt anyone, or those of us who didn’t come from slave-owners. Just because I like the Betsy Ross flag, I can’t expect the next person to feel the same way.” AMEN!

    P.S. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in CSA states which did include Texas. Interesting bit of legislation. Imagine if Jeff Davis made a law granting all citizens in the USA a mule and forty acres? Lincoln couldn’t enforce his proclamation so it was more symbolic than true until after April ninth and Lee’s surrender on behalf of the Confederacy.

    Slaves in Union States were not freed under the Emancipation Proclamation. That took until 12/06/1865 and the 13th Amendment

    • Dan Bain says:

      True. Obviously, Texas (like the rest of the CSA) wasn’t going to adhere to the Emancipation, but it’s still noteworthy that the slaves didn’t even know about it. And it’s especially egregious that nobody told them once Lee had surrendered. Juneteenth has a fascinating, shameful history.

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