This past Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles hosted the Carolina Panthers. Prior to the game, Eric Reid – the outspoken activist, friend and former teammate of Colin Kaepernick, and All-Pro safety – ran out to confront Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.
The camera caught the two getting in each others’ faces, with Reid seemingly the instigator (as a non-captain, he was not technically “supposed” to be on the field at this time). Jenkins has served as one of the most visible leader of the Players Coalition, a group of socially active NFL players formed in the wake of Kaepernick’s protest. Reid, once a visible member himself, left the group, citing differences in the approach – he believed the group should have pushed harder to include Kaepernick in meetings with the NFL and made his employment by the league the foremost part of their agenda. Ultimately, the NFL responded as all large wealthy institutions typically do – by thinly veiling a PR stunt as social engagement, and donating $90 million in “a local matching funds component to the social justice initiative”.
After the game, Reid cited this incident and called Jenkins a “sellout” and a “neo-colonialist”, in the process accusing him of co-opting the movement for his own charity. The beef and history between the two, which stems from the NFL league office’s hijacking described above, is nuanced and complex. But this confrontation left me with quite a simple, albeit surprising, feeling – sadness.
I respect both players tremendously, and I believe in a world where their differences in approach should be allowed to not only exist, but flourish. In oversimplified terms, Jenkins has been cast in the role of the pragmatic and cooperative activist, while Reid takes a hardline about the wrongs of the entrenched power structure. To some, the Players Coalition failed in not getting Kaepernick reinstated and distracting from the genuine reason he took a knee in the first place. But to others, the Players’ Coalition secured funding from the league comparable to the amount which the league donates in their largest charitable endeavors. These are the types of philosophical differences that we hope the players – and leaders of movements generally – would hash out privately and rally behind, with the proverbially “difficult conversations”.
I believe in a world where their differences in approach should be allowed to not only exist, but flourish.
In this instance, Reid and Jenkins seemed to each serve as strawmen for a frequent divide amongst those fighting for change; the reason being that this divide remains under-discussed. Typically, when we consider our philosophical divides, we do so only as those divides pertain to opposites, whether it be opposite sides of an issue, opposite views of a person, or the “end of civil discourse” (a nebulous proscription that mainstream media loves). Once we’ve identified these differences, the prevailing narrative holds, we must “reach across the aisle”, “try to understand each other”, or “expose ourselves to different viewpoints”. In today’s media, disagreement among “reasonable” people can’t happen because we’re all too hysterical to handle ourselves like thinking adults.
Forget all that. As it pertains to politics and culture, I really have no time for people who defend, directly or indirectly, putting migrant children in cages, sexual assault, or the legal erasure of trans people. After a certain point, it feels I really can’t convince you to care more about others. A more vital discussion would occur between me and those of us who generally agree, but disagree on how to tactically address what needs to change. A successful coalition is one that incorporates people who generally agree on the big picture, but as we are all individuals, naturally tactical differences will occur.
For while the media preoccupies itself with how “divided” we are in the big picture, they scarcely discuss how divided we are in the little picture.
Recent memory abounds with coalitions started on the premise of a shared general belief (or “worldview”), only to fracture due to strategic and/or tactical differences. Though it may be over-reported, the rancor between Bernie Sanders voters and Hillary Clinton voters felt very real; I’m going to guess if you had a strong predilection for either candidate over the other, you would even more strongly prefer that person be president than the one we got. This pattern seems to come up in almost every social movement in history; from labor struggles to racial justice. By the time these splits occur, it is almost always too late.
Eric Reid’s choice to call Jenkins a “sellout” was particularly fascinating. For while the NFL certainly acted cynically in co-opting the promise of the Players’ Coalition, are we supposed to believe that when Nike – another large, multinational corporation – released an ad with Kaepernick, they had suddenly been paid a visit by the altruism fairy? Powerful though these ads were, corporations don’t do things that are not in their best interests! And both Nike and the NFL reinforced this: Nike wouldn’t have made Kap the face of its campaign if they didn’t think he was marketable (Nike stock rose significantly in the wake of the ads), and the NFL wouldn’t donate to any charity if it didn’t garner good press. At the time of the Nike ads, some called Kaepernick a sellout, as if partnering with ANY corporate brand tarnishes his reputation as a fighter for social justice, even as the advertisements brought greater awareness and spotlight to his desired goals (and greater financial means to devote to them).
In addition to the disagreement itself, I felt sadness at our tendency to even lump Jenkins and Reid together, as people who are fighting for social justice in the first place. We should all support justice for those murdered at the hands of the police and the civil rights of people of color, yet because they happen to have pointed this out in public, they are grouped together as “fighting for the same thing”. Again, nuance matters, and it remains possible that their individual versions of justice and the steps to take towards it may differ, even within the context of something we should all agree on. The range of discourse is so narrowly defined that we can’t even adequately spot the difference in people who generally want the same thing through different means, and people who are truly allied in the same fight. This flattens our discourse and makes us think everyone agrees, and thus we are simply unprepared for the inevitable moment when they don’t.
When does one become a sellout?
Clearly, the entire episode here provides more questions than answers: When does one become a sellout? When do the amoral motives of organizations looking to capitalize on a moment outweigh the benefits of their actions? At what point have those with whom we share a general goal turned their back on that goal enough to warrant aggression or excommunication? And most importantly: if our struggles are overwhelmingly interconnected, how do we address them in a way that satisfies both of our goals and moves the needle? I don’t have answers to any of these, but I hope we navigate the difficult arrival of those questions with awareness and civility.
OPEN LETTER TO CONGRESS
Dear Members of Congress,
The tipping point is here and we need to put aside our political differences to save this country right now! Silence and remaining behind party lines is no longer an option. A unified address by our elected officials in Congress on the issue of police brutality and equality under the rule of law is required to begin the healing process as well as ensure the future of this nation.
There are three steps that immediately need to be taken to bring this to fruition. The arrest and charging of the three remaining individuals involved in the death of George Floyd must occur as the first step of good faith. The second step requires clear and transparent action items stated to the public in order to address the issues at hand. Those action items should include:
- The revision of Qualified Immunity to specifically address the problematic assertion that “Qualified Immunity means that government officials can get away with violating your rights as long as they violate them in a way nobody thought before – Institute of Justice“
- The reforming of Civilian Review Boards with the purpose of increasing the decision-making abilities on the disposition and discipline of police officers.
The third step is the creation and funding of a systemic racism task force with the goal of dismantling systemic racism.
- Accelerating judicial system reform
- Equating the public education system
- Eliminating redlining
These are just the preliminary steps that will begin the framework of the changes we need enacted to better the experiment called the United States.
I look forward to seeing a response in the form of action on the behalf of the citizens of this country.
Thank You Tulsa Oklahoma / Generational Responsibility
Every generation has an unintended mission as it relates to the liberation of their people. That mission is based on the circumstances and is revealed either midway through or after that generation’s mission is complete.
Through land ownership and intellect, the post slavery generation (Reconstruction/Tulsa – Black Wall Street) revealed what was possible if America dared engage on a level playing field. They did an EXCELLENT job!!
Through newly established media, The Civil Rights generation exposed the world to racial injustice and an undelivered promise of liberty and justice. They did an EXCELLENT job!
The Hip Hop generation reinvigorated the notion of wealth, ownership, propagated messages of inequality and exposed the daily tribulations of Black American life to ALL of America. It was my generation’s obligation to gather overwhelming empathy and build an irrefutable emotional case against racial injustice. We did and EXCELLENT job!!
Through technology, Millennials unintended obligations seems to be gathering overwhelming and irrefutable visual and literal evidence against racial injustice AND expose it via social and regular media. They are doing an EXCELLENT job!!
Now that a select few have assimilated, gained some empathy and chosen to walk alongside us, they are also experiencing similar atrocities and destroying the sentiment that prior instances of injustice were one-offs and not systemic injustice.
As today marks the 99th Anniversary of the Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riots, I would like to acknowledge those who have shown us what was possible post slavery in America. There is a HUGE difference between returning home and trying to find a home in the first place. The candle lit by that generation is the same beacon that will navigate our eventual return. THANK YOU!!
Sidebar; All generations have had a separate and unintended but equally important mission. What is common is that all generations have had to endure to even make minor progress. We have no choice but to do the same. Sidebar Complete.
Realigning Your Moral Compass / Don’t Be Humble
Remember when “keeping it on the low” was a high-valued asset in the lunchrooms of yesterdays past? It was a glorious and magical time where your ability to not divulge information or “brag” would lend you the trust and respect of all… except maybe the person who wanted said info. Conversely, being known as conceited or loose lipped oft resulted in social suicide. Once you understood and practiced the basic tenets of social operation, you were free to roam about the country. Then along came this thing called life and what was once generally accepted social order now requires constant questioning. Oh to be young again!
These days, you may find yourself at a moral crossroads where keeping information “on the low” could result in literal career suicide and stagnation of financial growth. I’ve seen coworkers get promoted because they would inform the entire world of every menial task accomplished like closing the fridge door in the pantry. I’ve also seen coworkers not be given any credit and as far as to be laid off because no one was aware of their value or responsibilities. Who knew life was gonna be so complicated (besides every single adult?) Of course, “keeping it on the low” a.k.a humility is just one of many self-inflicted moral codes we use to navigate for a majority of our lives. There are many others (selfish, greedy, manipulative, etc…) Now what if you hadn’t assigned a negative or positive value to these sentiments from the outset? Would you still be so hesitant to engage in their practices?
For the sake of proving my point, What if these “negative” moral codes were simply tools that could not be judged but simply used? Is it manipulative to convince someone to put a gun down and not shoot up a room full of people? Was Winston Churchill being manipulative in his efforts to convince the U.S to join WWII? Is it greedy to understand how much financial assets are required to provide the lifestyle you deem worthy for you and your family then pursue accordingly? Is it selfish to know when to tune the world out to achieve a goal that will be to the worlds eventual betterment?
The world is grander than whatever lunchroom your adolescent moral GPS was manufactured in and navigated you through. Once you graduate to encounter those larger moral obstacles, you rapidly realize that what got your through it before may not get you past it now if you cannot realign your moral code. It seems once one masters a particular set of skills, they immediately become obsolete as life advances everyone to the next level. What’s more likely is a majority of our decision making tools (like morals) are choice and should be treated as such and continuously revisited. Good Luck.
Sidebar; To the aspiring entrepreneurs keeping their amazing ideas “on the low” until they blow up, you are delaying your own successes. To those who find the pursuit of money / capitalism as greedy /evil, you are delaying your own gratitude. Sidebar complete.