It’s 3:15am in Spain. I woke up in the heat of the night to turn on the fan and can’t seem to fall back asleep. So, naturally, I do what any sane american does: I grab my phone and scroll down my social media accounts. I haven’t been very active on Twitter since arriving in Granada last Friday, so I entered the app knowing I was in store for a treat.
The first tweet I see is from esteemed journalist Jemele Hill. Firing back at a gravely misinformed online troll, Hill tweets, “Yes, it was all a master plan. When he took a knee, he thought this is going to lead to a multi-million dollar Nike deal because police brutality is absolutely what connects with the American consumer. And he would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those darn kids,” in response to Nike supporting Kaepernick with their new ad campaign that commemorates 30 years of business.
I continue to scroll down my newsfeed and I am taken aback by the fiery twitter threads that include burning Nike gear in protest of the company that is backing a social activist who happens to be an athlete. Kaepernick, two years ago, used his athletic platform to antagonize and interrogate the unjust criminal justice system and police brutality by avenue of kneeling for the United States’ national song before football games. And now, after being blackballed and bringing a collusion case against the NFL, one of the largest companies in the world is also on the former 49ers’ side of history.
These binary approaches to Kaepernick and the Nike ad, which have become a “situation,” are indicative of the racial and social tensions in The States— there are people either for it or against it. There is no in between. What’s amazing to me, however, is that there are conservatives protesting the original protest in order to solidify their place in history as a true patriot. Meanwhile, journalist Noelia Ramírez has a better understanding of this growing conversation when she writes for elpais.com, “La oleada indignación entre los votantes de Trump y otros clientes conservadores que mezclan patriotismo con racismo se ha visto reflejada en hombres que bien quemaban sus zapatillas […] o bien destrozaban algunas de las prendas de la marca frente a la cámara bajo el hashtag #JustBurnIt o #BoycottNike” which translates to “The surge of outrage among Trump voters and other conservative clients who mix patriotism with racism has been reflected in men who burned their shoes or destroyed some of the brand’s clothes in front of the camera under the hashtag #JustBurnIt or #BoycottNike.”
It’s true international coverage when Ramírez, and other journalists in Spain, can sit across the Atlantic Ocean and have a clearer sense of the purpose of activism through sports (in Kaepernick’s case, football— or, fútbol americano as the hispanic community calls it which, by the way, is not nearly as important here). And can show more patriotism to the United States, a country that they may or may not have citizenship in, than the people claiming to do the same through shoe burnings. It is reprehensible that a Nike ad with a slogan that can be applied to any situation is being reduced to arson and a counterprotest. Conservatives have confused patriotism with white nationalism and racism and have effectively repackaged KKK cross burnings and the campaign slogan of the sitting US president into burning Nike gear in an overt, yet invisible, misconstruction of how Black activism, or any radical form of community, mobilizes in the United States.
Expressing outrage or attachment to a set of norms by starting fires is one of the oldest tricks in the KKK book that is used as a scare tactic of intimidation to (re)assert authority. Usually set on a hill, a burning cross injects religion into racism and vice versa with the goal of reproducing and strengthening white supremacy. The same can be said for setting aflame Nike gear. Setting fire to paraphernalia that, in some cases, is still being worn, is a damning move that reinvigorates and signifies the matrix of domination that (some) white people insist on maintaining by any means necessary. It is irresponsible and dangerous to have racist tendencies and then claim patriotism as an escapegoat.
I’d rather you just claim your racism. Acknowledgment is the first step of recovery.
Yet, the sea of red denial bleeds of MAGA and should be received as a threat to human decency as we know it. Conservatives, clearly, value their sham of patriotism more than football and more than Nike, which says a lot because those are easily two of the most important things in The States. An onslaught of normalizing and institutionalizing discrimination has been present in The States since its conception and is currently being reprioritized as, apparently, the most important agenda to the POTUS and his supporters. As white nationalists, they are burning bridges of trust with the Black community that took 400 years to make.
The reception of Colin Kaepernick and Nike illustrate the state of America— a lot is said about the potency of its political polarization when journalists in Spain can be more articulate and have a better understanding of the intersection of sports, race and politics in the US than nationalists wearing the hood of patriotism.