Nike is doing it wrong.
I don't mean the shoemaking, though that thing with
No, Nike is doing it wrong because it managed to do something that all the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, alt-righters and other denizens of the lowest coprophagic phylum of our political life could never do: It turned the Betsy Ross flag into a racist symbol.
By now you've probably heard that Nike decided to take the advice of
According to reports, Kaepernick took offense because a handful of extremist groups like to brandish the original American flag to make some sort of point about something no one should care about. (I gather it has something to do with how this was "their" country before the federal government was formed. Or maybe, like many gibbons, they just like the sparkly stars and bright colors.)
The thing is, most Americans -- and when I say most, I mean, like, nearly all of them -- had no idea white supremacists were doing this. In countless news stories, reporters contacted experts who either didn't know about it or were only vaguely aware that this is one of the things these groups like to wear as capes during dress-up time.
"If all these historians didn't know [the relationship between white supremacy and the Betsy Ross flag], then Nike shouldn't be expected to know it,"
Nonetheless, it's true that if you search through enough old photos of Klan rallies and neo-Nazi pageants, you can spot a
Do you know what else you can probably spot if you look long and hard enough? Nike sneakers. Does that make Nikes symbols of white supremacy?
Of course not. But what if these groups started wearing T-shirts with the Nike "swoosh" on them?
Frankly, I think it would be a brilliant move by these hate groups to do just that. Nike would freak out, giving these attention-seekers a bonanza in free publicity.
Innocuous or even noble symbols can be appropriated for evil purposes. The swastika is an ancient symbol in various Asian cultures. It was adopted in
But here's the thing: When evil people acquire symbols for their own ends, the only guarantee of success is when everyone else validates the acquisition.
If Nike had gone ahead with the special-edition sneakers, it would have been, in marketing terms, the equivalent of Godzilla versus Bambi. A few neo-Nazis and a few more social justice warriors would have complained, and everyone else would have gone about their day totally unconcerned.
Instead, Nike followed the advice of a man whose business model is to stir grievance and controversy for its own sake. Suddenly, millions of people who once thought the Betsy Ross flag was just an admirable bit of Americana now associate it with hate groups. Worse, other entirely decent and patriotic Americans will now likely start brandishing the flag to offend people who, until recently, had no idea some hate groups adopted the flag in the first place.
The ranks of the perpetually offended will misread this trolling-to-own-the-libs effort as an endorsement of hate speech, and the culture war will have yet another idiotic fight on its hands, and a symbol of the country's founding that should be a uniting image for all Americans will now be reduced to a weapon in that war.
Thanks a lot, Nike.
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