The Age of the Imbecile
umair haque

The high-profile celebrity embracing some cause is a recurring cliche, but it can have traction, if the figure is temperate, sober, deliberative, and mature enough to set an example. Good old fashioned stuff. Fred Rogers, meet Lebron James.

Now, the complicated matter of Nike, and Colin Kaepernick. While his knee-taking garnered some supporters and many critics, the authoritarian response to the rather inchoate gesture (which had no clear outcome or conclusion to declare moral victory) incited far more to his side out of anger at the hostile censorship and blatant suppression of his rights.

Unfortunately, one of the less savory aspects to his story, is his rather confused and sanctimonious explanation for his refusal to vote. Ever. Given a multi-million dollar paycheck, which may not come again for myriad complications not about his talent as a player, it seems absurd that he would try to elaborate on the inequities of our system, but then tacitly encourage a boycott of the one and only remedy, namely the lowly vote.

Not very glamorous, often frustrating and demoralizing, nevertheless it is actually one of the few activities that really matter, in terms of effecting changes that can make differences moving forward. The trouble with protesting is that while it might feel good, cathartic in the moment, it still hands the actual power to the target, demanding that it make the changes happen. Of course the target usually pushes back, and resists those demands, frequently appearing as the victim of radical agendas, winning public support.

The civil rights protests were not vague, however. They were very clear, simple, often with clear outcomes like being served in a public establishment, an outcome that could have been rectified in five minutes. Demands for voting rights were nearly as clear and simple, with just the institutional racism and Jim Crow laws standing in the way.

Kaepernick’s dismissal of the power and inevitability of voting disrespects the history of persons of color who died for the right denied them by the establishment he claims to be protesting about. Men and women still living can and perhaps should be having heated conversations with him, about all they endured, and witnessed fifty years ago, in contrast to his limited personal experiences. It might be just optics, but for some reason, the man seems to desire center stage, making it about himself in some cause, and not about becoming a servant to a cause. He is still opting to be a spokesman for an ad campaign, looking good for the target demographic, but taking risks as an athlete is never as difficult as taking risks as a citizen.

There is still time to make things right for him. Voter registration is still open for the fall elections, and the campaign has practically been written for him already, by Nike: Voting. Just Do It.

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