Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Just in time for Independence Day 2019, sports apparel giant Nike released the Air Max 1 USA shoe, featuring a miniature “Betsy Ross” flag on each heel. This, of course, is the flag with the earliest American colonies represented by thirteen white stars in a circle which, legend has it, Mrs. Ross presented to George Washington himself. But when Nike pitchman Colin Kaepernick, former NFL national anthem protester, got wind of the plan, he complained to Nike that the flag recalls a time when blacks were enslaved. Also, according to a person who reportedly was privy to the conversation, Kaepernick informed Nike that the flag has recently been appropriated by American white supremacists.
Instead of telling Kaepernick, “So what?” and going forward with the patriotic product, Nike sparked controversy by recalling the shoe from retailers and issuing a statement in which it claimed the decision was “based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday” – a pathetic excuse. If anything detracted from the Independence Day holiday, it was the controversy that erupted over Nike’s choice to offend the patriotic majority of Americans by sending the message that the Betsy Ross flag is a shameful symbol of racial oppression.
On MSNBC, race-huckstering Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson chimed in on Nike’s decision, of which he predictably approved. He claimed that the Betsy Ross flag
hails from the revolutionary period of this nation’s founding which was deeply embroiled in, you know, in enslavement... But also, it’s the recent use of this flag that has been the most opprobrious. Right-wing white supremacists have used it as a rallying cry for their own cause... Right now this flag has been used by people who want to pummel African-Americans, Latinos, Jews and other people, neo-Nazis that want to claim that they have the true copyright on American identity. So why not choose a flag that is representative of everybody? The diversity of identities, ideologies, people of color and mainstream people who exist in this country? That’s the kind of blowback against the use of this particular flag.
The notion that white supremacist groups have appropriated the Betsy Ross flag is ludicrous. They aren’t in a position to appropriate anything unless the American people allow it. There is no more marginalized, politically impotent extremist element in America today than actual white supremacists, who have been hyped by the leftist media complex as a rising Hitlerian tide empowered by President Trump’s purported bigotry. (Meanwhile the media downplays or even covers for actual threats such as the violent Antifa network, human traffickers at our collapsing southern border, and Islamic terrorists). Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said that the ADL does not even include the flag in its database of hate symbols. “It’s not a thing in the white supremacist movement,” Pitcavage asserted. Lisa Moulder, director of the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, said she has never heard of the flag being used as a hate symbol. Even if random bigots have tried to adopt the Betsy Ross flag, we only empower and legitimize them when we declare that we don’t have the cultural power to stop them from making the flag their own.
But Dyson has an agenda to push – the same as Colin Kaepernick’s: casting America as a white supremacist nation built upon the backs of African slaves. “Words matter,” Dyson continued. “Symbols matter, too, Why don’t we wear a swastika for July 4th?” Gee, I don’t know… maybe because Hitler wasn’t our Founding Father? He went on to say that symbols like the swastika and “the cross-burning on somebody’s lawn” are “symbols of hate.”
Indeed, words and symbols do matter, and that is why propagandists like Dyson and Kaepernick work so relentlessly to delegitimize this nation’s flag and everything it stands for by linking it inextricably to the evil of slavery.
As for symbols of hate, let’s examine some of the symbols of hate Colin Kaepernick has proudly endorsed. He is fond of wearing t-shirts expressive of his political beliefs and role models. Here he is at a press conference in a t-shirt promoting the Black Panthers. The Panthers were a criminal organization modeled on Communist revolutionary movements, bent on waging literal warfare against law enforcement and overthrowing America’s purported white power structure. Here he is in a t-shirt emblazoned with Panther founder Huey Newton’s visage over the red star of communism (a symbol of hate if there ever was one). Newton was a cop-killing, murdering, raping, pimping, drug-dealing thug who cared less about helping his people than about establishing himself as a feared street legend. Here is Kaepernick in a shirt featuring photos of the 1961 Harlem meeting between mass-murdering Communist dictator Fidel Castro and anti-Semitic black supremacist Malcolm X. The caption reads “Like Minds Think Alike.” Here is Kaepernick in socks he wore on the football field depicting cops as pigs, a symbol of hate “appropriated” by the Marxist Black Lives Matter movement, whose members chanted “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” as they marched behind police officers in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2015 amid a spate of murders of cops nationwide.
“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” goes the Nike slogan in a successful ad campaign starring Colin Kaepernick. But what has Kaepernick sacrificed? Nothing. And yet on this 4th of July, Kaepernick doubled down on his ingratitude for the country that has given him wealth and fame, by tweeting a quote (out of context, as Breitbart notes) from ex-slave Frederick Douglass: “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? This Fourth of July is yours, not mine…There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.” Colin Kaepernick, a multi-millionaire raised by white adoptive parents, a man who idolizes Communist dictators and violent criminals, who fuels a venomous distrust of law enforcement, has absolutely zero moral authority to lecture Americans about racial oppression.
Kaepernick can wear whatever t-shirt or sock or shoe he likes; unlike the repressive Left, conservatives aren’t calling for “offensive” articles of clothing such as the ubiquitous Che Guevara t-shirt to be banished from the marketplace. What is most concerning about the Nike controversy is that it demonstrates Kaepernick has the cultural clout to call up one of the world’s most successful corporate entities, tell them that the identity politics grievance committee disapproves of one of their products, and Nike will jump to comply. He possesses this cultural power because the left has spent decades successfully indoctrinating younger generations with the demonizing narrative that their country is history’s Great Oppressor. For many of these young people – Nike’s customers – Kaepernick is a civil rights icon of moral authority.
Politicians recognize this too. As National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke pointed out, Democrat presidential hopefuls weighed in and were quick to virtue-signal their sympathy for anyone who might potentially have been traumatized by the sight of a Revolutionary-era American flag on a shoe. Robert Francis “I speak Spanish!” O’Rourke, for example, announced, “I think it’s really important to take into account the impression that kind of symbol would have for many of our fellow Americans.” Yes, I suppose “fellow Americans” who hate this country would find a patriotic symbol triggering. Julian “I don’t speak Spanish as bueno as Beto but I’m working on it” Castro also issued a pandering approval of Nike’s capitulation: “There are a lot of things in our history that are still very painful,” he said. ‘We need to move toward an inclusive America that understands that pain.”
No, we don’t. America is already the most inclusive nation in world history, and nothing is ever accomplished on either a personal or societal level by simply wallowing in the pain of the past, particularly a past no one alive has personally experienced. What we need to move toward is an America that appreciates this country’s epic contribution to ending slavery at home and abroad; an America that realizes the only way to close our racial divide is to jettison the historical ballast altogether and move forward as equals in a proud, patriotic citizenry; and an America that ignores the demands of self-righteous grievance-mongers who have a vested interest in clinging cynically to victimhood, exploiting white guilt, and perpetuating racial conflict.