Nike is back in the news. Right before the Independence Day holiday, they decided to recall a newly made tennis shoe that had been sent to retailers, with the Revolutionary-era U.S. flag on it.
Nike did this on the advice of Colin Kaepernick. Apparently, he reached out to Nike after learning they planned to release the patriotic shoe for the Fourth of July.
According to an unnamed source, the reason he gave to hold release of the shoe was that the flag is a reminder of slavery as well as being used by white supremacist groups.
The decision has unleashed strong emotions.
Conservatives all over the country are expressing shock and disgust that the Revolutionary flag can be considered offensive. They accuse Nike of denigrating the nation.
Liberals all over the country are celebrating the fact that the flag will not be worn as a symbolic support of slavery. They are pleased that Nike is supporting the black community in this way.
Emotions are running high, but since The Betsy Ross flag has not been a symbol of racism up to this point, we should check and see if this has truly changed.
When it comes to extremism, The Anti-Defamation League is an expert. Their center on Extremism is a research and investigative arm, and a clearinghouse of valuable, up-to-the minute information about extremism of all types — from white supremacists to Islamic extremists.
The Anti-Defamation League does carry the Revolutionary flag in its database of hate symbols. Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow for their Center on Extremism, says that some extremist groups have occasionally used the flag, but it’s most commonly used by people for patriotic purposes.
Let’s keep ask more experts.
The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate/extremist groups throughout the U.S. They expose their activities to law enforcement agencies, the media and the public. Their Civil Rights Memorial invites visitors to remember the civil rights movement, to honor those killed during the struggle, to appreciate how far the country has come in its quest for equality, and to consider how far our nation must go to implement true equality.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are some small groups using the Betsy Ross flag as a symbol of white supremacy. They name two — The Patriot Front and the American Identity Movement — as doing this.
So, the Betsy Ross flag, is not widely viewed as a symbol of hate. Mostly the flag is used in museums that focus on 18th century U.S. history.
In another modern-day use of the Betsy Ross flag, a beautiful display of its stages of evolution was used by the Barack Obama administration at Obama’s inauguration. I just can’t see Obama, a black man, using a symbol of white supremacy at any event.
Kaepernick has simply missed the mark on this one. So has Nike. They have tied us up in the usual political talking points.
The left gives us the usual obsession with racism somehow being contained in the United States flag. But the Confederate flag has that distinction.
The right gives us the usual obsession with any dissent being unpatriotic. But nation founder Benjamin Franklin once said, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
Can we just move on? We need to fight actual actions of white supremacy, not its symbols.
And we need to get back to dissent being viewed as a part of the natural process of being a citizen.
We need to get our feelings under control and channel them into problem solving.
Ironically, the sale of the shoe is happening. Some are paying as much as $4,000 for the shoe with the Betsy Ross flag on the secondary market online. Since they are about making money, I hope that Nike simply releases the shoe to the public.
I would like to see millions of Americans buy shoes with flags on them. From anyone, not just Nike. As citizens, we should band together and show white supremacists that there are more of us than them. This is a great way to honor our country, our need for unity, the flag and people of all races.
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.