Boycott With Your Brain

Did you know Nike is under boycott?

I only recently learned! Or only recently re-learned, maybe. I feel like it’s the sort of thing I heard about and immediately dismissed because, well, it struck my ear as being a little bit ridiculous. Or maybe a lot ridiculous. I mean, I get it. It’s the age of protest and all. Wasn’t it last year that Time magazine named “the protester” its person of the year? (Bit of a cop out, actually, that. Hard to pick one really stand-out individual so let’s put a faceless mob on the cover and call it a day.) (Also, I’ve looked it up, and it turns out 2011 was when “the protester” was person of the year, which, well, I mistook 2011 for happening a year ago, and can you blame me?) (Also also, 2011 wasn’t the only time they copped. Last year it was “the guardians” and in 2017 it was “the silence breakers” and in 2006 it was — ugh — “you”. Which is not to take anything away from their reasons for the choices, but collectives like that aren’t really a “person” are they? Rabbit-hole dive over)

But that sort of thing always feels a little far away. Those people over there are making a big stink about it, but these people over here in my circle? Nah, they’re clever, they wouldn’t go in for that sort of nonsense. Sure, people are on YouTube and even, sometimes, the news (because the news is a nonstop trash fire these days), shooting up their coolers with automatic rifles or whatever. (Why shoot up a perfectly functional cooler, by the way? The company already has your money. What message are you sending, and to whom?)

Except, well, sometimes those people over there? They’re actually over here.

And, look, I get it. We all have opinions, and it’s the age of protest and power to the people and to the individual and let your money talk and blah, blah, blah. If you feel strongly about a thing, by all means boycott, protest, stage a walkout, whatever. That’s your right, whether you’re right or not.

Image result for boycott everything

But here’s a modest proposal to anybody protesting or boycotting or walking-out. Don’t do it because your favorite talk show host or YouTuber or social media guru told you to. Do it because you’ve studied the issue, analyzed the point-of-view of the victim of your civil action, and disagreed with it on legitimate grounds.

This is called arguing in good faith, and it’s not hard to do, though it might be inconvenient.

In the Nike example, the reason to boycott (as I understand it generally) is this: Colin Kaepernick disrespected veterans when he refused to stand for the national anthem. Nike then hired him as a spokesperson. Therefore Nike is disrespecting veterans, therefore boycott Nike.

But the truth is, Kaepernick never said a cross word about veterans, did he? Or took any action which led to harm for a veteran? Did he actually do anything to harm somebody who wasn’t out looking for a reason to be harmed? (Here’s a newsflash — if you go out shopping for offense, you’ll have no trouble finding it, and you don’t have to watch an NFL game either.)

To argue for a boycott of Nike in good faith is to first ask yourself: what did Kaepernick actually do? Well, he knelt during the national anthem. That action in and of itself is harmless even if it’s unexpected or shocking to the sensibilities. In the absence of physical or emotional harm, then, the next question which must be asked is, why did he do it? The lazy answer is to disrespect veterans because that’s what a lot of other people interpreted the action to mean, but to answer in good faith is to take the reason he gave, which is: he was upset about the apparent murders of black children by police and the lack of justice for the officers involved. Why kneel during the anthem? Because as a professional NFL player, it was a unique platform afforded to him that most other people who felt as he did were not entitled to. He used that platform to bring visibility to the issue. You can choose to change the channel when news of another unarmed black person being killed floats across the screen, can’t you? Or not watch news at all? (Not a bad idea of late if you ask me.) But when you turn on the TV for the game on the weekend and you see the quarterback taking a knee, you have to ask yourself “what’s going on there?”

So, he used a unique platform afforded to him to bring visibility to a racial issue. His actions got him fired, effectively, but Nike saw that, figured it was a campaign worth giving voice to, and hired him on.

To boycott Nike, in other words, is to boycott the hiring of a man who used his platform to bring attention to a racial issue that was negatively affecting the country.

Now, you’re entitled to think that’s a bad thing, and if you do think that’s a bad thing, then by all means, never spend another dime on anything Nike in your life. Set fire to your sneakers, toss your jumpsuits in the ocean. (No, don’t do that, the ocean has it hard enough.)

Here’s the point, the phrasing of which I’ve basically stolen from Sam Harris in more than one of his debates: if you can’t summarize the other person’s point of view in a way that they would agree with, then you haven’t understood them — and you definitely shouldn’t be taking action based on that flawed misunderstanding. And it’s my sneaking suspicion that most of the Nike boycotters — or boycotters of most other things in recent history — couldn’t articulate their reasons in this way.

In other words, think critically. Spend, or refuse to spend, your dollars mindfully, based on the reality we live in, not on the basis of an imaginary world that you’ve heard about somewhere.

In even simpler terms: brain harder.

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