Nike Cosplays Social Justice Mask

By S. Christopher Emerson

Nike’s decision to sponsor embattled former quarterback and freedom fighter Colin Kaepernick has drawn myriad visceral reactions. Most come from conservatives for whom an un-protested national anthem and silence about police killings of Black people are priority. For that alone, the move is making my teeth whiter. 😁

But I’m not rushing to carry water for the global sports apparel juggernaut. As with most other things, it ain’t Black and wyt, “with me or against me” politics; because I’m clear that capitalism is flexible and shapeshifting. Welcome to Pimpin’ the Struggle 3.0.

We know Nike’s focus is selling sports gear. Most of us are aware that an outlet that large would not have made a move like this had it not calculated the risks and gains. The sports apparel company figured its future customer base would appreciate Kaep’s face more than its conservative Anglo step-goblins would hate it.

So now, selective whyt umbrage, cognitively dissonant about police killings, is turned toward a sports company it has gleefully supported for decades. Black Twitter is alight with images of whyt tears fueling the torching of Nike shoes; shoes, no doubt, bought with whyt money already. Wouldn’t it be nice if whypipo got this mad about the Blue Wall or Black people being murdered by cops?

Kaep fielded criticism for the better parts of two NFL seasons either by kneeling during the national anthem before his NFL games, or working unsuccessfully to get picked up on a team roster. After weighing the risk of losing the support of pseudo-patriotic fans against progressive social justice, all 32 teams chose false nationalism and money. Ostracized by the ‘Muhrica that has been stolen, whitewashed, gentrified and now celebrated, Kaep won the heart of the people and the colorful consciousness that America NEEDS, but does not yet deserve.

We now get reports that Nike was in the mix the whole time, silently supporting the former quarterback in his struggle to raise awareness for American injustices against Black folks. Supporting, yes, but silently.

The namesake of the Greek goddess of victory sponsors quite a few Black athletes, including Simone Biles, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, and has developed some attractive ad campaigns over the years. But that, in no way, fixes an image of Nike being at the forefront of progressive politics or squarely at the helm of the interests of people of color. Revenues were reported at $8.7Bn in the last quarter of 2017, while global Nike sweatshops build shoes and apparel for pennies on the dollar, and pay marginalized laborers the same.

Don’t get me wrong- It’s advantageous that a giant like Nike would take up Kaep’s image, employ lukewarm liberal messaging and distribute it to hearts and minds across the country. It’s politically intelligent for us to allow Nike to promote Kaep and his protest to advance the goals of people of color toward equitable civil and human rights and freedom. But as always, the time-honored threat of message co-opt looms ever large.

So while we savor this moment of publicity for Black safety and life, let’s be sure to challenge Nike to “Just Keep it One Hunned.” We’ll continue to remind the world of the Swoosh’s history of economic oppression and grasp on capitalism as a system of profit over provision worldwide. We will also maintain the integrity of the REAL message here- in these here stolen states, not yet united, Black people and other people of color deserve equitable consideration under the law, access to resources, and opportunities for human advancement.

As Baba J says, “Anything less is a concession.”

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