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Forced solidarity is not the way

Forced solidarity is not the way

Is forced solidarity really the way forward in fighting against oppression in sport? Ato Rockcliffe weighs in on the debate around Quinton de Kock’s (in)action.

I am saddened by the recent events at the ICC T20 World Cup that left Quinton de Kock out of the South African cricket team, owing to his objection to forced solidarity. The same supposed moral stance that galvanised many of us (myself included) to stand by Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel should have caused us to also support de Kock’s right to stand. Yet it did not. It appears that the very ideology of oppression being fought against has won again.

Taking a knee

The ritual of kneeling as a form of protest was reintroduced by Kaepernick’s decision in 2016 to sit during the pre-game national anthem customarily played before NFL games. Kaepernick received a mixture of criticism and supportive feedback. Later, he started to kneel—a decision largely influenced by retired Army Green Beret, Nate Boyer. Boyer explained in an NPR interview that he found Kaepernick kneeling for the anthem upsetting and penned an open letter detailing his disagreement with the protest. Kaepernick reached out to him and he convinced him that kneeling was a more respectful option and continued to kneel until he was forced out of the game.

Kaepernick ignited a movement that reached a crescendo with the death of George Floyd. A wave of global protests started in the United States, giving increased visibility to issues of racism and structural violence. The protests moved institutions like banks, telecommunication companies, mega garment companies and universities to publicly acknowledge that something was fundamentally wrong.

I am still unconvinced that many of them really care. From me, it is the same old trick of taking the temperature to do what is best for business. Be that as it may, we can (if we want to) take that as somewhat of a moral victory. One must remember, however, that Kaepernick is still not able to play the game he dedicated his life to —a game he is very good at. Had he not had the courage to exercise what he believed was a right to dissent, he would have still been in the NFL. The message was resounding – if you show dissent, we will put you in your place. It is from that standpoint that oppression won.

The right to dissent

There are two issues at play here. The first is the very real issue of racism, inequality, inequity or, to be more directly pertinent to Kaepernick’s cause, police brutality against people of colour in the US. As a society, we need to continue to wrestle with correcting inequalities and inequities by working hard to provide meaningful opportunities and an environment that allows any person, regardless of colour, gender, sex, religion, inter alia, a real chance at favourable outcomes.

The other issue is that of ‘reasonable freedom of expression’. Some may see that issue as secondary, but I do not. I believe it is just as important and the outcry for Kaepernick to be let back into the NFL is evidence that many other people share my view.

Since I am in the camp that supported Kaepernick on both moral principles, I feel compelled to support de Kock on the principle of ‘reasonable freedom of expression’, even if I disagree with him on matters of race. This letter is not about whether I agree with de Kock; it is premised on a commitment to constancy.

Consistency of principle

Cornel West would paraphrase Jane Austin on the consistency of principle, and a willingness to exercise parrhesia to promote constancy—even when it is against your side. One should, in fact, do this especially when it is against your side. In the Caribbean, or at least in my homeland Guyana, there is an old adage that says charity begins at home, which means I have to promote the virtue of constancy first, on an intrapersonal level then on an interpersonal level. It is hard to do so. It can be personally and professionally costly to do so. Yet, it must be done.

One can make the case that on the matter of ‘reasonable freedom of expression’ de Kock was treated more unfairly than Kaepernick, from the standpoint of norms and expectations, since standing on the field for the national anthem preceded Kaepernick’s entry to the NFL and he participated in the ritual for half a decade before he decided to protest. However, I believe in both gentlemen’s right to take their individual non-harmful actions for their individual reasons.  

It is human to be emotional but it appears that when we allow emotion to control our thoughts and actions it causes great harm to our society in the long run. When unequal civil rights for Black people was the dominant ideology of the day, voices against racism were deprived of the right of ‘reasonable freedom of expression’ by many ideological conservatives, traditionalists, and racists. People were beaten, arrested, had their livelihoods taken and some were even killed.

It is important we remember that struggle was not only about race. It was and should continue to be about human dignity and human rights. It is not ideal, nor sensible to abandon our support for ‘reasonable freedom of expression’ because it is inconvenient to our present cause.

We need to strive to attain the virtue of constancy. We cannot be in favour of a principle when we agree with the cause, only to abandon the principle when we do not. That violates the test of the notion of having a principled position. We need to embrace the Platonic notion of properly ordering the human soul to ensure that the rational is at the helm since lingering in the realm of emotions for too long could be dangerous, especially for Black people. We have to stay sharp and not be distracted by the market driven ephemeral support for our movement.

As a flawed social actor myself, I do not intend to admonish anyone. I certainly do not believe that I have a monopoly on moral righteousness, moral principles or the virtue of constancy.

I do not know de Kock, personally. I cannot definitively say if we disagree on matters of race because I do not know his thoughts on the matter. All I know is that he refused to engage in a performative act that was meant to show solidarity with the cause of racism. Now his career is threatened and his character impugned. That is not right. Even if you consider his perceived indifference to such an important moral cause as reprehensible in the way Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel would say, “Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself”.

Let us also consider Nelson Mandela who said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Let us respect de Kock’s choice and promote his freedom, even if we feel he does not want to promote ours. I knelt with Brother Kaepernick, and now I stand with Brother de Kock for his right to ‘reasonable freedom of expression’. Our society is at its best when we encourage and promote civil discourses and interactions.

By Ato Kenya Rockcliffe, a concerned servant of society


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Ato Rockcliffe


Wednesday, November 10, 2021 - 07:02

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