Nov 01, 2021 Letters
I am saddened by the recent events at the ICC T20 World Cup that left Brother Quinton de Kock out of the South African cricket team playing 11 versus the West Indies owing to his objection to forced solidarity. The same supposed moral stance that galvanised many of us (myself included) to stand by Brother Colin Kaepernick s right to kneel, should have caused us to also support brother de Kocks right to stand. Yet it did not. It appears that the very ideology of oppression being fought against has won again.
The ritual of kneeling as a cultural form of protest was reintroduced by Brother Kaepernicks decision in 2016 to sit during the pre-game national anthem that is customarily played before NFL games. Kaepernick received a mixture of criticism and supportive feedback. Later, he started to kneela decision largely influenced by retired Army Green Beret, Nate Boyer. Boyer explained in an NPR interview that he found Kaepernick kneeling for the anthem very upsetting, and he penned an open letter detailing his disagreement with the protest. Brother Kaepernick reached out to him and he convinced him that kneeling was a more respectful option. Brother Kaepernick continued to kneel until he was forced out of the game.
Brother Kaepernick ignited a movement that reached a crescendo with the death of brother George Floyd (may God rest his soul). A wave of global protests started in the United States of America, 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 Brother 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 to your place. It is from that standpoint that oppression won.
Note, 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 Brother Kaepernicks 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 conscientious 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 brother Kaepernick to be let back into the NFL is evidence that many other people share my view.
Since I was, and am in the camp that supported brother Kaepernick on both moral principles, I feel compelled to support brother de Kock on the principle of reasonable freedom of expression, even if I disagree with him on matters of race (something that I cannot say definitively because I do not know his position on the matter). This letter is not about whether I agree with brother de Kock; it is premised on a commitment to constancy. Professor Cornel West would quote or paraphrase Jane Austin on the consistency of principle, and a willingness to exercise parrhesia to promote constancyeven when it is against your side. I daresay, 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 starting among my tribe. It is hard to do so. It can be personally and professionally costly to do so. Yet, it must be done so I will do it. I will push back against my tribe in defence of my brother Quinton de Kocks right to reasonable freedom of expression.
Indulge me as we try to see things from his point of view. Imagine that you were born in 1992 and all you dreamt of was becoming a cricketer at the highest level. Your dreams of representing your country were frequent, and beautiful. The understanding was that you need to work hard and dedicate your energy to honing your craft. You have little to no interest in politics. You do care about humanity and have your own process for expressing that. You were able to observe the culture around the international game and learned that there are certain rituals that are connected to being involved in a team sport or representing your country. However, taking a knee to show solidarity with a cause that you may or may not quite understand or agree with was not on your mind. Or, even if you agree with the cause in principle you may disagree with the method which was not one of the rituals. Now this idea is just foisted upon you and you are given options as to what you are allowed to do to show solidarity. None of those options being what you and all your teammates have always done.
The above may represent the case of Brother Quinton de Kock in an oversimplified manner. I felt compelled to write this piece for the same reason I supported Kaepernicks right to take a knee. Actually, 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 Brother Kaepernicks entry to the NFL and he participated in the ritual for half a decade before he decided to protest. However, I believe in both gentlemens right to take their individual non-harmful actions for their individual reasons.
What is happening to brother de Kock is not a good omen for our society. 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 less than 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.
Now is the time to prove our commitment to our principles. We cannot afford to allow our emotional connection to what could be a possible transient performative gesture to overshadow what is an existential commitment to the important fight for the liberating tool of reasonable freedom of expression. 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.
For people skilled in the art of argument, prolonged lingering in the emotional realm can be more dangerous. Actors of this ilk possess the ability to make rational arguments from emotional premises, often contradicting the principle on which the emotion was founded. If as a matter of principle, we disagree with oppression and/or, we agree with reasonable freedom of expression we should fight for our enemys right to express their opinion. Even when we believe that opinion to be wrong.
As a flawed, social actor myself, I do not intend to admonish anyone. I certainly do not believe that I have a monopoly on neither moral righteousness, moral principles nor the virtue of constancy. I am just trying to connect with my respectful and ethical minds as Howard Gardner would put it. I do not know brother de Kock, personally. I cannot definitively say if we disagree on matters of race because I do not know his thoughts on the substantive 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 ones chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Let us demonstrate to brother de Kock and the world, the ethos of free Black people. Let us respect his choice. Let us promote his freedom even if we feel he does not want to promote ours. I stand with brother Quinton de Kock. I support his right to reasonable freedom of expression. Our society is at its best when we encourage and promote civil discourses and interactions. Please join me in defeating the oppression ideology that is perpetrated through silencing and cancelling.
Free brother Kaepernick.
Free brother de Kock.
Bro. Ato Kenya Rockcliffe.
Concerned Servant of Society
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