One of the primary tools of those who continue to enjoy the benefits that systemic American racism affords them is “gotcha hypocrisy.”
NBA superstar LeBron James is receiving an Ivy League-level education in it now. James, as you know, has supported Colin Kaepernick, who sacrificed his NFL career to bring attention to the injustices visited upon unarmed African-American men slaughtered unnecessarily by police officers.
James has been arguably the most popular and visible athlete on the planet for the better part of the last decade, and he clearly has a racial conscience.
And why wouldn’t he?
While he’s currently headed toward billionaire status, James grew up poor in Akron. He hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be Black and indigent in the United States and his philanthropy proves it. Moreover, he has family and friends who don’t have the kind of wealth that affords you — should you so choose — to turn a blind eye to the entrenched bigotry of America, so wedded to racism that it has created a wealth gap between Blacks and whites that would require 228 years to close if there were any real interest in doing so.
James’ primary employers, the NBA and Nike, have been called on the carpet for their relative silence following a now-deleted tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey a few weeks back supporting protests against the Chinese government in Hong Kong. Both the apparel giant and the league have intractable financial ties to China, where Nike has 143,103 employees compared to just 5,369 in the US, and where the NBA is estimated to be worth $5 billion.
The practitioners of gotcha hypocrisy — mostly right-wing pundits — have pounced, questioning why James and other Black athletes have been at best mealy-mouthed and at worst silent on China’s human rights violations yet so outspoken against America’s 400-year track record of denying African Americans the “unalienable rights” that the Declaration of Independence promised all nearly 170 years after the first enslaved people arrived.
However, what they are really doing is what they have always done to prop up the lies we live. They would rather have James turn a blind eye to the racial cesspool that America has fomented — and that they have reaped the untold benefits from — for centuries. So they trot out a red herring as a distraction, in this case silence on China, the logic (or more appropriately, the illogic) being that we are justified in our lawlessness of our country because you won’t address what we want you to talk about.
It’s one hell of a tactic if you think about it. They’re basically saying if you don’t speak to the human rights violations on the other side of the globe — something James has never experienced — then you are disqualified from speaking on issues in America, such as white police officers in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, shooting to death Black people, sitting at home and guilty of… well… nothing.
This whole China situation brings to mind the conscientious objector argument Muhammad Ali lodged against the United States in 1966 when the boxer said, after his conversion to Islam, that his religion would not allow him to fight for America — halfway across the world in the dangerous jungles of Vietnam — while back in America African-Americans were well into their fourth century of unceasing dehumanization and brutalization.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor, hungry people in the mud for big, powerful America,” Ali said at the time. “And shoot them for what? They never called me n—–. They never lynched me. They never put no dogs on me, they never robbed me of my nationality. Raped and killed my mother and father. Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
Ali’s license to box was suspended in New York, and his title stripped; other boxing commissions followed suit and Ali, 25 at the time, was unable to obtain a boxing license in the U.S for the next three years.
Fifty-two years and a civil rights movement later, the line of demarcation separating what it’s like to live while Black and while white in America is still a gaping chasm, rolling along, separate and completely unequal.
While the African-American unemployment rate is at its lowest level ever, it still generally hovers at twice the white unemployment rate — this despite the fact that there are 192 million white Americans compared with 38 million Blacks.
In 2015, the Black home ownership rate was just over 40 percent, virtually unchanged since 1968, and trailing a full 30 points behind the white home ownership rate, which saw modest gains over the same period.
And the share of African Americans in prison or jail almost tripled between 1968 and 2016 and is currently more than six times the white incarceration rate.
This is the America that James was raised in, not some mythical bastion of equality others would want you to believe exists.
To expect him to channel the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” posture — particularly when racism and bigoted messaging regularly use the current occupant of the Oval Office as their launching pad — is laughable.
John N. Mitchell is a reporter and columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this piece first appeared.