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                          Another Perspective on Charlottesville and Colin Kaepernick

 

 

            I rarely write about sports because while it is mostly viewed as a form of recreation and entertainment at its core it reflects the values and consciousness of our society and folks don't like to be reminded of that. Some say sports is a form of tribalism a vicarious way for males (and increasingly females) to engage in a form of ritualized combat, group identity and belonging. In the US, sports is deeply tribal in the sense we root for our teams (or countries of origin) during the Olympics, international contests and tournaments like the World Cup. On the local level we usually support the neighborhood teams, area college and professional teams especially if they are doing well.

            There is nothing inherently evil with tribalism it is natural extension of the family an integral part of human existence/experience. Tribalism was the first social organization it called for hierarchal leadership, cohesion and cooperation. The West retains its tribal legacies of the Goths, Huns, Angles, Saxons, Vandals etc with their cultures of war, invasion and rapine.

             The modern nation state has replaced the indigenous tribe and the clan as the predominant socio-political entity around the world.  Nevertheless, modern nationalism and patriotism are forms of tribalism. The brouhaha about Charlottesville and Colin Kaepernick are interrelated examples of tribalism, tribal loyalties and antagonisms. They both deal with identity politics.

            The clash in Charlottesville came about because Neo-Nazi and white nationalist (who identify with Aryans) wanted to demonstrate to preserve a statue of Robert E Lee a famous general in the Confederate Army who led the Army of Northern Virginia during the war. There were counter demonstrators who wanted to remove the statue because in their minds it symbolized an era of human oppression.

            People take sides on the War Between the States although most are woefully misinformed about the war and have been bamboozled about the real causes of the conflict. The War Between the States euphemistically referred to as the US Civil War (1861-1865) was not, I repeat not, fought by either side to end slavery! Both the North and the South wanted slavery to continue Abraham Lincoln said so himself on numerous occasions.

            Slavery was the economic engine that drove the whole US economy and both sides profited handsomely from it. When this country was formed, slavery was sanctioned and protected by the US Constitution (Article 1 Section 2, Section 9 and Article IV Section 2). The framers deviously substituted euphemisms instead of the words: slavery, Africans or Blacks.  The end of slavery would have meant the demise of the bourgeoning US economy, adversely impacting both the North and South. Cotton was king because of free slave labor and it was the nation's most profitable crop and export. Once the war was over and slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, the nation instituted quasi-forms of slavery: share cropping and convict leasing to reestablish unpaid labor using mostly Blacks!

             The Blacks who fought on the Union side during the war made it their cause and campaign for freedom; but that was not why Lincoln and the North waged the war. Today 152 years after the conflict, people still take sides despite the fact most have no clue about the real issues and reasons for the war.

            The war was really about which faction (Northern bankers industrialists, shippers, brokers etc or the Southern planters and agriculture) would control the economy and politics of the nation.

            Taking sides on the War Between The States is a form of tribalism. Tribalism often leads to fanaticism and violence as we saw in Charlottesville. When it comes to the War Between the States, race is the elephant in the room. The propaganda claiming the North fought to end slavery and the South fought to keep it generates heated debate and raises passions. Ideological battle lines have been drawn and over time have become quite rigid with flags, symbols and accompanying propaganda that each side rallies around.

            In the US sports enthusiasm is akin to tribalism. "After all, we are social animals. We depend on the tribe for our safety and well-being. When the lion attacks, as a group we've got a shot. Alone, we're lion chow. When our tribe is doing well (economically, militarily, public health, whatever...), our chances go up. When it's doing poorly, our chances go down. So it feels good to belong to a winning tribe, and not so good—threatening, in fact—to belong to a group that's losing.

            Think about all the ways we support the tribe. We subconsciously choose our views on many issues so they match the views in the groups we most strongly identify with, a theory called Cultural Cognition. We vote for our tribe (political party). We fight to the death for our tribe in everything from gang wars to wars between nations (tribes). In fact, if you look at a lot of the wars and mass violence in recent history they were about nothing BUT tribe; Protestants v. Catholics in Northern Ireland, Serbs v. Croats v. Muslims in the Balkans, Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda." David Ropeik https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-risky-is-it-really/201110/...

            The issue of Colin Kaepernick refusing to salute and pay homage to a US tribal symbol (the national anthem which is at its core a racist song written by a bigot) divides us into tribal camps/groups: those who see his actions as an affront to the nation (their tribe) and those of us who think he is taking a noble long overdue stand.

            In both the Charlottesville and Kaepernick controversies, race and power are the underlining factors. Tribal groups, their rituals, symbols and identities feel threatened and under attack. The people who relate to the Confederate flag and statues feel their heritage is under assault and they fight to sustain their values (as immoral as they are) and their passion is gaining.

            It doesn't take much for white folks to resort to violence so clashes like what happened in Charlottesville will increase as the various tribes (the Right and Left, liberal, conservative are merely ideological tribes) feel more and more helpless due to current political and economic uncertainty. These feelings of helplessness and fear will embolden the tribes as they seek security during uncertain times. On the national level both political parties enflame their members which divisive rhetoric.

            Likewise the NFL is a very profitable corporate tribe. The NFL  doesn't want anything to damage their multi-billion dollar golden goose, least of all what they view as an uppity mixed race athlete who identifies with African-Americans. So they've done the same thing to Kaepernick they did to Paul Robeson, Muhammad Ali and Craig Hodges; they white-balled him to marginalize him and teach their other contract athletes not to get out of their place.

            Paul Robeson was so influential and feared, he was shunned by the big civil rights organizations of his time. Muhammad Ali was hugely popular and garnered the support of millions because of his stand against the draft and the Vietnam War. It remains to be seen how many will rally around Colin Kaepernick, there are signs he is making a dent in people's consciousness. However, the NFL and the network tribes are major adversaries.

            As far as the tribal/cultural wars percolating in the US, the conflicting tribes are becoming more vociferous and increasingly demonstrative. Will the clashes intensify into a major internal war, or will the upcoming NFL season provide a distraction and respite from the commotions?

 

                                                -30-

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