Productive debates cannot occur when we are having different conversations all-together.
As we continue to politicize our social media platforms, online political conversations are near impossible to avoid, whether you choose to participate or lurk in the comments section. At first, the commenters restrain themselves in hopes to maintain “civility” and attempt to create a productive dialogue between two opposing ideas. Then, the comment section begins to heat up due to disagreement. What usually takes place is that the comment section fills with people spewing their argument at a person who doesn’t want to hear it.
Try as they might, it seems fairly difficult to stay on the topic of the initial dilemma. What one person may view as an insignificant detail may lead down a rabbit hole to a different argument all-together. We wind up having two different conversations at once, and then wondering why we’re not getting through to the opposing side.
This happened at the start of Colin Kaepernick’s protests during the National Anthem while he was the quarterback for the 49ers back in August of 2017. Even though Kaepernick explicitly stated that his protests were in reference to police brutality towards black citizens, those who opposed his method of protest inclined to interpret his argument as taking a stand against the national anthem and veterans.
These vastly different conversations lead to a disconnect in the realm of political discourse around Kaepernick’s protest. How are we supposed to address police brutality if the other side claims to know your argument better than you do?
On the other hand, if you believe the national anthem is sacred and is not an appropriate space to protest, how do you convince your opponents to use another platform to voice their opinions and have “more respect for their country?”
The argument doesn’t go anywhere; it doesn’t progress because the opposing sides are no longer talking to one another. The conversation does not move because instead of fully hearing the complaints and concerns of the other side, many social media commenters are too busy planning to retort a point that their opponent isn’t even claiming.
Let’s unpack Nike’s sponsorship of Kaepernick in this week’s ad to fully illustrate this dissonance in conversation.
First, Kaepernick uses the time during the national anthem to kneel and protest police brutality.
Next, critics claim that because he is kneeling during the national anthem, he rhetorically attacks and criticizes the Troops and the national anthem.
When opposing ideas meet in the political sphere, that is the Facebook comment section, they come prepared to counter the conversation they expect to hear. One side is ready to argue the detrimental impact of police brutality. The other side is ready to argue if kneeling during the national anthem is unpatriotic.
On September 3rd, Nike released news that Kaepernick is the face of their 30th “Just Do It” campaign. In their ad, Kaepernick’s face stares straight at the viewer in monochromatic tones. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” overlays Kaepernick’s image. The most recent Nike ad featuring Kaepernick led to some Americans rejecting Nike products and starting #boycottNike. On the more extreme end, some chose to burn their Nike products that they own, or at least cut out the labels off their products.
To reiterate, this boycott is based on the notion that Kaepernick is disrespecting the flag through protest.
This time around, the left is falling into their own misconstrued interpretation of the right’s protest of Nike, with many twitter users claiming that the boycott is simply because Nike chose a black man to represent their product.
This tweet is an incredibly unfortunate simplification of the conversation that not only misconstrues the argument of the right (which was a misinterpretation of Kaepernick’s initial argument—stay with me here) but also belittles the conversation around police brutality as a side-effect.
In regard to those who oppose Kaepernick’s stance, they are not burning Nike shoes because Nike chose a black man to represent their brand, as the athletics-ware company has already endorsed athletes Tiger Woods, Lebron James, and Michael Jordan to push their products in different advertisements. They’re boycotting because the opposition is still trying to have the flag conversation—and to them, Kaepernick’s image represents disrespect to the nation and the armed forces.
In order to have actual productive political discourse, it is vital that we are all in the same rhetorical sphere when it comes to hot-button political issues. If your opponent is not willing to step into your ring of conversation, perhaps that conversation is not the best use of your time. In addition, we also need to be aware when we are side-stepping the topic of a controversial issue. Most importantly, we need to keep the conversation going by retaining the integrity of the initial conversation.
If the Facebook community were better at that, we might have seen some progress come out of Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality, rather than arguing over how to respect the flag and blaming the Nike boycott on a black man’s face in an ad.