Kneel, or be branded a racist – and have your career killed. That ultimatum hitting South African and Mumbai Indians cricketer Quinton de Kock during the ongoing Twenty20 World Cup became the latest saga exposing how right causes are handled the wrong way.
From a controversial anti-racism movement to dealing with the controversial Covid-19 pandemic, the past year has seen freedom to choose, independent critical thinking and common sense become alarming casualties in a media-driven herd mentality.
Quinton de Kock briefly stood up against coercion to follow the herd. He withdrew from the South African team on October 26 after his cricket board ordered players to kneel as a gesture against racism. In his statement two days later, the 28-year old de Kock confirmed that he was protesting only against Cricket South Africa’s order forcing him to kneel, not against anti-racism efforts. He revealed that his step mother is black, has two sisters of mixed blood and said he was never a racist.
He was only against being forced to kneel. But he agreed to comply. The alternative was losing his livelihood as a cricketer. In football and now in cricket, being told “if you do not kneel, you support racism” has become a globally spreading insanity virus. The reverse mental bullying started in American football, with multi-millionaire athletes “taking the knee” to protest discrimination against black people.
But other young progressive black leaders see this “discrimination” as less of 21st century reality and more as ruthless political exploitation of a community – as with India’s caste system institutionalised for perpetuity with politically-motivated reservation quotas. “Taking the knee” of course cannot cure a racist’s sick mentality.
Many said they stopped watching football after the “knee taking” madness began. Sports fans hate it. After the de Kock controversy, a similar exodus of disgusted fans has begun in cricket. From articles the past two days, the media has lost touch with ground reality on “taking the knee” issue, as with most other issues. While readers overwhelmingly praised De Kock’s courage, most in the media blamed him.
Unlike de Kock who had the brief courage to protest coercion despite his country’s apartheid history, BCCI cricketers submissively “took the knee” last Sunday before their opening match in the World Cup. The management asked them to do so, said captain Virat Kohli. And whatever BCCI – aptly titled Board of Control (of Cricket in India) – orders, its multi-crore salary contracted “slaves” dare not refuse to comply. I find it sadly ironic that a fight against discrimination with origins in slavery uses coercive methods robbing the individual of freedom to make a legitimate choice.
Such threats to freedom increased during this pandemic. Going beyond the mainstream media reveals contradictory medical views on Covid-19. Health professionals say wearing a mask for long hours is unhealthy because we continuously inhale the carbon dioxide we exhale. Some medical experts express concerns about long-term safety of vaccines for which neither the government nor billionaire bio-tech companies offer guarantees with liability. Not all doctors are willing to be vaccinated. Governments of countries disagree about which vaccine is certifiable. But the citizen has no choice, must comply and be vaccinated.
Or lose freedom and rights as a citizen to travel, to work and who knows, to soon even live in your house – if housing societies in due time start insanely ejecting non-vaccinated families. Along with freedom to choose, common sense and cold logic are being murdered. Walking past South Mumbai’s beautiful Oval Maidan wearing a mask I can smell secondhand tobacco smoke, and if the mask cannot stop visible smoke how does it stop a smaller invisible virus?
Assuming the mask works, I am protected from the virus and it does not affect me if others wear masks or not. Likewise, if you are vaccinated, no problem with unvaccinated people near you. To shelter from rain, we carry an umbrella and don’t worry if others on the road are carrying umbrellas. But fascist force is taking root.
Suburban railway authorities in Mumbai are planning to take away freedom of choice for people not blindly accepting the safety of vaccines. Only vaccinated people being allowed to travel on suburban trains ignores the fact that if the vaccine actually works then non-vaccinated people cannot affect the vaccinated. It also ignores fundamental constitutional rights. Likewise, the act of kneeling is abused in the anti-racism movement.
When voluntary, kneeling can denote respect. When forced, it denotes subjugation of the conquered before the conqueror, the slave before the slave master, of a sinner seeking atonement. The slave master’s tool of coercion is used in the delusion that it will end racism. Self-respecting people not wishing to degrade themselves consider “taking a knee” has nothing to do with the meaningful fight against racism.
All lives matter – black, brown, white, yellow or blue – but with a blind media promoting BLM (Black Lives Matter), it surged to global attention after the death of Floyd George. He was convicted of crimes between 1997 and 2007, including pointing a gun at a pregnant woman’s stomach. George died on 25 May 2020 after a policeman arresting him in Minneapolis used excessive force.
The policeman Derek Chauvin intentionally or unintentionally choked George to death by placing his knee on the victim’s neck, brutally ignoring his cries of “I cannot breathe”. Chavin on 24 June 2021 was convicted of murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison. The core issue here is police brutality – which India and nearly every other country and community experiences – and all lives should be protected from it.
Opinions polarize among “leftwing” and “right-wing” viewpoints whether BLM is a credible anti-racism movement or a weaponized political tool exploiting the black community. The BLM was accused of organizing the violent rioting, arson and looting of American cities in months before the US presidential election last November.
The Economist estimated that BLM-related causes received an astounding $10.6 billion in “donations” in just six months between May 2020 and December 2020. In February 2021, BLM released a statement on its finances but refused to disclose prominent contributors of billions leading up to the 2020 US Presidential election.
With bloated wealth, inevitably BLM would have hired well-known commentators and influenced sports administrators to promote its agenda, but its high-visibility badge is “taking the knee”. The English Premier League has matches starting with players “taking the knee” – with booing from fans fed-up with hollow grandstanding. But a media unable or unwilling to see and report the deeper realities of our world loves being part of such empty fakery. “Take a knee” if you wish.
Be vaccinated, if you wish. But your right to decide cannot be taken away. Using coercion, bullying and freedom-robbing fascist methods for a right cause only harms the good cause. India should lead by example and show the true way of freedom to the world.
(The writer is a senior, Mumbai-based journalist)