MSNBC regular Michael Eric Dyson rushed to Colin Kaepernick's defense on the network Wednesday, calling the "Betsy Ross" flag — the original American flag for the 13 colonies — a symbol of racist oppression akin to a Nazi swastika or a burning cross.
Speaking on the subject with MSNBC host Hallie Jackson, Dyson claimed that the flag is a well-known symbol of white supremacy, even though few Americans — and more than a few historians — hadn't heard about the flag's problematic history before this week, when former NFL second-string quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, complained about the flag appearing on a pair of limited-edition Nike sneakers.
“Symbols matter too. Why don't we wear a swastika for July Fourth?... It makes a difference," Dyson said. "The cross burning on somebody's lawn. Why don’t we have a Nike, you know, celebration of the cross?”
Dyson is a professor at Georgetown University and a frequent guest on the network. He appeared on MSNBC Wednesday to defend Nike's decision to pull the "Betsy Ross flag" sneaker after Kaepernick complained that the flag itself was a symbol of oppression and an implicit endorsement of slavery.
Dyson was asked to respond to whether the move by Nike represented "PC culture run amok." Clearly, he disagreed.
"It's amazing to me the people that people that cry the loudest about PC are the ones who didn’t show up when the offense first occurred," Dyson went on, "who didn't defend the people who were victims of white supremacy or racism or sexism or misogyny.”
Until Monday evening, the "Betsy Ross flag" — a flag hailing from the dawn of America's Revolutionary War, which features only 13 stars on the flag's field of blue, representing the 13 original colonies — was simply a bit of history. Ross, who, according to legend, sewed the first American flag, was a Quaker and her family staunch abolitionists.
But Kaepernick, who has long insisted that his protests against the flag and national anthem were simply about racial bias, apparently demanded that a limited edition pair of sneakers, released by Nike in celebration of Independence Day, be pulled from the market because the 13-star flag was representative of America's founding and its association with the practice of slavery.
Since the story surfaced Monday, a number of high-profile progressives — including former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and former Texas Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke, both of whom are competing for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination — have come out in support of Kaepernick's interpretation of one of America's enduring symbols.
Castro compared the Revolutionary War flag to that of the Confederacy: "There are a lot of things in our history that are still very painful. The Confederate flag that still flies in some places and is used as a symbol," he told CBS News.
Beto called the controversy "provoking," and claimed that some "white nationalist groups" have appropriated the 13-star flag in recent years (though Beto couldn't point to a specific example).
"I think its really important to take into account the impression that kind of symbol would have for many of our fellow Americans, respect the decision Nike made and grateful for the conversation," O'Rourke said. "The version of the flag that was used on Nike shoes in question has by some extremist/white nationalist groups been appropriated."
Historians and experts, though, have been left scratching their heads at Kaepernick's excuse, and as Alex Griswold pointed out on Twitter, left-leaning media reporting on the issue have been left to ascribe the revisionism to "social media" sources.
not a great sign that the articles about how the Betsy Ross flag is a white supremacist symbol quote a bunch of experts saying they don't really see it being used that way.— Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) July 3, 2019
On the other hand though, you have "many on social media"! pic.twitter.com/1OIpAcnEiP
The Nike shoe recall has provoked boycotts and condemnation, though Nike has so far refused to acknowledge that the sneaker situation is connected to Colin Kaepernick, with whom they have a multi-million dollar, multi-year advertising deal.