Colin Kaepernick getting Nike to pull its planned launch of sneakers emblazoned with the Betsy Ross flag has angered conservatives, but it’s also re-launched a conversation about how the Betsy Ross flag has been co-opted by white supremacists.
On Tuesday, Nike announced that the shoe with the controversial symbol would not hit shelves, despite a planned July 4 launch.
“Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured an old version of the American flag,” Nike told NPR.
However, while the shoe company has not yet publicly commented on the racist connotations behind the Betsy Ross flag, the Wall Street Journal reported that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick encouraged the company — whom he works for — to discontinue the shoe, given the new meaning white supremacists have ascribed to it.
Marketing professor Americus Reed, who teaches at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times that America’s first flag now carries the same connotations as the Confederate battle flag for many of those who fly it.
“For lots of people, it’s quite similar to, say, the Confederate flag,” Reed told the Times. “The revolution now is one of diversity, of all kinds of dimensions that go beyond just white males — women, people of color, people of different sexual orientations. It’s a different world, and it’s a different flag.”
“When an emotional process takes over, when identity is wrapped up in something like the flag, there’s little opportunity to rationally think through things, like what the flag was objectively meant to stand for in 1777,” he added.
However, the Confederate flag is widely viewed as a hate symbol, particularly following the deadly mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The person who carried out the shooting displayed a photo of himself holding the Confederate flag in his manifesto, and activist Bree Newsome later famously climbed a flagpole at the South Carolina state capitol and tore down the Confederate flag that was displayed there.
Newsome’s demonstration kicked off a wave of activism geared toward tearing down symbols of the Confederacy, which was established to defend an institution that saw black people as property to be bought and sold, rather than as human beings. This may be part of the reason why white supremacists choose to fly the Betsy Ross flag instead of the Confederate flag.
According to The Washington Post, the Betsy Ross flag became a symbol of the so-called “Patriot Movement” as early as 2016, due to its status as the first official American flag, when America still had chattel slavery. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Patriot Movement has many members that align with white supremacist causes, including anti-immigrant groups and far-right paramilitary groups.
Livestreamer Mike Bivins pointed out that the man who brutally murdered two people on Portland, Oregon public transit in 2017 while shouting racial slurs was wearing a version of the Betsy Ross flag at a demonstration, in which he gave the Nazi “sieg heil” salute.
source: screencap from my video of christian giving sieg heils while draped in a version of a betsy ross flag pic.twitter.com/F8pjztodtY
— Mike Bivins (@itsmikebivins) July 2, 2019
Other examples of the Betsy Ross being used as a white supremacist symbol include Ku Klux Klan recruitment literature, in which a Klansman riding a horse is flanked by both the Betsy Ross flag and the Confederate battle flag. The History Channel documentary, “Nazis in America: A Secret History” documented a neo-Nazi flying both the Betsy Ross flag and a swastika flag at his compound in Idaho.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Grit Post does not publish the names or likenesses of mass shooters and domestic terrorists, in order to deny them the notoriety they often seek. We encourage other outlets to do the same.)
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.