Originally published on 8/9/2018.
During my short-lived atheist phase I came across several reasonably influential intellectuals whose ideas I have somewhat disavowed to various degrees and for various reasons. One of the brighter sparks I came across was a Pakistani born ex-Muslim Canadian named Ali A. Rizvi, who is one of the main protagonists of the ‘Secular Jihadists’ movement. Creative and articulate as Rizvi is, he is yet another unfortunate soul that has fallen victim to Trump Derangement Syndrome and will blindly beat the drum for any events, sentiments, comments, or crazy characters that attempt to denigrate the 45th POTUS.
The people who were burning Tiki torches last year are burning Nike shoes this year. Either way, you’ve got to buy ‘em to burn ‘em. Can’t be too bad for Tiki or Nike. I’ll be buying Nikes for the first time in years this week. To wear. #NikeBoycott
— Ali A. Rizvi (@aliamjadrizvi) September 4, 2018
One of his new found nonsensical themes is his support for the athletically unsuccessful Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Collin Kaepernick. In a series of social media rants Rizvi focussed on key issues in the Kaepernick saga, like the ability of private companies to make decisions about those they employ based on their behaviour, and on freedom of expression. He also made an interesting comparison to the case of former Google employee James Damore and his firing from the tech giant, following the now infamous ‘Google memo’.
The crux of Rizvi’s argument was that if one was in favour of James Damore’s right to stand up against the conduct of, and decisions made by Google, then it would stand to reason that one should support Collin Kaepernick’s right to protest what he deemed as an injustice by taking a knee for the national anthem during NFL matches. More specifically, the fact that a private company has the right to fine, fire or suspend their employees for making statements doesn’t necessarily make it right.
Much of Rizvi’s disdain for the seemingly harsh tactics by the NFL came around May 2018, when the NFL decided it would penalize football teams with fines if their players did not stand for the national anthem. It was around this time that the NFL was coming under pressure to take action against the viral knee taking protesters. This pressure emanated from the fans and sponsors after the protests led to a sharp decrease in ratings and match attendance, and subsequently caused corporate sponsors to consider retracting their lucrative sponsorship deals.
In November 2017 Business Insider reported on the manner in which major sponsors were unsettled by the growing discontent among fans for the behaviour of players. Among the sponsors expressing concern was Papa John’s Pizza, whose CEO and founder John Schnatter lamented on how a loss of sales would cause his chain to ‘re-evaluate sponsorship’. Papa John’s was not the only sponsor, as noted by the article in Business Insider:
“NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart told Sports Business Journal that Papa John’s was just one of the top sponsors that had raised concerns regarding the protests.” And, according to Linda Yaccarino, the chairman of advertising sales at NBCUniversal: “Marketers have said, ‘We will not be part of the NFL if you continue covering” the protests.”
Quite a bit has been said about the NFL’s loss in popularity over the protests and much of it has now been seen with Nike’s plummeting share price and consumer backlash for placing Kaepernick’s image on their 30th anniversary of the ‘Just Do It’ slogan. But crucially, how does all of this compare to the firing of James Damore from Google as Ali A. Rizvi would have us believe?
Rizvi believes that Kaepernick’s and Damore’s right to express themselves are equal in validity, but they’re not, and here’s why.
James Damore wrote a memo entitled ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber’ which stressed the need for ideological diversity and that certain biases could actually be harmful for a culture of inclusion in the workplace. He also outlined the manner in which men and women are inherently different, particularly in regards to the factors that drive them to succeed at work and why men tend to outperform women in tech industries. In regards to biological differences affecting leadership in tech industries he states:
“Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership”.
Damore goes on to discuss personality differences, differences in ‘drive for status’ and the harm of working in an ideological echo chamber. It was intended to be internally circulated through his place of work, yet within 3 days of this release, Damore was publicly shamed and fired from Google. Google CEO Sundar Pichai condemned Damore’s 3,300 word manifesto, decrying it as a destructive factor in “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” in the workplace. Pichai went on to state that:
“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK”.
Essentially, Damore stated facts using empirical evidence from which he drew conclusions, highlighted trends and suggested options in moving forward. Suggestions that would create a positive work space – particularly with software engineering – and subsequently help the tech giant in delivering its services. For this he unintentionally became the subject of media controversy after having his employment terminated. Needless to say, Google didn’t receive the serious level of backlash for its action as they are a monopoly while the NFL is a franchise that consumers can switch off at any time.
Now let us revisit Ali. A Rizvi’s claim that these are somehow comparable. As stated, James Damore released a memo of disapproval of the way Google was conducting itself. He used empirical data, identified trends, he made clear his intent was only to advance Google in its mission and it was meant to remain in-house. Collin Kaepernick – courting as much publicity as humanly possible – unimaginatively disrespected a national symbol of pride in order to highlight the non-issue of Police brutality and racial discrimination in America. The same America that fought one of the most savage civil wars in history to free black slaves, passed a number of civil rights acts which delivered advances such as racial desegregation in schools, and allowed Kaepernick the ability to propel himself to super stardom and incur great wealth on account of his athletic ability.
Kaepernick focussed his activism on the Police force, with no mention of the failing schools and fatherless homes that many black children are being raised in. Conditions that unavoidably lead to crime statistics that show that African Americans – who account for roughly 13% of the population – being responsible for close to half of the national homicide rate. Furthermore, studies by such institutions as Washington State University and Harvard’s Economics Professor Roland Fryer, found that Police officers are actually less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white or Hispanic ones in simulated incidents and that there is in fact ‘zero racial bias’ in Police shootings. The Washington Post’s Police shooting database, along with Federal Crime statistics confirm – when looking at national homicide figures – that only 12% of all whites and Hispanics are killed by Cops while only 4% of blacks are. It’s true that out of all Police shootings in the US, a large number of them are blacks, even though blacks make up a small minority of the total population. But the main factor in Police shootings are armed and aggressive suspects. Unfortunately, those suspects are disproportionately black and live in areas of high crime, for such reasons as explained above.
Essentially, it boils down to this:
James Damore protested unethical, damaging and nonsensical practices by using facts and data with the intent of improving the situation. His cause was therefore worthy. Collin Kaepernick protested a non-issue which detracted from more serious issues by kneeling instead of standing. He presented no evidence, his claims were unaligned with reality, and he offered no tangible solutions while making a public spectacle of himself. In short he did no work. This is why Damore’s disagreement and protest was a worthy cause and Kaepernick’s was not, or more appropriately, why Damore’s dismissal was unreasonable and Kaepernick’s was impeccably justified.