Saffiyah Edoo

On the 5th of this month, an anonymous op-ed published in the New York Times entitled “I Am Part of the Resistance inside the Trump Administration” sent shockwaves to the White House as well as in the general public. Two days later, Nike released an ad with the equally celebrated and fustigated Colin Kaepernick. A further two days down the week, Serena Williams’ verbal altercation with the umpire during the US Open Women’s finals and subsequent reaction would open up a tough conversation. The three aforementioned events have one thing in common: they are the fruit of defiance against the establishment.

According to the editors of the New York Times, the author of the piece is a senior official at the White House who has taken a huge risk in writing this op-ed, hence the rare decision to publish an unsigned piece. While the author concedes that the rogue officials “want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous”, he shares the insight that the President’s “impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.” The reaction to the piece has been instant and widespread; it was thoroughly dissected in bits to identify the author and started a conversation about the current inner workings of the White House.

Meanwhile, in the commercial sporting world, Nike was preparing the big release of its ad with Colin Kaepernick, American football quarterback who silently but powerfully protested against racial injustice following the deaths of black people in the hands of the police. His action of kneeling during the national anthem before football games earned him backlash and respect in almost equal measure. Despite the fact that he is a controversial athlete, and currently a free agent, Nike took the commercially savvy and bold step of having him headline its powerful ad with the tagline “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” An even bolder step considering the fact that Nike and NFL had announced last March that they would be extending their partnership until 2028.

The buzz around the impressive Nike ad had not died down when the US Open Women’s Final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka became the stage for an altercation which saw Serena Williams lose in favour of Japanese-Haitian Naomi Osaka. While this win has worked wonders for the latter, it has opened up a difficult conversation about the treatment meted out on the courts by umpires to players according to gender. It has also opened up reactions regarding the way Serena Williams was described while expressing her frustrations compared to when male players do the same. Not to mention the controversial cartoon published in an Australian newspaper, negatively portraying Serena Williams.

It takes a great deal of courage to speak out, and when doing so, the speaker realizes that his/her actions might strongly divide opinions, as for every supporter, there will be a naysayer. It is conviction that drives one to openly express defiance, which is no mean feat and involves an array of risks, as the case of Colin Kaepernick shows. Speaking out is first of all an act for the self, a retaliation against what one feels is wrong. It might be that one step that allows built-up frustration, helplessness and rage to be channeled effectively and healthily. It is an act which has ripple effects, a pebble moved which can cause an avalanche.

It does not come without its load of loss and pain, but in the end, it starts a process. It might not have the result that the initiator would have wanted; in some cases, the initiator might have not even given a thought about any result; but it has the merit of having opened up a thought process, a conversation, a channel of expression which many may identify with, and which may embolden those who are feeling helpless. It might be that little thing which allows a person to take that dreaded step, without necessarily personally knowing the initiator. It might be that voice that others need to sound out their own because they may not have the means or channels to do so.

In the process of taking stands, of speaking out, there comes an overwhelming point of lassitude. It is a painful process and a deeply unsettling phase, where one questions one’s own validity in undertaking these actions. It is a phase where one may want to move on to the next step by being more active but is unable to. Some quietly undertake actions, without the need to advertise, as is the current norm in the age of social media. Others are actively trying to move things along, maintain their determination despite hitting hurdles.

Speaking out or acting on what one believes in is extremely painful for it brings its load of rejection from who one may consider one’s owns, or such harsh criticisms that one may question the whole purpose of doing so. However, when, in the midst of such questioning, come three powerful reminders of why one should not bow to doubt or apathy, the purpose of taking stands and speaking out is restored. Take a knee, speak out verbally, undertake an action, pick up a pen; all these are worthy of equal respect and are worth the while of standing in defiance against threats to righteous convictions.