Doth Protest Too Much? Why Corporate and Academic Confessions Increasingly Fall On Deaf Ears


Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the anti-racism demonstrations from the NFL displays to corporate campaigns to academic confessions. What is most striking about these campaigns is how little they are likely to impact opinions on racism. Indeed, the NFL displays were not only booed by fans but denounced by figures like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as meaningless propaganda. Most people are unwilling to discuss racism honestly.  Booing is a form of anonymous speech and many of those individuals would not want to speak publicly about countervailing views of racial justice or the role of the NFL in such causes. Unless we can have that honest (and mutually tolerant) discussion, few minds will be changed in these campaigns.  That requires a real interest in discussing different views of racial justice and its underlying issues for social reform, not just repeating affirmations or offering confessions.  Otherwise, many are tuning out these demonstrations. There is clearly a view of many that corporations “doth protest too much” and mean too little in terms of real change in attitudes on racism.

Here is the column:

The National Football League tried this week to address cries over racial justice with the demonstration of players, signs proclaiming Black Lives Matter, and the words “end racism” in the end zones. The response was not uniformly positive, including loud disapproval from some fans.

The controversy intensified after announcer Cris Collinsworth praised the demonstration, but went on, “Let us just get that out of the way and call a football game.” Some objected to his transition. Others such as former Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala claimed that announcer Alan Michaels did not declare his own support. “Crickets,” as Begala suggested, was insufficient, leading some to push back on the pressure of forced statements.

The greater concern could be the impact of such corporate displays and whether they constitute real progress toward racial justice or are a tactic that will effectively diminish the issue. The Food and Drug Administration and consumer advocates have studied how the saturation using product warnings has caused consumers to ignore stated risks. It becomes a kind of background noise tuned out by commercials. Racial justice should not fall victim to the same claims. Companies have been fast to create public displays of their “wokeness” in campaigns. But will such messages really resonate with people when they become pervasive and uniform?

Take Lululemon, a $45 billion corporation that is funding the campaign to “unveil historical erasure and resist capitalism.” A global company with a campaign against capitalism brings to mind Vladimir Lenin, who claimed, “When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will vie with each other for the rope contract.” Lululemon must hope to sell not just the rope but the attire of the revolution. What better way to redefine society than in a fetching Lululemon “define jacket” that costs more than $100?

Such campaigns have become a kind of certification, where denouncing oneself is the new standard. I have been deluged by relatives and friends blasting out social media confessions of being racists. Several professors have read or signed statements declaring themselves racists.

The acting dean of Northwestern University Law School began a diversity event by declaring, “I am James Speta and I am a racist.” He was followed by Emily Mullin, executive director of major gifts, who said, “I am a racist and a gatekeeper of white supremacy. I will work to be better.” These kind recitations are now expected of anyone claiming to oppose racism. There is a sense for urgency among some faculty not to be the last to condemn themselves. As Begala has shown, “crickets” invite criticism.

I do not doubt the motives of Speta. I assume this was a heartfelt effort to support racial justice. Yet this social catharsis comes across with all such spontaneity of a recitation at a retraining camp. It is difficult to see how it assists the cause of racial justice for everyone to dutifully call themselves racists or tools of white supremacy. But an emerging view is that all white people are racist or at least presumptively racist. Angela Bell, an assistant professor at Lafayette College, said, “If you have to ask if you are a racist, you are, and if you are not asking if you are a racist, you are.”

If everyone is a racist, then this becomes a common rather than a singular distinction. It makes it easy for everyone to declare themselves recovering racists, then tackling real racism becomes more instead of less difficult to address. The protests have educated me with a number of issues. Racism remains our most transcendent and unresolved national matter. However, saying “I am a racist” may be popular now, but it is not true. That does not mean I do not want to address ways that my words may negatively impact other people, or to become better educated about their lives.

The question is whether this movement is being advanced or undermined by these awkward recitations of condemnation or corporate identity. That is why many recoiled when Collinsworth said, “I feel like I have to start off by stating I stand behind these players 100 percent. What they are trying to do is bring positive change for this country that is frankly overdue. Let us just get that out of the way and call a football game.” Most fans believe the National Football League has not actually changed its views. It simply wants to get on with the game, like how Lululemon wants to get back to selling $125 leggings as an anti-capitalist corporation.

It is clear why such campaigns and declarations work for some firms or individuals. Yet they can also give us a false sense of progress. Painting “end racism” in a stadium is gratifying, but it does not move the ball on racism because it is not part of a real discussion on race, and that core conversation happens less in society. Many advocates have pushed for these declarations as evidence that we finally are having a debate over race. However, it is only a recitation instead of a conversation.

What we need is what few are willing to tolerate: a real discussion on race. There are many who believe racism is a scourge but disagree with the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. Others disagree that police killings of African Americans are under the systemic problem of racism, as opposed to a systemic problem with use of lethal force. When academics have published some studies on such issues, they have been denounced as racists or subjected to firing campaigns. Few minds will be changed in this heated environment, and that is sadly a loss for society.

Public confessions or corporate slogans will not change many minds. We can change minds on both sides by talking about different views of racism with the understanding that reasonable people may disagree over aspects of the problem. For most of us, there may not be different sides but rather different views of the causes and solutions, which is a much more difficult conversation to have than painting a slogan or leading a public confession. Otherwise, from gridirons to colleges to runways, campaigns against racism will simply turn into a cost of doing business.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

64 thoughts on “Doth Protest Too Much? Why Corporate and Academic Confessions Increasingly Fall On Deaf Ears”

  1. Colin Kaepernick is a very smart man. He will make millions long after his NFL experation date has expired and he will not have to deal with a broken body. Why play football. All he has to do is to make a few comments about raceism per year and his millions will continue. In his case, lets consider his altruism. His heart was so broken for his people that when he was playing football he gave a whole 2% of his earnings to charitable organizations. His bank saw the rest. There have been men of small means who have given there very lives for freedom. Martin luther king comes to mind. Martin was a man of great moral stature. Colin Kaerpernick, though smart, is a man of great smallness.

      1. “Radley Balko

        lol. After Breonna Taylor, Bill Bratton said a no-knock warrant is “one of the most difficult warrants to get.”

        This is like saying riding a bicycle while wearing a small hat is more difficult than riding a bicycle while not wearing a small hat.”

        “Breonna Taylor’s death ignites debate on no-knock warrants as Louisville becomes latest city to ban them”

  2. If Americans enjoy the freedom of speech, Americans enjoy the freedom of thought.

    Nowhere does the Constitution mandate the holding of particular opinions, non-choice or “non-discrimination.”

    The issue is the unconstitutional forced mixing of oil and water by Congress, using political emulsifiers including unconstitutional generational welfare, affirmative action, quotas, forced busing, WIC, TANF, HAMP, HARP, HUD, HHS, unfair “Fair Housing” laws, discriminatory “Non-Discrimination” laws, Obamacare, Medicaid, social services, etc.

    It is a function of free citizens and free markets for organizations such as the NFL to promote causes as they subject themselves to market risk.

    It is a function of free markets that the film and television industries subject themselves to competition when they force the placement of a 12% “minority” in 100% of scenes in films and TV (if Americans don’t enjoy the product, new and different products will be introduced by competitors).

    It is unconstitutional for Congress to forcibly impose unconstitutional programs and laws to “socially engineer” American society in the same manner that scientists force the mixing of oil and water through the introduction of emulsifiers.

    People must adapt to the outcomes of freedom.

    Freedom does not adapt to people, dictatorship does.

  3. There is intense pressure to swear a loyalty oath to the BLM organization. Meanwhile, BLM has promoted racist rhetoric against whites, prejudiced rhetoric against all cops, seeks to defund police, promotes criminal behavior, bails out looters. We have all seen the lawlessness on TV – the rioting, looting stores barely hanging on during a global pandemic. We have seen the backlash against anyone who speaks out against the BLM organization. Reference the antisemitism in its original manifesto, get called a racist by the unthinking mob.

    I wonder how many racists BLM has created. The anti-white racism creates a great many black racists. Trying to force loyalty oaths from whites, combined with the rioting and looting, creates white racists.

    BLM does not promote black prosperity. To do so would require making studying hard cool. It would promote education, waiting to have kids until you’re married. Abstaining from drugs or criminal behavior.

    You know, the traditional conservative message that parents have handed down to their children, which statistically produces a middle class lifestyle.

    Since BLM has branded this statistically successful lifestyle “whiteness” or “white supremacy”, it promotes choices that lead to failure. It promotes criminal behavior as black culture. This is absurd. Meth addiction, crime, and single motherhood isn’t held up as white culture. Why should blacks be saddled, en masse, with behaviors that lead to failure, and have it labeled as black culture?

    Why should blacks be lumped together at all?

    Joe Biden believes that blacks are not a diverse group. I think blacks can be Democrat, Republican, conservative, wild, criminal, law abiding, ballet dancers, steppin’, opera singers, rap artists, conservative media commentators, ultra Liberal commentators…In short, the color of one’s skin is no indication of the individual’s character, likes, or dislikes.

    Who judges one’s worth by the color of their skin or gender? The Democrat Party’s Identity Politics.

    What do you think?

    1. Candace Owen strikes me as a Cluster B.

      And i know a lot of Cluster Bs.

      Although, her husband seems to have something going on too, so maybe its a match made in heaven.

      Social ladder climbers. Although I don’t know how much climbing you have to do when you’re father is Mr. Farmer.

      Seems like born with privilege, not white privilege, bc that’s a lie. BUT financial privilege.

      The privilege of being the son of a very successful wealthy British man.

      Anyway. I digress

      Candace, on the other hand, doesn’t come from that world. She weaseled her way into it.


      Fight the good fight. Hopefully, you convinced him to go without a pre-nup too.

      1. And I am kidding, obviously everyone wants a pre nup. Always a good idea. Don’t marry anyone without it. Never know when the lid on happy is gonna blow.

      2. I would also like to note that I have much respect for the father, Lord Farmer, who went rags to riches on Copper in the 80s.

        Mister Copper as he is nicknamed. And most def. impressive.

        His son and his wife, I am holding reservation.

        They engaged after only 3 weeks from the time they first met each other, so that is a red flag in my book.

        But only speculation here, perhaps 3 weeks is enough time to find a match made in heaven.

        To each their own, as the saying goes.

        Who else did the short term engagement deal?

        Hunter Biden, with an IG model in South Africa after 10 days….

  4. There are ways to protest and ways not to protest. The protest begun by Colin Kaepernick was a slap in the face of too many Americans. First CK showed up at a news conference in Florida after kneeling began, wearing a Nike “Like Minds Think Alike” t-shirt with Fidel Castros picture! When one protest human rights violations and then wears, and promotes the sale of, that t-shirt, not only has he lost all credibility, he has alienated many to his movement. And wearing that in Florida, really? Cubans fled Cuba because of human rights violations by Castro!

    Then protesting during the national anthem was the wrong time. Again, people were turned off.

    Last, many fans use sports as an escape from the political crap permeating all aspects of life today. When it infiltrates sports, the remote is an easy way to make it disappear.

  5. “There is clearly a view of many that corporations “doth protest too much” and mean too little in terms of real change in attitudes on racism.”

    Chief among them are the biased media and the office of the Speaker Of The House along with most big city Mayors and far too many Governors.

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