There is perhaps no liberal in the land held in higher esteem than Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “The Notorious RBG” is the first Supreme Court justice to have actual fans.
For all her lefty street cred, in recent comments about 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests against police violence, the progressive champion sounded anything but. Speaking to Katie Couric on Oct. 10, Ginsburg said of all the athletes, band-members and cheerleaders taking a knee: “I think it’s dumb and disrespectful… I think it’s a terrible thing to do. But I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act. If they want to be stupid, there’s no law that should be preventive. If they want to be arrogant, there’s no law that prevents them from that. What I would do is strongly take issue with the point of view that they are expressing when they do that.”
There is a great deal to unpack here.
I am less struck by the words “dumb,” “stupid,” and “arrogant” than by the words she does not say: “police,” “racism,” “injustice,” “death.” There is no reckoning with the reason why so many people feel driven to kneel in protest and raise their fist in the name of black lives. It’s as if she doesn’t take this seriously.
I also find it disturbing that she would even broach the idea of arresting people for taking a knee, even if to say that she wouldn’t be for it, as if that should in any way be a part of this discussion.
These comments reveal a gap between The Notorious RBG’s reputation and the views of the human being beneath the robe. If there is one word to sum it up, it would be the term she uses to describe Kaepernick: arrogant. It is arrogant for a Supreme Court justice to make no mention of the ways in which the legal system has failed black Americans, especially the families of those whose loved ones have been killed by a police officer’s bullets.
On Oct. 11, Kaepernick spoke out in response to Ginsburg’s criticism: “It is disappointing to hear a Supreme Court justice call a protest against injustices and oppression ‘stupid’ in reference to players doing that. I was reading an article and it refers to white critique of black protests and how they try to de-legitimize it by calling it ‘idiotic, dumb, stupid,’ so they can sidestep the real issue.”
Whether you love or hate the quarterback, his political principles and actions are anything but arrogant. He has enough money and fame to live in a bubble. Instead, he is risking his precarious place in the sports world by choosing this moment in his career to stand up. That’s not arrogance. It’s conviction.