There is a place called China where a million Uighur people are being held in concentration camps and having their culture systematically destroyed. There is a place called the United States where some states and localities restrict access to bathrooms and locker rooms on the basis of biological sex. In China, the NBA is thrilled to bring their teams and market their product. In Charlotte, North Carolina, the NBA refused to bring their 2016 All Star game to protest the state’s bathroom law.
The League decided to punish Charlotte for passing a law it did not like, but which came to be through a democratic process. Not only is China not a democracy, but it is right now involved in a violent crackdown against the pro democracy protesters in Hong Kong. In a public relations disaster over the past few days, NBA stars have parroted Chinese propaganda and a confused Commissioner Adam Silver can’t seem to decide how much censorship he’s comfortable with. That includes fans removed from an NBA preseason game Tuesday night for holding up signs supporting the Hong Kong protests.
The bottom line here is money. The NBA has 2 to 3 billion global fans. The National Football League and Major League Baseball both have about 500 million respectively. The enormity of the Chinese market makes it far too attractive for the NBA to ignore. After all, what’s a concentration camp or two if there is money to be made?
But there is something else at work as well. The NBA has very consciously crafted an image as a woke corporation. While showing support for protests against the U.S. government, and even engaging in a protest such as their stunt in Charlotte, the NBA is trying to position itself as a moral entity. Even as an arbiter of what is morally acceptable. To the extent that it believes it has some moral authority in these areas, that authority is made completely bankrupt by their cowardly kowtowing the communist government of China.
This is cultural relativism at an astounding level. Supporting the Chinese government’s anti-democratic actions while claiming moral authority on domestic affairs is so wildly out of whack that there must be a rationalization for it beyond greed. There has to a be a reason why so many on the American left, and in woke corporate culture, feel comfortable dipping into bathroom battles but won’t say a word against actual atrocities.
As it turns out, over at Quillette, professor Benadict Beckeld recently ran a very fine piece called “Oikophobia, ; Our Western Self Hatred.” The word, once we learn to pronounce it, is one that should find a lot of use these days. Writing in the Wall Street Journal nearly a decade ago, the perspicacious James Taranto tackled the idea, writing, “The British philosopher Roger Scruton has coined a term to describe this attitude: oikophobia. Xenophobia is fear of the alien; oikophobia is fear of the familiar: “the disposition, in any conflict, to side with ‘them’ against ‘us’, and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours.'”
Over the past decade this phenomenon has metastasized on the American left. White progressives in America, by far the most leftist, are the only group that when polled give their own race a negative ranking. The only group. Why? Oikophobia. And this is exactly what gives the NBA the gall to punish Charlotte while saying, “Well, who are we to judge, really?” in regard to China. In effect, performing bread and circuses for the brutal Chinese regime and being paid very nicely in return.
If the NBA wants to ban its employees from talking about politics to protect its brand viability in China, that’s gross, but they are a business. But if they do so, that ban should apply to all politics. The NBA should not reward the illiberal and authoritarian Chinese government for its censorship policies while announcing a free for all on conservative political policies in the free United Sates.
The NBA may well see itself as an ambassador for America and its values around the world, but when it defies those values to give comfort to dictators it also serves as an ambassador from China to the US. It sends the message, China is just a country, just like any other, there’s nothing wrong with China, and that is vastly more valuable to the communist government than any basketball game.