OP-ED

Let us unite in advocating for human rights

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 12/29/21

What’s in a name?  A lot!  My wife’s father, the first child born in the U.S. to her Italian immigrant grandparents, was named Americo in honor of the new land his parents would …

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OP-ED

Let us unite in advocating for human rights

Posted

What’s in a name?  A lot!  My wife’s father, the first child born in the U.S. to her Italian immigrant grandparents, was named Americo in honor of the new land his parents would call home.  The same sentiment applies to the NBA basketball player formerly named Enes Kanter. Kanter, now Enes Kanter Freedom, plays center for the Boston Celtics.  He immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey ten years ago and has since been an outspoken critic of the Turkish government and other countries for human rights violations.  He’s spoken out both verbally and with slogans on his shoes about China’s suppression of the Uyghurs and its repression of Tibetans seeking independence.  

Freedom has also castigated U.S. companies who profit from items made in China, especially Nike, for their “hypocrisy” in enriching themselves at the expense of the “blood and sweat and so much oppression” that goes into the manufacturing of exports from China.  He also excoriates Nike for supporting minority rights in the U.S. while remaining silent about China’s human rights abuses. 

And Freedom reviles other players’ failure to “research and educate themselves before signing deals” with companies like Nike, especially NBA superstar LeBron James for signing a lifetime contract with Nike.  He says James and other athletes who promote Nike have become “puppets” who are supporting China’s human rights violations.  He’s also called for a boycott of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. 

Enes Kanter Freedom came to the U.S. legally and worked for years to achieve citizenship.  While the lucrative NBA salary was one of the reason for his immigration, his primary reason for coming here is now an eponym—freedom.  His freedom to support social activism, to freely criticize other countries for suppressing human rights, and his ability to freely express his views on the court through shoe slogans, made Freedom so appreciate the rights American citizens enjoy that he decided to legally add “Freedom” to his name to coincide with the bestowal of U.S. citizenship.

While most Americans reluctantly support professional athletes’ right to protest our country’s ills by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem, it is so refreshing to see an athlete who recognizes the vast freedoms Americans enjoy and who is so proud to be a part of our country that he unabashedly added Freedom to his name.   

If all Americans had the courage and tenacity to strongly but peacefully advocate for the protection of human rights around the world, to include boycotting companies like Nike, we might see real improvements in how China and other autocratic countries treat their minority citizens.

Many Americans feel that widespread discrimination still exists in the U.S. and that we should wash ourselves before trying to wash others.  That’s true in some respects.  But our Constitution and the ideals our country was founded on provide mechanisms for inequalities to be eliminated—and methodically they are.

Most Americans take our freedoms for granted.  Enes Kanter Freedom recognizes how fortunate we are to live in a country with protections from human and civil rights abuses. 

The old saying, “From the mouths of babes,” refers to children who speak truths that reveal how adults have purposely or inadvertently hidden truths from themselves.  The Emperor’s New Clothes provides a fictitious but prime example.  

In the face of an American population that seems to have forgotten its foundational freedoms, it has taken an immigrant with the name Enes Kanter Freedom to show us that we are unclothed.    Lonnie Barham, a retired military officer and former school administrator, is an occasional guest columnist who lives in Warwick

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