I’m not big on catchphrases, sayings, or, in general, life advice that before Twitter and Instagram would’ve been an AIM Away Message or a bumper sticker. However, I do have a saying I use sometimes that I believe Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter should take to heart: Check your privilege at the door.
Here’s an example of what it’s like to do that: I’m an American. I was born and raised in this country, and so is my family as far back as I’ve researched — the little conspiracy theorist inside me doesn’t want to give my DNA to one of those 23 and Me tests. There are certain rights I have as a citizen of this country that are a privilege when compared to the other citizens of the world. One of the biggest is Amendment I of the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I can criticize the United States government in public, on my social media pages, or on this platform, with no legal repercussions. That is a right not guaranteed to Kanter in his native land of Turkey. He found that out when he spoke out against the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In 2017 Kanter was in Indonesia putting on a basketball clinic. While asleep in his hotel room, his manager notified him that the Indonesian secret service and military was at the school looking for him. The Turkish government had told Indonesia that he was “a dangerous man.” Kanter then left Indonesia and found his way to Singapore and then to Romania. When he tried to leave from the airport in Bucharest he found that his passport had been revoked by the Turkish government and he was detained at the airport. The NBA and the players union then worked with the State Department to get Kanter out of Romania to London, and then back to the United States.
That is terrifying. Being overseas, and while there finding out that your home government has decided to restrict your travel because you criticized it. According to the Constitution, that will not happen to an American citizen.
On Monday night, Tucker Carlson interviewed Kanter on the Fox News program, Tucker Carlson Tonight. Kanter had legally changed his last name to Freedom and, per Carlson, had officially become an American citizen that day. He opened with a story about how in 2009 he was aghast when a teammate had criticized the President of the United States, and the teammate responded, “This is America. Don’t worry about it.”
Then later in the interview Kanter had something to say to Americans who are critical of their own government.
“People should feel really lucky and blessed to be in this America,” Kanter said to Carlson. “They love to criticize it, but you live in a country like Turkey or China or somewhere else you will appreciate the freedoms you have here. “I feel like they should just keep their mouths shut and stop criticizing the greatest nation in the world, and they should focus on their freedoms and their human rights and their democracy.”
Right there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what, actually, constitutes freedom. You can’t appreciate freedom by refusing to exercise it. Criticizing the government is a freedom this country was founded upon. Blood was shed, lives were lost to procure that freedom — a freedom that Fox News has used to build a cable news empire.
Kanter can be extended some grace for his exuberance at just becoming a citizen and appreciating the freedoms offered that aren’t a birthright for everyone in the world — as opposed to the grace that should not be extended to the American born television host who asked him the loaded question “Do you think your [teammates] are as grateful to be Americans as your are?”
Still, here is a place for Kanter to understand his privilege compared to others native to America and even other immigrants. He actually meets the first qualification to legally immigrate to America. He is a First Preference (EB-1) — priority worker:
- Aliens with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics
When he was 16 years old, he was a tall, talented, professional basketball player in Turkey and allowed by his native country and his newly adopted country to play in America. Surely he was homesick but he already had a profession and all he had to do was work on English and basketball. At 19 years old he was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
He is privileged by talent, physique, and also, by not having to grow up the way that many aspiring basketball players do in the United States. Kanter, by being signed off on as a productive citizen, has never had to prove himself worthy of many of the rights that are supposed to be guaranteed by the constitution. And when he did have a problem returning to America, his employer, one of the most influential entities in America, and the government fought for him to return.
Unlike Black Americans, Kanter’s grandparents didn’t fight for this country in a war against fascism only to be subjected to it when they returned home. He has never been denied his right to a speedy trial by being stuck in the bail system, or by being gunned down before ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. As a young athlete, he was never part of one of the most successful sports organizations in the world, but the price to pay was to be subjected to assault by the person assigned to care for your body.
While certain criticisms of America are superfluous, especially compared to the destitution and violence in the rest of the world, the beauty of this country is we have the right to make them. The ugliness about this country is that many of the other freedoms are guaranteed to all on paper, but only to some in practice.
So while I understand that I don’t know what it’s like for my government to come after me for what I say, Kanter needs to realize that he doesn’t know what it’s like to not be extended the full rights of citizenship that are guaranteed by your country.
If Kanter wants to be this worldwide spokesman for human rights, than he has to realize when those rights are violated in a way that may not resonate to him, but resonate to someone with a different gender identity than him, or more melanated than him, or even worships the same faith as him — he’s Muslim.
For anything to change anywhere we all must first check our privilege at the door. If we don’t then true freedom will remain locked away forever.