James Harden doesn’t deserve to be condemned for unknowingly wearing a mask associated with “Blue Lives Matter,” but he does deserve to be educated on why his actions have offended many of his fans.
“It was just something that covered my whole beard. I thought it looked cool. That was it,” the Houston guard told ESPN. “Honestly, I wasn’t trying to make a political statement.”
Harden was pictured in a “Thin Blue Line” mask on Thursday around the NBA “bubble” in Orlando. The pictures were then posted on Twitter by the Rockets and the NBA.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Harden. “I honestly wore it just because it covered my whole face and my beard.”
While Harden’s ignorance on the impact of the Thin Blue Line mask doesn’t indicate any malicious intent, it should be noted that his lack of awareness on the symbolism of the flag is an issue and it should be used as a learning experience for all.
The Thin Blue Line symbol depicts an American flag with a blue line highlighted as one of the stripes. The symbol has been associated with the “Blue Lives Matter” counter-movement as a way to show support for law enforcement and antagonize Black Lives Matter activists.
A Punisher skull was added to the top of Harden’s mask as well. The comic character’s co-creator, Gerry Conway, has voiced his disapproval with the brand being appropriated by cops. Conway, who has been printing T-shirts with a “BLM” logo, says that the skull itself should be a Black Lives Matter symbol.
The skull and Thin Blue Line flag are used by groups that fight against equality for Black people. The flag itself has been used by racists in the past to justify the use of unnecessary and sometimes deadly force by police. In 2017, the icon was seen amongst many Confederate and white supremacist flags at the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.
The symbol has also caused controversy in states like Maryland, New York, and Ohio for its divisiveness.
In 2018, the Pittsburgh Penguins allowed the Thin Blue Line Flag to be displayed before their first home game following the fatal shooting of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The organization had a picture with the flag on its Instagram page as recently as last month before it was taken down.
Also in June, NASCAR’s Kyle Weatherman drove a “Back the Blue” car at an Xfinity race in Homestead, Florida, that showcased a Thin Blue Line flag on its hood. Weatherman and his crew wouldn’t finish the race, due to a fire, according to NASCAR’s official results page.
The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have shown us there is no longer a place in our society to be willfully ignorant to issues of race.
Famous musical artists Trey Songz and Young Thug both weighed in on Harden’s decision. Young Thug said his choice was influenced by the fact that Harden ”don’t have internet.”
Songz said Harden’s mask choice was ”certified clown shit.”
This week, Harden showed his support for the protesters in Houston, Floyd’s hometown, who are fighting for racial equality.
“The way the city just, like, rallied, it was amazing,” Harden said Thursday. “I think the world saw it, how so many people could come together so close. Obviously, it was for a tragic reason, but the marching and everything we’re standing for is very powerful.”
Harden also said he is pondering different ways to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement during his time in Orlando for the conclusion of the NBA season.
Harden’s choice to wear the mask, despite his ignorance of its symbolism, will not be one of the better moments of his career. But as a result of Harden’s decision, we can now all learn a lesson as a society. We have to continue to educate ourselves on certain symbols and messages that may not convey our true thoughts and feelings.
We have to use Harden’s misstep as a way to become more aware and more informed as a society.
Harden shouldn’t be vilified for his mask selection but he, like many others, need to be taught the true history behind these “Thin Blue Lines.”