Does Genocide Fall “Below the Line” of Things You Care About?

January 24, 2022

Chamath Palihapitiya, billionaire part-owner of the Golden State Warriors, recently went viral for saying he's not at all concerned about an ongoing genocide currently taking place in the world's most populous country.

On his podcast "All-In," Palihapitiya retorted to his co-host, "Nobody cares about what's happening to the Uyghurs, okay? You bring it up because you really care, and I think it's nice that you care, the rest of us don't care." Met with surprise from his co-host, he insisted, "I'm just telling you...a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things I care about, yes, it is below my line."

The Uyghur people, a mostly Muslim ethnic group in China's Xinjiang region, are facing what has widely been deemed an ongoing genocide. Rounded up into camps by the millions, forced to undergo abortions and sterilizations, sometimes brutally raped and tortured -- the suffering endured by this group is unlike anything else on earth.

If you think Palihapitiya's statement is something he should be ashamed of, that's because it is. But he doesn't see it that way. On Twitter, he clarified that "important issues deserved nuanced discussion." While that may be true, it doesn't take a nuanced discussion to condemn genocide. This is simple stuff. And his supposed clarification neglected to mention the plight of the Uyghurs. Instead, he equated issues in the United States with atrocities in China.

When it comes to China's human rights abuses, American corporate cowardice is on full display, especially in the NBA. In 2020, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban openly admitted that money is the reason he is silent on Chinese atrocities, telling Megyn Kelly on her podcast, "They are a customer of ours, and guess what, Megyn? I'm okay with doing business with China. And so, we have to pick our battles. I wish we could solve all the world's problems. But we can't."

Cuban and Palihapitiya both sidestep the sad reality that doing certain business with China has a direct negative effect on some persecuted groups. In December, the U.S. Congress acknowledged this reality by passing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans all goods made (even partially) in the Xinjiang region where Uyghurs are used for labor in a state-run system of modern-day slavery. That's how prevalent forced labor is throughout the factories and supply chains in that region.

Cuban, Palihapitiya, and the NBA have demonstrated an unwillingness to speak up for human rights if it will cost them money. And when it comes to the massive Chinese market, which is quick to punish businesses that criticize the government's human rights violations, American corporations and professional sports associations have a lot of money to lose.

This makes it all the more important to applaud organizations that do draw the line on China's human rights violations, such as the Women's Tennis Association (WTA). The WTA suspended tournaments in China after prominent female tennis athlete Peng Shuai "disappeared" shortly after posting on social media that a high-level Chinese Communist Party official had sexually abused her. Today, we still do not know where Peng is, and she has not been free to openly communicate with the outside world. The WTA is the only sports association to demonstrate such courage in the face of Chinese pressure and stand up for the basic human rights of someone in China. More organizations and businesses should follow their lead.

In contrast to the WTA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is an organization that has not only failed to speak up for Peng but has also consistently ignored and covered for China's countless human rights abuses as the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics approach. The Olympics is an honor that China does not currently deserve; it is a massive propaganda opportunity, one that NBC's media coverage will no doubt perpetuate with puff pieces about China sprinkled throughout televised sporting events.

A consistent excuse from the IOC is that the Olympics must be "separate from political, religious or any other type of interference." But this only benefits the status quo, and China's status quo is one of human rights abuses. For some, it raises serious questions about whether individuals who do care about the Uyghurs and other Chinese victims of persecution should even tune in to the Olympics this year.

For Chamath Palihapitiya, genocide may be below the line of things he cares about. But most Americans do care and want to make sure our actions don't indirectly harm the Uyghurs or anyone else. We must hold corporations to a higher standard. And as the Olympics take place next month, let us hope that NBC and other media outlets cover Chinese human rights issues alongside Olympic coverage. Instead of a victory for Chinese propaganda, the Beijing Olympics should be an opportunity for the world to learn more about what's really going on inside of China.