‘Cobra Kai’ gives a subtle but powerful lesson on white privilege & entitlement

WARNING: DO NOT read this article any further until you have watched all four seasons of Cobra Kai. While this article does contain season four spoilers, it will chafe a specific demographic of readers.

Cobra Kai, since moving from YouTube after its second season to Netflix from season three and onward, has enjoyed tremendous success, reviving The Karate Kid franchise. I found Cobra Kai to be a refreshing continuation of The Karate Kid franchise, even more so when it doesn’t focus solely on Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso.

It’s great to see how Johnny and Daniel grew since the events of that fateful match at the All-Valley Karate Tournament. I also loved the developing human portrayal of the main and supporting cast, especially how Cobra Kai humanized John Kreese and his journey into how he became the person he is today.

Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy,” the creed of the titular Cobra Kai dojo, is an important device to the story’s plot, especially how each individual interprets it.

I consider myself a political buff ever since I campaigned for John Kerry (D-MA), when he was a US Senator at the time, when he ran against incumbent US President George W. Bush (R-TX), during the 2004 Presidential Election. I became more of a political buff ever since I kept in touch with a number of people after the election was over, especially people who work under notable administrations.

Kreese’s interpretation of the creed in Cobra Kai, remember that John Kreese is a FICTIONAL character, is the embodiment of white entitlement, white privilege, and white patriarchy, whether it’s intentional or “not,” but the intent of the interpretation blurs the lines.

Martin Kove, the actor who does a tremendous job of playing John Kreese, when interviewed, explains that John Kreese is misunderstood. I agree with Kove because Kreese truly is misunderstood. To understand Kreese’s logic, it’s important to watch The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid III.

To further understand Kreese’s experience-driven logic, the basis of the creed, read Paul K. Chappell’s “War Makes Us Poorer” and “The Hunger Games vs. The Reality of War.”

Also read Chappell’s 2013 interview, “Waging Peace,” on Guernica, too, where he originally believed war was necessary to war and peace but is adamant that it’s a myth, and war truly is NOT a requirement.

Analyzing Kreese’s intentions and reading Chappell’s interview, Kreese is the living embodiment of the myth, but’s not truly Kreese’s fault.

Kreese lives with the psychological scars inflicted on him in his military service during the Vietnam War, which Kove delves into during his interview.

Kreese’s mind still lives in a tormented world where it’s “kill” or “be killed.” He hasn’t healed from the trauma, a crucial driving force of Cobra Kai, and it won’t happen for a long time.

As one who teaches and trains in the martial arts, I do agree with the creed, BUT in moderation, and when the situation is necessary. Avery Linder’s “Is The Cobra Kai Mentality Toxic Or Empowering” effectively explains the positives and balances it out on how the mentality can be toxic, too. She explains that Kreese taught his students to follow the creed to act violently, which repeats itself from seasons two to four.

Even though Kreese is misunderstood, he allowed himself to be corrupted by his trauma, which corrupts everyone else he takes under his wing. There is also the lack of context, which Linder adds, goes wrong when one doesn’t see the bigger picture.

Terry Silver executed the creed in a “MOSTLY” nonviolent way, though just as toxic as Kreese’s execution, in season four.

It goes back to Linder’s point, the mentality is toxic when corrupt people follow and preach the creed.

What if the Cobra Kai creed was used as an empowerment tool for white (cisgender male) entitlement, white (cisgender male) privilege, white (cisgender male) patriarchy, and so on?

It has, actually, but that philosophy existed way before The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai were created.

Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu’s essay, “Cobra Kai, the Twilight of American Empire, and the Allure of Paramilitary Violence,” nicely sums up the notion. The essay briefly explains how many Vietnam War vets who suffered the humiliation of constant harassment led them, talking about cisgender white males, to join white supremacist paramilitary groups.

They mention Vietnam War vet Louis Beam, who is responsible for founding a paramilitary faction of the Ku Klux Klan.

This correlates with Chappell’s explanation on “spiritual poverty,” in his essay titled “A New Peace Paradigm,” and explains that spiritual poverty, which he defines as the “loss of self-worth and belonging,” is more dangerous than material poverty. Chappell’s point is cemented when Johnny revives Cobra Kai, though for good intentions, before John Kreese (also a victim of spiritual poverty) exploited the students’ spiritual poverty.

Chappell further explains that there’s no hierarchy when it comes to needs, which he refers to as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” and points out how social connection is required to meet one basic need. Cobra Kai expands the issue and shows it transcends one's skin color.

As Kuo and Wu put it, Cobra Kai’s big drawing point is that’s a fable, where the story shows that virtually everyone is susceptible. That transcends differences of skin color, nationality, ethnicity, religious denomination, gender roles, sexual orientation, and so on.

I love how Kuo and Wu compare the Cobra Kai Karate gi to the German SS uniform, while they point out that Cobra Kai is a fable, not a history lesson.

In reality, historical reality to be exact, as Kuo and Wu suggest, someone like Kreese could and likely would become a white supremacist. I agree with Kuo & Wu with Chappell’s A New Peace Paradigm & Linder’s Is The Cobra Kai Mentality Toxic Or Empowering to back their belief.

It reinforces that Cobra Kai is endearing because it is a fable.

It reinforces that Cobra Kai is endearing because it is a fable.

Kreese and Silver, despite all of the vile things they have done during the course of Cobra Kai’s story, are still redeemable.

Time to peel back the proverbial onion, as my mentor would say it, on the creed and how it’s a subtle dialogue on white entitlement, white privilege, and white patriarchy.

People will claim that none of those mentioned in the above sentence are true. They’ll bring up characters such as Robby Keene, Tory Nichols, Aisha Robinson, Kylee Lee, Kenny Payne, and/or other characters.

One’s going to ask what kind of privilege do Robby, Tory, Johnny, or Kreese have when they don’t have any money? They’ll counter this by claiming Kyler, Aisha, and Kenny are the ones with privilege.

There is general privilege, financial privilege, and white privilege.

The three are separated from each other but there the three often overlap.

BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and gender non-binary communities enjoy privileges that they didn’t have decades to centuries ago. When I say “privilege,” I am NOT talking about financial privilege, though the two types are often confused.

Chappell explains, in his article titled “Wage Peace, End Racism,” that attitudes toward race are better in 2014 than it was one century ago, and definitely two centuries ago. He says that how well the world wages peace is instrumental in how attitudes towards race will be in the next century.

In his interview with Guernica Magazine, Chappell says that a conversation between himself and his interviewer, Katherine Rowland, would not have been possible two hundred years ago. Chappell, half-Korean on his mother’s side and one-quarter black & one-quarter white on his father’s side would not have had the “privilege” to talk to her two centuries ago.

When you look at marriage today and marriage in the 1950s, there is huge approval for interracial marriage today than it was back then. In 1958, approval for interracial marriage was at only four percent. Today, it should be in the ninety percentile.

Charles E. William’s piece in Florida Studio Theater — Stage Directions, titled “White Entitlement: Exploring Racial Privilege,” delves into the matter. One person who responded gives a story of how one of his friends, an African-American female, said she, herself, has privilege. This surprised the responder and the friend explained that it is a privilege to be able-bodied, being born in the United States, being college-educated, and being cis-gendered.

Chappell’s “Why We Need Peace Heroes” reinforces the friend’s point. When slavery was legal in the United States, the enslaved were prohibited from reading books. If you want to keep a population docile, you do whatever it takes to keep knowledge out of its hands. When Hitler’s Nazi regime controlled most of Europe, something Chappell also brought up, books were burned on a regular basis.

That is privilege in a nutshell and it’s VERY different from white privilege.

Cory Collins’ “What Is White Privilege, Really?,” available for reading on Learning For Justice, states “white privilege” is an idea of the unseen & unheard advantages. Though it’s different from racism, experts stress that having & recognizing it is NOT racist, white privilege does exist because of the racism & biases.

This is where someone will bring up Tory Nichols and Robby Keene, who had to struggle and fight to reach where they are today. If you brought up “white privilege” in the Cobra Kai world, Tory and Robby would tell you to “piss off.” To people who had to struggle as much as them, privilege is a VERY alien word to them.

It’s IMPORTANT to REMEMBER that white privilege does NOT mean white people have never struggled. You can still be white and struggle to get through the day. The best example in Cobra Kai is how Samantha LaRusso, who’s also white, has financial privilege, while Tory, someone of low socioeconomic class, works multiple jobs.

Even though Tory is white, she DOES NOT enjoy the privileges that Samantha enjoys because of Daniel LaRusso’s affluence.

Also IMPORTANT to point out is that white privilege does not mean everything a white person has accomplished is unearned. Tory, Robby, and Hawk worked hard, major understatement, worked VERY hard to get far in the tournament.

Even though Silver bribed an official, Tory still worked hard and I believe she still would have won anyway.

White privilege is neither linked to one's income nor effort.

Gina Crosley-Corcoran’s piece in the Huffington Post, titled “Explaining White Privilege To A Broke White Person,” is a story that echoes the hardship Tory went through and still goes through in the world of Cobra Kai. Corcoran, like Tory, is a victim of class discrimination.

“Intersectionality,” the theme of Corcoran’s piece, is defined as being privileged in certain ways and not being privileged in the rest. One can benefit from white privilege but still be oppressed and discriminated against in other ways.

If you were born in this country, you are generally afforded privileges that non-citizens will likely never get. Tory, Robby, and others have that privilege.

If you’re born to a financially stable family, you get benefits and future opportunities. That’s the privilege that Samantha LaRusso has. Samatha has everything while Tory has to work harder. In this respect, privilege is classified into different categories.

According to feminist and anti-racist icon Peggy McIntosh, the concept is a “psychological bias,” the catalyst that turns white privilege & Cobra Kai’s creed into eternal bunk buddies. If you’re born white in the United States, you generally get “the benefit of the doubt.” If you’re a lower-class white person p against an upper-class white person, the latter gets the upper hand because of affluent privilege.

If you’re white, you’ll come off as less “suspicious” by law enforcement.

If you’re BIPOC, you’ll automatically look suspicious, even though you live in the neighborhood, even if the neighbors know you, and you could get the cops called on you.

Statistically, people of color are pulled over less likely than their white counterparts.

If you’re white and you get stopped by the police, they’re less likely to search you.

If you’re BIPOC and are doing financially well for yourself, even affluent privilege won’t stop you from getting racially profiled.

If you’re BIPOC and a military veteran, someone’s going to accuse you of stolen valor.

BIPOC generally aren’t protected by, though they’re legally also supposed to be, self-defense laws. If you’re a legal firearms owner who’s BIPOC, you’re not protected by the laws, though you’re supposed to be protected by them.

Not only is the motto “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy” a creed, but it’s a philosophy that shapes one's worldview. This motto subconsciously plays out by anyone when their worldview is being “threatened” and feel they need to “strike first.” It’s dangerous when that philosophy is combined with one's implicit bias, especially a white person’s biases to the BIPOC & LGBTQIA+ communities. It’s more dangerous when you factor in police brutality, too, where it has a strong relationship with white privilege (white entitlement and white supremacy, too).

People, especially police officers, will find loopholes to argue when violating a person’s civil rights.

One example is former police officer Derek Chauvin, though he was recently sentenced to 25 years, who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost ten minutes. This WHILE Floyd was handcuffed and not an imminent threat to anyone. While justice was served for Floyd, most of these situations end up with the perpetrator, especially if they’re officers of the law, receiving a light sentence.

Where does the motto fit into all of this?

In this scenario, someone like Chauvin can claim they were preemptively acting in self-defense. If they can afford a good lawyer, they usually can in most scenarios because it’s on the city’s dime, they’ll likely receive a “not guilty” verdict or a light sentence.

Chauvin struck first, struck hard, and showed no mercy.

They acted on the philosophy of the creed, itself.

Another example of how psychology fuels white entitlement is the incident that led to Ahmaud Arbery’s death. They did indeed strike first, struck hard, and showed no mercy to Arbery, who was unarmed, and completely harmless.

Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan had no legitimate reason to go after Arbery, who was minding his own business. In the eyes of the three perpetrators, Arbery didn’t belong in the neighborhood. This is the relationship between white privilege and the psychology of the Cobra Kai creed.

Kyle Rittenhouse exercised the philosophy of the creed when he shot three people in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 2020. Here’s the THING, though, Rittenhouse had NO business traveling out to Kenosha, when he lived in Antioch, Illinois. This op-ed from Boston University Today, authored by Doug Most, said it best, things would have gone differently if Rittenhouse was not white, but someone who’s BIPOC.

Boston U School of Law Dean Angela Onwauchi-Willig, who was interviewed in Most’s op-ed, believed race played a factor. Willig mentioned that Rittenhouse’s defense successfully got eight Black people removed from the jury pool. Willig added that if Rittenhouse was Black, he wouldn’t have gotten past the police officers while he was holding an AR-15.

Willig also brought up the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, when he was followed by George Zimmerman, a man who’s half-white and half-Latino (Peruvian) when the 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman not to pursue.

Rittenhouse and Zimmerman did strike first, struck hard, and showed no mercy, even though it was UNNECESSARY for them to inject themselves into those situations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified crimes against the API (Asian & Pacific Islander) Community.

Robert Aaron Long exercised the philosophy, for the same of his sex addiction and to “help” others of their sex addictions, when he shot up three spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight people, six of them Asian women.

It’s another example of someone using the philosophy to justify killing innocent people.

He did strike them first, he struck them hard, and he showed them no mercy.

Arthur Matunovich attacked and killed three Asian men at a restaurant in Brooklyn, though charges were dropped because of mental illness. He justified his actions by claiming Chinese men mistreat their women.

He did strike them first, he struck them hard, he showed them no mercy.

The 1982 murder of Vincent Chin is a historical example of the Cobra Kai creed being executed to exercise racial intolerance. Chin, a Chinese-American autoworker, was singled out by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who got laid off from their jobs as autoworkers, because of the growing number of imports from Japan.

They didn’t care if Chin was Japanese or not, Ebens and Nitz wanted an excuse to hurt an Asian person.

They struck Chin first, they struck Chin hard, and they showed no mercy to Chin.

In 2015, in Texas, police were dispatched to a home, where a pool party took place, that ended up with Officer Eric Casebolt body-slamming 15-year-old Dajerria Becton. The other party guests, also Black youths, were held at gunpoint by the police, too.

Casebolt struck first, struck hard, and showed no mercy (the body-slamming of Becton).

In 2014 there was a jaywalking incident that ended up with NYPD officers beating up 84-year-old Kang Wong. The NYPD did give Wong orders to stop; however, English is not his first language, and he was unable to understand what officers were saying.

This incident would have been avoided if officers requested an interpreter to the scene.

The cops struck Wong first, struck Wong hard, and didn’t really show Wong any mercy.

Even though there is “Black on Asian” and “Latinx on Asian” crime, as one is going to argue, statistics show, despite the majority of images of POC committing crimes against the AAPI community, constantly shown on the news, most perpetrators, seventy-five percent, of anti-AAPI crimes are white.

The study conducted by Dr. Jannelle Wong of the University of Maryland used data from official law enforcement & government crime statistics, community-based reporting systems, Pew Research, and other sources.

Anti-AAPI crimes have increased since the Covid-19 pandemic. It led to perpetrators using the Covid-19 pandemic to strike the AAPI community first, strike the AAPI community hard, and show no mercy to the AAPI community.

The most infamous example of white privilege and white entitlement took place in January 2021, when thousands of right-wing extremists, who believed then-U.S. President Donald Trump had the election “stolen” from him, despite all the evidence that dispels those claims, raided the United States Capitol, which led to the deaths of four people, including police officers.

Other law enforcement officers suffered critical injuries in the process.

The far-right extremists exercised the creed on a wide scale.

The Cobra Kai motto of “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy” is an unspoken universal language that is interpreted in many ways. In this case, this motto can be used to exercise ones white privilege and white entitlement regardless of the perpetrator gets sentenced or not. An NBC News article on the incident mentioned how the insurgents, despite how violent they acted, were given better treatment by law enforcement, than members who participated in a Black Lives Matter protest, DESPITE most BLM protests (93-percent) being peaceful, reported by Harvard Radcliffe Insitute, Time, and so on.

If you’re white, you can exercise the philosophy, regardless of the situation, and mostly NOT face severe repercussions. If you’re BIPOC, you face repercussions of exercising the creed, even if you’re justified in doing so.

Remember, though, The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai are fables, they’re not historical realities, as Kuo and Wu remind us. Fables like Cobra Kai are strong because they use creative storytelling to instill valuable lessons. If it was a historical reality story, Kreese likely would have been part of the insurgency in January 2021.

Reality and history are often the basis of fictional storytelling.

Marvel Comics’ X-Men franchise, for example, was created to creatively tell the story of how Blacks in America were persecuted and discriminated against.

The creed is empowering if it’s for good intentions, but it’s toxic and corrupting if one is not coming from a good place. In this case, it’s toxic because it’s used to exercise white privilege and white entitlement

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