By Arturo R. García
Not even Run-DMC could’ve made these Adidas sound like a good idea.
Fortunately, the company reversed course Monday, opting not to release the shoes pictured above, the JS Roundhouse Mids, named after designer Jeremy Scott, who had said on Twitter that the shoes were inspired by My Pet Monster dolls. He did not, however, explain either how the image of somebody walking around with shoes couldn’t bring up images of imprisonment–let alone outright slavery–as Syracuse University’s Dr. Boyce Watkins described at Your Black World:
When I see the shoes, I also think about the ankle bracelets being worn by far too many men who are affected by the mass incarceration epidemic that the White House says nothing about. The black family has ripped itself apart because so many of our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons are locked away in prison, leading their children vulnerable to all the horrible things that happen when the man of the house is not away. I am offended by these shoes because there is nothing funny about the prison industrial complex, which is the most genocidal thing to happen to the black family since slavery itself.
Adidas wasn’t very talkative either, releasing a boilerplate statement citing Scott’s “quirky” and “lighthearted” style and apologizing “if people were offended by the design.” Meanwhile, according to Zap2it, he stuck to retweeting supporters dismissing such questions as the work of internet trolls. Because that’s a sensible response, right?
Ultimately, the JS Roundhouses will join Nike’s “Black and Tans” and “Air Allahs,” Umbro’s “Zyklons” and Converse’s “Loaded Weapons” on the pile of debacles that could’ve easily been avoided had a little common sense and empathy been allowed into the creative process.
By Guest Contributor Theresa Runstedtler, cross-posted from her blog
[Author's Note: The voluminous press on “Linsanity” has not only exposed the “orientalist” visions of American society but it has also laid bare our basest racial assumptions about black athletes. This blog post (originally part of paper for the 2011 American Studies Association meeting) is an effort to build on William C. Rhoden’s analysis for the New York Times earlier this month. Rhoden argues, “African-American athletes faced and continue to confront negative stereotypes that militate against being invested with the type of universal character traits that are at the root of the Tebow and Lin phenomena.” In what follows, I look at why these “negative stereotypes” persist, and to what political, social, and economic ends.]
“On the floor of Shoemaker Center and other camps, hoop dreams flourish and youthful bodies are inspected and assessed in an atmosphere more meat market than training ground. It’s both the good (say defenders) and the bad (say critics) of our national sports obsession. It’s also big business, American style: a world where kids are the product, coaches the buyers, and event directors and hangers-on the middlemen who must work the system, know the right people and outhustle their opponents to succeed.” –Josh Chetwynd, “The Hoopster Supershuffle,” U.S. News & World Report, November 11, 1996.
How is it that a people who labored for hundreds of years as chattel slaves have now become the ultimate paragons of laziness in the eyes of mainstream America? At least some of it has to do with the hypervisibility of African Americans in certain types of employment that have been cast as “play.” Their disproportionate representation in sports (both amateur and professional) has become a frequent point of critique for white conservatives and certain members of the black middle class. There has been a tendency to blame black youth, particularly those from poor and working-class backgrounds, for their pathological “sports fixation.” Yet this narrow, individualist perspective ignores the structural forces driving black over-representation in the sporting industries.