When I first saw the photo of the Adidas sneaker JS Roundhouse Mid online, I thought it was a crude meme or somebody’s idea of a bad joke. It was very hard for me to take seriously. What corporation would place such a product on the market? And why? Then I saw the controversy make the national TV news and realized this was anything but a virtual hoax.
Given the number of Black athletes that are either sponsored by Adidas or spokespersons for the sneaker manufacturer – not to mention Hip Hop’s storied love affair with the brand as articulated in the iconic rap hit “My Adidas” – one would think that they, of all corporate entities, would never do something as demeaning as this to a critical consumer base that yields them tremendous profits and the ever-coveted street cred. But they did. This sneaker is an insult to a community already injured by the policies of corporations like Adidas that leave them trapped in debilitating poverty, disproportionately warehoused throughout this nation’s prisons.
With Rev. Jesse Jackson’s intervention playing a decisive role, the company has reportedly decided to pull the sneaker which was to hit the market with a hefty $350 price-tag. Since, many have stated that Adidas needs to publish an official apology. But this is clearly a case where an apology won’t cut it.
What Adidas did is nothing more than what any other corporation does: Produce product for the enrichment of its owners. The regard for the actual consumer is minimal to none. They exist to profit. Period. In this case, Adidas was set to not only exploit the oppression of the Black community, but have us buy our oppression back at a premium as well. When this kind of bank-rolled bigotry has occurred in the past, the Black elite’s response has been to call on these corporations to diversify their executive boards believing that placing Black faces in high places will provide the necessary stopgap measure to quell such racism. Instead what has occurred is that these Black VPs become defensive agents for the still majority-white owners against accusations of racism.
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why you’ve never seen a sneaker manufacturing plant in the hood? Given the amount of free advertising rap artists give these corporate brands and the ton of loot Black youth cough up to rock their sneaks, it would seem to make sense. Problem is that it doesn’t make cents. Adidas, like every other multinational corporation, sets up shop where they can find the cheapest labor to exploit enabling them to reap the largest net profit.
Right now the company is in hot water inLondon, and it is not over these “shackle sneakers” but another kind of shackles. Adidas’ reported use of sweatshop labor inIndonesiahas come under fire in light of the company being a main sponsor and apparel provider for the Olympic Games there next month. For child laborers working for Adidas what these shackles represent is not some throw-back to an American Antebellum past or a commercialized allusion to the incarceration of a consumer base. The shackles they wear – although not literal – are still quite concrete as they are caught in the vice-grip of a wage slavery that is inextricably linked to the record incarceration of African American youth.
Rather than calling on Adidas to offer a hollow apology that in the end would amount to good publicity for this degenerate corporation, we should demand an end to wage slavery and insist on the creation of unionized jobs in our communities – organizing to free both African American and Southeast Asian youth from shackles that remain all too real.
Ewuare X. Osayande is a political activist, cultural analyst and author of several books including Misogyny & the Emcee: Sex, Race & Hip Hop a book of essays. His latest is a collection of poems entitled Whose America?.