After revealing its new “shackle shoes,” online this week, Adidas quickly dropped the concept when pretty much the whole world pointed out that the construction was reminiscent of slavery and not in the best taste (or even close). The fact that the design even made it that far raised age-old questions about how companies manage to fill boardrooms with people who are tone-deaf about America’s troubled racial history and its effect on how their products will be received.
But is Adidas actually racist for conceiving of the footwear? Many, including the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s fashion columnist, Elizabeth Wellington and the experts she talked to, think that while privilege and insensitivity were indisputably at play, hurling the R-word at a pair of shoes misses a chance for more nuanced — and more important — conversations.
Scott, a white, avant-garde fashion designer known for dressing Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Lil Wayne, said he modeled the shoe after American Greetings’ 1980s plush, purple My Pet Monster doll. A quick look confirmed that Scott and Adidas were guilty of tackiness — even ignorance. But racism? Not so much.
James Peterson, director of Africana studies and an associate professor of English at Lehigh University, put it perfectly.
“White people have the privilege of not acknowledging black history — that’s how you get dumb moves like this,” he said. “But if you really want to talk about sneakers, let’s talk about how much black people are spending on sneakers every single week. Those are the real chains right there. Let’s deal with them.”
Read more at the Philadelphia Inquirer.