Wednesday, 28 December 2011


Ken Berwitz

What do you call it when a company gets rich by convincing impressionable children - often of limited means - that spending a ridiculous amount of money for a pair of sneakers is somehow a significant, positive event in their lives?

What do you call it when that company then makes sure to release its newest version of the sneakers it has marketed this way around Christmastime - for three years running - which maximizes the buying frenzy it has so successfully created?

Excerpted from a truly disheartening article by Jay Scott Smith at

DETROIT - Since its debut in 1985, the Nike Air Jordan sneakers have been more than a basketball shoe in the black community. They have become everything from a fashion accessory to a status symbol.

"Jordans came out as a rebel sneaker," said Jason Johnson, a shoe expert and owner of Bob's Classic Kicks in downtown Detroit. "They were banned from the NBA because of the color. It came in as a rebel. Over the years, (Jordan) changed the whole game."

Jordan's iconic status made the shoes a must-have item, even amongst a group of kids who never saw him play in his glory days in Chicago: "These kids have seen the Washington Jordan, not the Chicago Jordan," Johnson said.

In the early 1990s, at the height of hip-hop's Renaissance period, the shoes became synonymous with rap music and hip-hop culture. In many cities -- including Detroit, Chicago, and New York -- the shoes became popular targets for thieves as people were often mugged, and in some cases killed, over Jordans.

"You saw it on all the Spike Lee movies and the hip-hop culture picked up on it," said Antonio Jones, a DJ and "sneaker head" from Detroit. "Once they embraced Jordan like that, it was like if you got his sneaker, you were the man.

When Nike debuted the Air Jordan 11 Concords -- a retro version of the most popular Jordans -- on Dec. 23, reports of fights, vandalism and other disturbances spread across the nation. The pre-Christmas shopping rush had a Black Friday feel to it as huge crowds of shoppers overwhelmed stores and nearly spawned riots from Seattle to Atlanta.

For the third straight year, Nike released the newest retro Jordans right before Christmas. In 2009, the Air Jordan 11 Retro 'Space Jams' were released, while the highly popular 'Cool Grey' Jordans came out last year, though neither came with the mayhem that followed the Concords.

"We're adults, it's nothing for us (to get shoes)," Johnson said. "We're not standing in line and waiting for them. We'll get online and do our thing. But these kids that are just standing in line, that's authentic." 

A story like this makes me want to cry.

This is culture?  CULTURE?  Hip hop, basketball, and the sneakers that are worn in Spike Lee movies? 

Is this some kind of a test to see how many racial clichs can be stuffed into one story?  It reads like a KKK handout.

 How proud Michael Jordan and Spike Lee must be to help instill such wonderful values in these children.

And just in case you aren't aware, Air Jordans list for $180 a pair.  But the demand - based solely on a slicker-than-slick marketing job by nike - has caused them to be sold for up to $1,000.

Is it even remotely fathomable that this makes sense for urban Black kids, many if not most of whom have limited funds?  That nike's marketing has generated so insane a level of fanatacism that "In many cities -- including Detroit, Chicago, and New York -- the shoes became popular targets for thieves as people were often mugged, and in some cases killed, over Jordans"? 

And assuming Mr. Smith's information is correct, why would we assume the only crimes related to Air Jordans are being committed against people who have already bought them?  How many kids do you suppose are mugging and killing to get the money to buy them in the stores?

What do you call a company that markets this way to Black kids, knowing that it gets this result?

How about unconscionable?  Sick?  Depraved?  

If you're looking for examples of racism - real racism - this just might be an excellent place to start.

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