Friday, July 13, 2012

Hip Hop, Mass Incarceration and the Shoe Wars

The "shoe wars" have escalated in urban America to the point that Adidas recently believed that marketing the shoes pictured here (immediate left) was a good idea.  Jason Whitlock recently responded with a thoughtful article tracing the shoe wars back to Air Jordans, Reagan's War on Drugs and mass incarceration.

Whitlock writes:  "The outraged, well-intentioned critics of Adidas’ initial decision to launch the 'JS Roundhouse Mids' are upset about the wrong thing. They think the shackled shoes are connected to America’s despicable history of African-American slavery. They’re wrong. The shoes are an attempt to capitalize off America’s despicable drug war and subsequent mass incarceration of minority men of color."

Whitlock connects the shoe wars with Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow," identifying the massive incarceration increases in the United States in the last thirty years based primarily on a failed drug war, and recognizes that when you have a massive prison underclass, it becomes a potential profit stream at which marketing efforts can be aimed.  In this way, the shoe wars have escalated to the point that placing shackles on basketball shoes seems like a smart marketing ploy to misguided shoe designers sitting in Adidas' development meetings.

Indeed, the National Basketball Association has sought and continues to seek to profit from urban, hip hop and prison culture, while at the same time distancing itself (see NBA Dress Code as Pre-text for Racial Discrimination) from that very culture that it hopes to exploit for gain.


  1. The thought was really great, such a great writer, I also referred to the 2nd article about racial discrimination and that was really excellent.
    Ashley | Olympics 2012 London

  2. This is a timely article. My colleagues in rhetoric/communication have been talking about this extensively. There's also a discussion at The Faculty Lounge about these shoes: I don't know what we make of this or where we begin to critique it, but we should keep this discussion going.

  3. thanks nick. i think whitlock nails the discussion by tying the shoe design to hip hop and the prison culture that the failed war on drugs has inspired. i imagine that in some small development room somewhere, adidas employees were debating the next "hip" shoe design and some of these youngsters believed that shackles on shoes was the next cutting edge design. paul butler has a lot to say about minority communities accepting prisoners back into their neighborhoods with welcoming arms based on the overwhelming number of african american and latino men that are casualties of the "war on drugs," in his terrific book "let's get free: a hip hop theory of justice."


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