The Racial Divide on … Sneakers
What the history of footwear reveals about a cultural divide — and the appropriation of African American style.
Everybody wears them sometimes: to run, to bum around the house, to move furniture. Some people wear them as a fashion statement. Others have been killed for them.
There have been murders over Air Jordans in black communities for years — yes, Air Jordans in particular. Sneaker-related violence is so infamous among African Americans that in December 2011, when Nike introduced an update to that model, a widespread hoax on the Internet had it that an 18-year-old named Tyreek Amir Jacobs was murdered while shopping for a pair.
Meanwhile, mostly white hipsters, rockers, and other subculture types perennially buy new Converse every fall. It’s comparatively rare to see them in Jordans or Dunks, and it’s virtually unheard of that they’re subject to sneaker-related violence. What accounts for the contrast?
Jordans and Chucks come from the same originary sneaker, a canvas plimsoll from the mid-19th century. Both are named after basketball stars (one black, one white, we might note). So why is the former Jay-Z and the latter Dylan? How did the first become associated with black street culture and the second with white-dominated hipsterism? And what happens when said mostly-white hipsters decide they want to wear dunks too — as they did in the mid-2000s, for about 10 minutes?