You see how they're really trying to market things toward us, 50 Cent's response to seeing the Black Liberation flag on Limited Nike Air Force Ones worn by Big Tigger on Rap City's Tha Bassment
Whether its Adidas using icons Run-D.M.C. in the 1980s or Nike making those basketball-dribbling commercials synced with scratching and beats breaking today, there's absolutely nothing new about a sneaker and clothing corporation like Nike trying to attract young black and Latino buyers by connecting their image with some that the youth hold dear. The end result of these campaigns is usually that the corporation has relative success with sales and the youth are broke again, still living in despair with only a pair of overpriced sneakers to show for Nike's "interest" in our culture.
"Oh, hell no!" said Taina Delgado when she first saw the Puerto Rican flag embroidered on a pair of Nikes in 2000. Taina, who helps manage an address book full of musicians, including one recently nominated for a Grammy, finds it hard to keep a balance in an industry so caught up in appearance. "I'm the first to admit that I spend too much and care too much about my clothes. But they've got our nations on their sneakers like they care about us, like Nike actually represents us on that level. I remember thinking how they must have planned to hit Transit [a popular sneaker store] right before the Puerto Rican Day Parade. And I'm thinking, 'Damn, these bastards are really trying to capitalize on our culture. And they did . . . and still are."
Since then, not only has Nike released Limited Air Force Ones with the Puerto Rican flag, the company has also released a pair of Bo Jackson cross trainers with the Dominican flag. The list goes on to include a model called the "West Indies, sporting the aforementioned words in small red, gold, and green letters on the outside, with all the names of the islands on the insole.
And now, the most recent and most insulting Limiteds: Air Force Ones with the Black Liberation flag.
"Really, it's some bullshit attempt at making a Black History Month commemorative sneaker. [If] they wanted to do some lame shit for Black History Month they should have put Martin Luther King's face on the kicks," said M1 of revolutionary but gangsta rap duo dead prez. "That particular flag isn't even a country. Nike doesn't support the liberation of Africans whatsoever, so Nike has no business putting the Liberation Flag on their sneakers or any other products," continued M1. Being the revolutionary soul that he is, M1 came up with some demands to throw at Nike, since speaking out sometimes just isn't enough.
"Well, for one, they can give to the annual Black August Benefit Concert. But with no Nike banner at the concert or any other kind of strings attached, said M1. "We also want Nike to contribute to the reparations community led by Blacks with all their resources, money, sneakers, clothes, access to athletes, everything. Reparations is an issue in line with the strategy of liberation for African people.
Though not everyone was thinking as far ahead and in as much detail as M1, everyone was definitely on a similar page. Like Gregarious, a former a&r direrector.
"I still wear Nikes all the time even though I know about all the child labor shit, and I know it only cost them a few bucks to make a pair, and then they turn a around and sell it for a few hundred, which is what some of these Limiteds cost. In spite of all that, I still spend way too much money on kicks. But I draw the line at flags. What I look like paying Nike to wear my people's flag? Gimme a break," he said. Gregarious is a bit more aware of Nike's exploitive business sense, but the average consumer isn't thinking that far outside the shoebox. The average consumer is thinking, "Oh shit! Nike is representing for me and my country. Let me put my blue-collar dollar into that." It's not an option. Nike must give back.
Remember when a lot of rappers suddenly started wearing those sweatbands with the red, black, and green colors? Everybody from Jay-Z to Lil Wayne was sporting them, then everybody else. Funny how no one bothered to discuss what the colors mean or who Marcus Garvey was or anything even remotely having to do with liberation. And now, instead of forking over a few dollars for a wristband, unsuspecting consumers will be spending three figures on some sneakers. Open your eyes y'all. We're getting pimped. Get some get back. Think Banksta.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.