Nike Desecrates Black History Month With a “Special” Shoe

There are few things more sacred than the blood of those who laid down their lives so that yours might be better. The men and women who sacrificed everything so you could experience a level of hope, optimism and opportunity they knew full well they would never see are at once humbling and worthy of pride and reflection.

Black History Month has this sacred resonance for me. It represents an annual period of reflection to remember and honor those who suffered centuries of enslavement and brutality, countless random acts of terrorism and the constant indignity of second-class citizenship in their own homeland. It also provides the opportunity to highlight those who defied the odds and bravely navigated treacherous circumstances in order to triumph.

Yet for Nike, one of the world’s most profitable multinational corporations, black history — my history — has been callously reduced to just another revenue stream. For the past decade, Nike has used this annual sacred period of remembrance as nothing more than a marketing tool to sell even more of its obscenely overpriced athletic shoes. But this year, after a period of blatant injustices and renewed resistance and activism at home, the annual release of its Black History Month line of sneakers and apparel was met with righteous indignation. Let’s hope Nike gets the message.

Nike has engaged in nothing less than the outright picking of the pockets of African-Americans for decades. It all began in the, when the brand teamed up with the National Basketball Association’s brightest star, Michael Jordan. The marketing psychology behind the move was brilliant: Associate the swagger and unique excellence of perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game with the imagination of millions of people, largely in urban America, who have spent the better part of their youth with unobtainable hoop dreams. And then wildly inflate the prices on those products, such that shoes made on the cheap are then sold for hundreds of dollars, instantly boosting a pair of sneakers to luxury status and making it an immediately recognizable marker between the haves and the have-nots.

The plan couldn’t have worked more perfectly.

From the very beginning, Nike’s now flagship product, Air Jordans, were so highly valued yet still for many so wildly financially out of reach that this now luxury sneaker became the inspiration for murder. Beginning in the mid-1980s and continuing through 2014, people — primarily black people — have lost their lives over their Air Jordans. How ironic that a history already bathed in blood is now being “honored” by Nike through the production of shoes that have led to the spilling of even more blood.

And what has Nike done in return for the exploitative and sometimes fatal level of consumer loyalty that it has received from the black community for well over two decades? Almost nothing.

When it comes to Nike’s philanthropic work, the casual observer would be hard pressed to find any evidence of a mission that reflects the concept of giving back to those who have given it so much. While the Nike Foundation focuses the bulk of its attention on improving the lives of women and girls throughout the world — a laudable goal, indeed — its domestic work has been almost singularly focused in two states: Oregon and Oklahoma. Ironically, these two states have a particularly deep and egregious history with white supremacist activity spawning from the KKK. And of course, these states are also hardly reflective of the demographic makeup of its primary consumers.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2014, nine years after the launch of its Black History Month line of shoes and apparel, that Nike announced the creation of the Ever Higher Fund. Said to have been started by the corporation’s black employees, this initiative pledges to donate up to $1 million of the money made from the sale of its Black History Month collection to underserved communities. Yet for a company whose CEO, Mike Parker, as late 2012 took home over 30 times that amount in salary alone, a $1 million donation is next to nothing. In fact, this initiative is so devalued, it hasn’t even merited a mention on the Nike Foundation’s website, a space that proudly proclaims its other charitable work in the U.S. and around the globe.

I have a suggestion for Nike: If you really want to honor black history, start by discontinuing the practice of reducing the blood of my ancestors to a pair of overpriced, homicide-inducing athletic shoes and instead invest more of the $8 billion you earned in the past quarter alone into the community that is the single biggest driver of the obscene level of wealth you enjoy to this very day.

Avis Jones-DeWeever is a writer, political commentator, social entrepreneur and leadership strategist. Sign up to be notified of the launch of her blog at AvisJonesDeWeever.com.

This article was first published by Al Jazeera America.

More articles by:
September 20, 2018
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead