Nearly 19 years ago, when I was still working as an AT&T public relations specialist, a monumental corporate-wide brouhaha was sparked by some creative graphic artist who thought it was a good idea to use a cute little monkey talking on a telephone to designate the goliath’s customers in Africa on a map of the world. Every other country of the world appearing on that cartoon map showed human figures, also on telephones.
Many, if not most, of the readers of this post might be scratching their heads, thinking, whaaa???? But those of you who are Americans of African descent are crystal clear about the cause and effect of that infamous misstep.
In America, there are certain seemingly innocuous items that, when linked in a generalized way with African Americans, are potentially incendiary enough to cause heads to roll in corporate offices. Watermelon. Fried Chicken. Red Cadillacs. Apes. Monkeys. Baboons.
Standing alone, none of these words are particularly evocative. Use them in a description of a “typical” black person, though, and drama will ensue.
The person who approved the final rendering of that stylized map, which was used in an employee publication, was mystified by the rolling thunder that image caused among the company’s thousands of African American employees. Who could deny that there were gorillas in Africa?
AT&T apologizes for its 'racist cartoon' depicting African caller as a monkey - American Telephone and Telegraph
Fast forward to 2012. This time, the innocuous item in question is a pair of shoes.
These $350!!!!! pumped-up kicks were designed by quirky designer Jeremy Scott, shown above-right. Mr. Scott’s designs for Adidas have included many whimsical offerings based on cartoon characters, comic books, and kitsch.
Other Jeremy Scott for Adidas designs
So what’s wrong with them, other than their insanely high price point and their butt ugly appearance?
When I first saw them, I thought Scott was joking about the tendency in certain urban settings to get one’s shoes taken at gunpoint if said shoes are the latest iteration of “the latest.” It would be best to “lock” your shoes up, using the rubber leg shackle. That, of course, brings up a whole ‘nother point of contention: corporations targeting inner-city kids with must-have footwear that few of them can afford.
When Jesse Jackson first saw them, he thought American black slavery. He fumed that the shoes were an obvious racist reference to the shackles in which captured Africans were transported and enslaved.
The designer, who appears to be white? He says he based the shoes on a 1980s children’s toy called My Pet Monster, which has similar shackles.
On June 18, the German sports apparel manufacturer Adidas aborted its plans to market the Shackle Sneaker this summer, after its recent Facebook preview of the shoes caused considerable outrage.
So tell me, what do your eyes behold?