It’s Black History Month, and things aren’t going well. Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia just admitted that he once wore blackface to moonwalk like Michael Jackson. Grammy-nominated rapper 21 Savage, who is orginally from the U.K., was arrested by ICE in Atlanta. And now there are these shoes that Adidas just dropped for Black History Month, then immediately canceled.
The shoe is entirely white, including subtle details like the grommets. If you were looking to create a metaphor for how literal whiteness has usurped a sneaker meant to commemorate black culture, you couldn’t come up with a more apt example than this sneaker. And then there’s the shoe’s name. It’s part of an existing franchise called the Ultraboost Uncaged, but in the context of African-American history, cages have a dark meaning, one linked to slavery.
Backlash came at Adidas almost instantly. On social media, consumers described how inappropriate they were, and Adidas officially removed it from its Black History Month collection. But the problems with the sneaker should have been pretty obvious from the beginning, so it raises the question: Who was in the room when they decided to go with this particular design? It doesn’t take profound insight into black history to realize this shoe would seem incredibly insensitive.
— Sal Velasquez (@SalV56) February 1, 2019
— Scholarly Mama (@scholarlymama) February 1, 2019
Adidas released a statement saying that the Ultraboost Uncaged was among several other designs created for Black History Month, all of which were inspired by the Harlem Renaissance. “Toward the latter stages of the design process we added a running shoe to the collection that we later felt did not reflect the spirit or philosophy of how Adidas believes we should recognize and honor Black History Month,” the statement reads. “After careful consideration, we have decided to withdraw the product from the collection.”
But a deeper question here is why have a Black History Month collection at all? If the goal is to honor the influence of African Americans in art, design, and streetwear, why not do it all year round? Otherwise, it looks like you are trying to capitalize on a month devoted to celebrating black culture to sell more sneakers.