Just in time for Juneteenth, Adidas announces a new shoe design scheduled to hit stores this August. It’s a shoe with a shackle, so you too can experience a bit of the fun of serving on a chain gang.
The caption beneath the image of the shoe reads: “Tighten up your style with JS Roundhouse Mids, dropping in August. Got a sneaker game so hot you lock your kicks to your ankles.” An article on Indiewire.com suggests that the whole shackle and chain thing is potentially racist. I’ll take it one step further and say that the shoe with the prison-orange shackle is absolutely racist. Whether the use of the shackle is due to insensitivity or something more sinister, it’s ignorant and offensive.
The shoe is obviously being marketed to communities of color. And the irony of the timing of the advance marketing could not be more stark.
Juneteenth (June 19th) is, after all, Emancipation Day, a holiday celebrating the abolition of slavery. But the end of slavery opened a new era of neo-Slavery.
Soon after the end of the war, vagrancy laws were enacted throughout the South that targeted African Americans, especially men, criminalizing minor law violations, including simply being “idle,” as in, not in the employ of a white man. Thousands throughout the South were imprisoned under these laws and consigned to labor camps. Yup, the chain gang is a black thing, as in, a form of forced labor specifically targeting Black people. You can read more about it here.
Prisoners in shackles built much of the public infrastructure necessary to industrialize the South. Prisoners were also leased to corporations, including Northern businesses like U.S. Steel for whom they labored without consideration of their health and safety. The conditions were, in many ways, worse than they had been under slavery because there was little incentive to keep prisoners alive.
And because of fear of the chain gang, the Black population of the South was terrorized into staying under the control of exploitative employers. For every person enslaved as a convict, thousands more were scared away from changing jobs for fear of going unemployed and being accused of vagrancy.
This is the historical context for the new Adidas shoe. It may be unintentional, but it is nonetheless offensive. Until they take this shoe off the market, none of us should shop with them.