This is bigger than sneakers.
It’s been a devastating few weeks for people of color across the United States — and these challenging days were preceded by decades of struggles, oppression and the near-constant stifling of minority voices.
Against the backdrop of a devastating pandemic that will define our lifetimes, the videos and stories depicting black men and women as victims of blatant racism flooded in — one by one.
And, as history has taught us, any and all of these tragedies could have been filed away under injustices of the garden variety.
Black people in America are used to it.
But this time, something was different.
An eight-minute video depicting the murder of Floyd — a 46-year-old unarmed black man — at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, has in swift fashion galvanized the nation.
Over the past several days, protests have erupted in Minneapolis, New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta as well as other major cities.
What’s more, sneaker (and other) brands that have long been staples in the wardrobe of many in the Black community have been roused awake and are addressing the reality that silence equals complicity.
Across its social media pages on Friday, Nike sent a clear message: “For once, don’t do it. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism. Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us,” the text of a black and white video read. “Don’t make any more excuses. Don’t think this doesn’t affect you. Don’t sit back and be silent. Don’t think you can’t be part of the change. Let’s all be part of the change.”
In many ways, this makes sense for the world’s most powerful athletic name. It’s on brand for the company that enlisted as the face of its anniversary campaign ostracized NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — whose anthem-kneeling to protest police brutality arguably cost him is career in professional football.
In an internal memo Friday, Nike Inc. president CEO John Donahoe told employees he “can’t stop thinking about the individuals impacted,” listing several people of color to die under controversial circumstances or face blatant racism in the U.S. in recent weeks.
Donahoe’s tone is also not dissimilar to a message sent by then-Nike-CEO Mark Parker in 2016, when he notably put his support behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
But something particularly symbolic happened this weekend.
Longtime Swoosh rival Adidas retweeted Nike’s video: “Together is how we move forward. Together is how we make change,” Adidas wrote.
To be clear, Nike and Adidas are staunch competitors with multi-billion-dollar market caps and the budgets to make big things happen at the snap of a finger.
Adidas could make its own video if it wanted to. This is bigger than “checks over stripes” (or vice versa).
A retweet is symbolic.
I’d bet Arbury, Taylor and Floyd owned at least one pair of sneakers by both Nike and Adidas.
It matters that brands that have long reaped the benefits of the black dollar have locked arms to defend the rights of black men and women.
Historically, the most crushing moments can often be the most unifying.
I, too, have wondered to what extent any brand message is about fortifying their balance sheets and to what extent it constitutes sincere support for a community that is hurting.
And, if I’m being honest, we will never know.
Right now, black people need more than tweets and inspiring marketing messages. We’ve all seen the social media comments urging brands to do more than this — to put money and action behind the idea.
I am hopeful that they will.
And if the viral videos of protests and outrage are any indication, I believe brands now know that they will be taken to task in due course if they don’t step up.