The current news cycle is replete with stories of the debacle that was the attempted release of a new Adidas sneaker, JS Roundhouse Mids. Designed by Jeremey Scott, the colourful hightop - which also included shackles - has managed to upset many who saw the shoe as racist and insensitive to the slave past of the African American population.
What ensued was a virtual social media firestorm which ultimately forced Adidas to cancel the shoe's release. "The design of the JS Roundhouse Mid is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott's outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery,” Adidas said in a statement. “Since the shoe debuted on our Facebook page ahead of its market release in August, Adidas has received both favorable and critical feedback. We apologize if people are offended by the design and we are withdrawing our plans to make them available in the marketplace."
My feelings on all of this are a mixed bag of potatoes. For one, I don't find the design neither particularly pretty nor practical. Shackles, hand cuffs or bondage of any sort do not a beautiful shoe make, and I certainly wouldn't want to be thus attached to my footwear. But my mind didn't necessarily go to slavery or racism. Mind you, while I have seen my share of troubles, slavery isn't a part of my historical heritage (or burden).
Which is why, more than anything else, I believe this to be a case of a cultural misunderstanding. In fact, if we pay attention to the origin of the upset commenters on the Adidas Facebook page they appear to be largely (African) American, which although an important constituency for any sneaker producer, surely isn't the only one. The rest of the world may like or dislike the design, but isn't necessarily offended by it. That fact, however doesn't lessen the blow to those who are reminded of America's painful past by this (ugly) shoe.
Which leads me to an important conclusion: in today's day and age of global markets, social media, direct access and immediate communication, understanding each other's cultures and sensitivities is becoming an even broader concept than before, transcending geographic vicinity. The tools available to us, more than ever before, provide us with an incredible opportunity to tune in, educate ourselves and further promote cultural dialogue and understanding.