Growing up in West Philly, there have been too many opportunities for me to witness the economy of longing and absence. Addiction plagues most neighborhoods, and violence terrorizes their streets. Luxury floats around you sometimes. You always see it, but it’s unobtainable, and that instills a sense of oblivion within you. Multiply the many delicious things denied to you by the very nature of one’s Blackness, and it becomes impossible to not understand why Black men have a desire for materialism. Why having something is worth sacrificing anyone’s everything.
They say the first luxury a Black man buys when he gets money is often a car because cars give access to a broader territory than what you were used to. However, I disagree with this. Because the first luxury these Black men, lost in their desires and burdened by their wants, ever buy is a pair of sneakers: Air Jordan’s specifically — and that’s my problem with the culture.
I was roughly fifteen when the Concord 11’s dropped nationally for the 2011 release; I lived in Columbus, Ohio at the time, a metropolitan at the heart of Ohio often stereotyped as uneventful despite its local moniker of “Killumbus.” And everything this has come to entail after the Columbus education system experienced several “hiccups” in 2009 which included the failure of a school levy meant to revitalize the funds for student extracurriculars and transportation; a levy that would see the termination of everything from athletics to afterschool tutoring to clubs and school buses and transportation.
Once it failed, many at-risk students who saw athletics as their only escape from poverty immediately succumbed to local crime. The mobs of students who would wander home from school at 3:20 PM once every student and teacher were evicted from the premise promptly at 4:00 PM — many of whom would’ve depended on a school bus — would go about their business: selling and buying in the free time offered. Rumor had it that one unfortunate afternoon, a friend of my sister with some level of interest in basketball was reported to have gotten his hands on a Glock and accidentally shot his girlfriend. Last I heard, he was still in prison.
American media has a fascination with rabid dedication, much like its fascination with violence and consumerism.
Of course, a referendum was immediately proposed after two students were hit by cars on their way home, two separate riots sprung out along Demorest road, in Southwest Columbus and the shoplifting among local stores skyrocketed. Students were given extracurriculars back (with a substantial pay-to-play fee), but the damage was already done. The community had proven that it saw its future as inconsequential.
When the Concord 11s dropped in 2011, the news reported lines wrapping around several city blocks for the men’s release. Reporters made light of the events as a sign of fervent dedication. American media has a fascination with rabid dedication, much like its fascination with violence and consumerism.
That same day, a friend of mine told me his mom wouldn’t let him go to the store to pick up his pair in line. We did the normal teen thing and complained about her bugging: we mocked the justified reality of a Black mother’s worry.
What resulted in the weeks following the release of the Concord 11’s was the bloodiest slew of crimes for a single material release I think I have ever seen as of 2020. The news had a report almost hourly: several bodies in Atlanta, another in Oakland, Compton had a few before the end of the month. I was reminded of the one gold chain I ever owned, gifted to me by my mother — which I didn’t have a shot of not losing — and how my mom would frantically demand I tuck it under my collar whenever we walked. Even when we moved out of Philadelphia and into its suburb in Willingboro, New Jersey, my mom’s worry never vanished: she knew that no matter where we went, someone would want from me if they saw that I had it.
One life boiled down to a few hundreds of dollars…
At the time, my mom and my friend’s mother blamed Black folk in general — some genetic defect within melanin that contributed to panic and hysterical aggression. But, I’ve experienced the passionate fire and pride within the spirit of Black folk when poor Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown were stolen from our transcontinental family, and I do not think we, by nature, are inherently poisonous to one another. I don’t believe in crabs and barrels, because I have seen images of Black women glaring down tear gas and batons all because they loved these kids they never met. And they saw their own beloved little men in those frozen images splayed across the media.
However, I did pose a question about where Michael Jordan was in all of this. MJ was a figure perhaps more beloved than our recently departed Kobe Bryant. When Kobe dropped his shoe line, the fervor was never as rabid as any time during a Jordan drop, but it was certainly better than Shaq’s — a shoe line infamous for being a clout-killer on any schoolyard (if Shaq’s had a clout point score, it would assuredly be in the negatives).
On my screen nightly were Black men dying for MJ’s product. There was no care for the demise faced by these Black men. I thought back to the levy’s failure, and the lack of interest in what was going on with the students in our demographic expressed by the community. Some adults, parents, even voiced that they didn’t honestly care because their first interest was their pockets, despite the actual tax increase would be $2.50 per week, the price of a bottle of name-brand pop (translation: soda).
Everyone in my school wanted these shoes, but I just kept remembering the amount of people dying. One life boiled down to a few hundreds of dollars and silence from the man at the head. My friends and I found a video on Youtube of Michael Jordan on stage with Oprah and Charles Barkley explains why His Airness doesn’t give money to the homeless when he sees them. It’s compared to tough love, but there’s no love involved. It’s the profit of supply and demand.
I haven’t bought a pair of Jordans in years. Sometimes, I feel like I am missing out on a bold Black male experience in this decision. Maybe, I’d fit in a bit better with today’s conversations on raffles and limited releases. My closest friend, Gerard, has a collection close to the 40s of shoes — both Yeezy’s and Jordans alike. I once rigged a room of computers — almost 25 open browsers — to a raffle to secure him several shoes. He offered to grab me a pair, and I refused. The offer might’ve brought us closer, but there is something intrinsically sick about the process of the shoe game with Black men.
And it’s a culture of consumption that I don’t want to eat or be eaten in.