City Desk

Wearing Chuck Taylors Doesn’t Make You Special

Look. I love Chuck Taylors as much as the next person who went to high school in the '90s. There's a beat-up, 11-year-old pair of low-tops peeking out from under my bed right now. And I love Sublime the way any good native Californian should. But I found this essay in the Root D.C.—the Post's black-branded subsite—to be really irritating. (It also ran inside the print paper today.)

In it, Fahima Haque writes:

For six long years, I wore them almost every day. In a high school with more than four thousand people, my Converse were known as the rattiest pair. I held that title with pride. My chucks helped me talk to the boy who wanted to write a lyric on my right foot. Otherwise, he would never have had a reason to speak with me.

Those sneakers allowed me to be the person I wanted to be.

Getting my black and white pair coincided with my discovery of The Ramones, Dead Kennedys, The Distillers, Rancid, Sublime, basically anything with a power chord and scratchy vocals. Chuck Klosterman marveled at how the people who say punk rock saved their lives in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs genuinely believe it. Similarly, Chucks saved me. My Queens neighborhood didn’t value that aspect of me. So the shoes inextricably linked me to a world that understood me.

That I could fit in somewhere outside of the block with the kids who exclusively wore Enyce, velour sweatsuits and spent their time stringing up sneakers with the fat laces up on telephone poles.

This is a really roundabout way of saying that wearing Chucks separated her from those blacks. You know, the delinquent ones who only listened to rap and are probably all in jail now.

But more offensive than the stereotyping is the inaccuracy. Haque tries to tie her essay to the fights over the latest edition Air Jordans and notes, "the shoes I coveted would not register for today’s sneakerheads." Haque doesn't say when she was in school, but Chucks have been mainstream for some time now. One pal who grew up in D.C. writes on Twitter, "In high school everyone had multiple pairs of chucks so you could match your clothes." And another self-professed sneakerhead notes that it's "bollocks to try and claim that sneakerheads don't register Chucks," pointing to the front page of MAJOR, a D.C. footwear/streetwear retailer, where the top four latest products are all Converse brand.

It's fine to note that clothing choices helped you find your tribe. But that's the case for almost everyone with a little disposable income, and it's certainly not a sign that your experience was special and unique. Besides, fitting in with punk rockers isn't necessarily better than fitting in with hip-hop heads.

More broadly, though, this is my problem with The Root D.C. A lot of the essays on the (admittedly understaffed) site try to put a "black spin" on universal experiences with little data or even thoughtfulness. A few months ago, I reviewed it and noted that I liked the idea of it more so than the actual product. A window into everyday black life in D.C., in the style of the old school black press, would be a welcome addition to the paper that rarely publishes anything about this city's residents if trouble isn't involved. So far, we haven't gotten that—just more of the same ghettoized lifestyle writing that could apply to almost any group if you switched out a few adverbs.

Photo by daftgirly via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License

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  • noodlez

    Ms.Hilton-EVERY TRUE SNEAKERHEAD KNOWS THAT CHUCKS BEGAT DR. J'S WHICH BEGAT JORDANS. I HAVE FOUR PAIR OF CHUCK'S IN THE CLOSET. THEY ARE PERFECT FOR THE SUMMER!

    I USED TO VISIT THAT SITE OFTEN BUT WHEN WAPO SWALLOWED IT UP IT BECAME THE EQUIVALENT OF PUTTING A DASHIKI ON RON CHRISTIE AND TRYING TO SELL HIM AS A BROTHER.

    NICE PIECE.
    SLIM THE ONLY THING MISSING IS THE ALL CAPS!

  • Niiiice

    Shit, this is solid. Thank you so much.

  • CB

    (To consider a 140 character thought)

    First off, I agree with you on the Root, in 2008 and 2009, it felt like essential reading. These days, not so much.

    Still, when I read the article a few things stood out that made my reading different from yours.

    I agree, clothing choices do help you find a tribe, and the author's experience wasn't especially unique.

    That said, when I read the article, it was above a call for submissions about "people, places, pets and things" (to paraphrase) of sentimental value. In light of that, I don't know that it's justified to expect that *this* piece be expected to serve as a window, or be somehow representative of the DC black experience.

    Secondly, when I read it, as a NYer who attended a pretty diverse high school, looking at the last name, and the neighborhood in Queens, I assumed that the author was South Asian- maybe Bengali, not black. A quick perusal of some of the her other pieces gives credence to that notion.

    In short, I didn't feel like the author was denigrating sneakerheads that favored Jordan's, hip hope culture, blacks or necessarily elevating punk rockers. She's just reflecting on how her ratty shoes and the culture she associated with it, helped her make friends at a time where she wasn't sure where she fit.

    The Root DC's awkward brand positioning and throwaway headlines like "Chuck Taylors vs Jordans: Sneakerhead love goes head to head" (as opposed to a more benign one I think I saw earlir) muddy the picture, I admit but as you said that on the Post, not the author.

  • CB

    Blast! I totally meant to say continue*

  • Shani Hilton

    @CB -- you make definitely good points.

  • http://www.nowspot.com Silver Persinger

    Converse was purchased by Nike in 2003. Just another corporate shoe marketed as alternative/indy b.s.

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