By Dr. Boyce Watkins, KultureKritic.com
I spent some time this week sharing my disappointment in the recent Nike decision to charge a whopping $315 for the new LeBron X sneakers that are set to go on sale this week. The images of poor kids in the hood lining up to spend money they don’t have to buy an overpriced piece of plastic literally sickens me. What makes me even sicker is that many of us have been so hypnotized by capitalist greed that we think it’s OK for corporations to exploit poor workers, and sit by silently while kids shoot one another over a pair of sneakers.
Of course there are more serious issues in the black community that we should be focused on, and the fact is that we are focused on those too. For some reason, critics aren’t smart enough to know that you can speak out against more than one thing at one time. So, do I still have an issue with mass incarceration, black unemployment, urban violence and inferior educational systems? Absolutely. But I have a big problem with Nike exploiting poor people too.
As a professor of Finance, I know capitalism quite well. I know about the capacity of free enterprise to elevate the quality of life for millions, and I also know how destructive capitalism can be when it is not regulated by either a moral compass or legislative action. Every negro going to church and pretending to be loyal to a figure named Jesus Christ is unable to claim such loyalty if they are willing to let children starve so the rich can buy a second Mercedes. There is nothing good or spiritually valid about looking the other way while evil men do their work.
I met Jim Keady just this week through Facebook. Jim sent over a link to his amazing documentary, “Behind the Swoosh,” which shows the conditions under which Nike factory workers in Indonesia are forced to live. In the video, Jim and a companion head to Indonesia to live with the workers and obtain a first-hand determination of what it’s like to live under the $1.25 per day salary that is paid to them by the corporation that sees no end to its financial extravagance. Nike has plenty of money, often showering celebrities with contracts as high as $100 million dollars. Sharing just a fraction of that money could make a tremendous difference in the lives of many of its workers around the world.
I highly recommend you watch the video. Jim shows how Nike factory workers live in “cement boxes” with 100 degree heat. The sewers are full of rats and disease, as feces that comes from the toilets goes right back out into the neighborhood. Even worse, the filmmakers show an area where Nike products are burned, producing toxic fumes coming from the plastic that is ignited in an area frequented by children. There is no way any decent human being can watch this documentary and not find himself/herself utterly disgusted by Nike’s business practices. Is it nothing to ask that they pay this company pay foreign workers a mere $5 per hour?
One of the biggest problems that some black people have is that they are only able to be sensitive to things that affect themselves or the person down the street. Even worse, there are some who simply want access to the things that white folks have, thus giving us the right to become just as vile as our oppressors. But the point remains that if you’re sitting up in the church every Sunday seeking to save your own soul while not giving a damn about the plight of your brother, then you’ve missed the lessons of Jesus altogether.
The documentary is below. I highly recommend it. I also stand by my point that LeBron James should use his power within Nike to ask that the price of his shoe be reduced. Greed is NOT good for the soul, it is not good for the world, and it is ultimately not good for America. It’s OK to stand up for what is right and live a life of purpose. The man who made this documentary is every bit as brave as any civil rights leader in history, for he gave up his entire livelihood to speak up about a grave injustice.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. To check out Dr. Watkins in the Janks Morton Film, Hoodwinked, please visit this link.