Racial differences are acknowledged

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Nike announced last week they are introducing a new shoe designed specifically for American Indians. The world's mega-shoemaker says the new shoes will help promote physical fitness among a population that is plagued by high obesity rates.

On the surface and since Nike acknowledges that any profits will go toward improving health for the Indian tribes, I commend Nike in acknowledging that there are indeed differences between cultures and ethnic groups.

But I also find it interesting that this brief news items simply slipped quietly through the news cycle.

The Native American shoes will offer three width sizes larger to accommodate the larger foot size for the Indian population and they will adorn the shoes with symbols that are part of the Indian culture - such as moonrises, sunsets, etc. The shoes will be called N7 in reference to the seventh generation theory whereby some tribes look to the three generations preceding them for wisdom and the three generations to follow for their legacy.

Just out of curiosity, what would have happened had Nike announced they were introducing a new shoe solely for whites? Or for blacks? And what if these shoes were molded for the difference in foot construction or adorned with symbols from white or black culture? Would there have been a public outcry? Would some have viewed this new model as somehow prejudice? Would Jesse and Al and company have boycotted Nike for their lack of sensitivity?

Nike somewhat quietly acknowledged that there are differences in different ethnic groups. Now when discussing shoes, it's a fairly trivial matter. And the manner in which they introduced the new models - by donating the proceeds back to the tribes - I suspect blunted any vocal opposition.

But under the radar for a number of years there has been this silent discussion concerning differences in ethnic groups. Most observers won't touch the topic with a 10-foot pole. To acknowledge any differences somehow is to open the door to discussing all differences. And therein lies that proverbial can of worms.

A famous sportscaster was once fired for publicly discussing his beliefs on why some athletes excel far better than others. In other words, he said there were different physical attributes that enhanced performance.

Well, Nike did the same thing but in a very muted fashion. And yet not one person paid one bit of attention.

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