I just . . . I just don't even know anymore.
Perhaps you've seen the new Adidas shoes that come complete with ankle shackles:
This Daily Mail article has a good discussion of why this product is so problematic (as if it's not already pretty clear), pointing to both the obvious reference to slave shackles and--as one dissenter noted--the allusion to the "prison industrial complex" (check out this infographic that compares education and incarceration spending, if you want to know more about that particular problem).
Right on cue, though, the comments are filling up with people who just can't see what the big deal is. Here are some examples:
And so on and so forth.
When I started the petition against Kraft's MilkBite commercials asking Kraft to stop portraying multiracial individuals as flawed, I received similar pushback. Commenters told me "people like me" and my "PC-ness" were "destroying America." One man told me my concerns made him want to jump of a building if "this is what the world is coming to" (and I was the one overreacting!) People say that they're "just commercials" and the Adidas sneakers are "just shoes."
These are probably the same people who thought that Vogue cover of LeBron James was "just a picture":
Look. I'm not telling you that you have to be offended over the same things I am. I'm not even telling you that you have to be offended by anything, ever. If you truly believe that all of these objects are "just" objects with no impact or referential value to the world around you, then you have that right, and I imagine that your life is indeed a lot simpler than mine. I'm not trying to take that away from you.
But that's not what I believe. I believe that these images and products are part of our culture and that our culture matters because it's not only a reflection of ourselves but a direct influence on our future. We internalize these messages and use them to inform the way that we view the world. So when people tell me to stop worrying about a commercial or a shoe because there are so many "real" problems in the world, it's precisely those "real" problems I have in mind when I'm complaining. Things do not get that bad in a vacuum; the ideas start somewhere.
So if you're not offended by sneakers that feature shackles around the ankles, I'm not going to tell you that you should be. You have the right to your own interpretations and experiences. But I am also not going to sit idly back and watch as people come forward in droves to try to intimidate and silence the people who are offended. Because do you know what? When you do that, you're not just taking the neutral stance you pretend to be, you're consciously perpetuating the problem. You're actively trying to maintain a culture where images like these are acceptable and if you truly didn't think that those images had meaning, why would you be so invested in making sure that no one complains about them?
So go ahead. Tell me that I'm ruining the world with my oversensitivity. Tell me that these are "just shoes" and "just commercials" and "just advertisements." Call me names. Try to shame me into silence. Everything I've learned about the world tells me that images have meaning, and I'm not going to forget that simply because it is too disrupting to a narrow-minded worldview perched upon privilege, and I'm not going to stop pointing it out.
After all, all those things you call me? They're "just words."