You have to credit Nike for at least making the effort to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s heritage in its own way yesterday. The shoe company passed out free sneakers to all the players, and several of the players, including the Wizards' Randy Foye, wore them during the game. Here's a picture I took of them in the Wizards' locker room yesterday.â†µ
If you're wondering why they're green, red and black, it's because those are the colors of the Pan-African flag. Pan-Africanism, of course, is a long-standing movement to unite all people of African descent across the world in brotherhood and solidarity. One of its precepts is the creation of a unified African state.
Here's the problem: Martin Luther King was not a leading Pan-African thinker. King was focused on ending racism in America, not with creating African brotherhood worldwide. Wikipedia, which can do no wrong, doesn't list King as one of the leading Pan-African thinkers. So, in an attempt to honor King's legacy, Nike essentially honored King for something he was not.â†µ
After the game, I asked Wizards center Brendan Haywood how he felt about Nike honoring Martin Luther King with Pan-African shoes. He paused for a long while, almost as if he didn't want to say something he regretted, and finally said "It was the idea [that counted]. We know it was to celebrate African-American heritage as a whole. Whether it's Pan-African, Martin Luther King, whatever. Today is African-American Day." Then, he raised his arms up, mocking a mass celebration, and said "Yay!" Not exactly a ringing endorsement.â†µ
So, to review: nice gesture, Nike, but let's try doing something that's truer to Martin Luther King's legacy next year, like an MLK patch on everyone's shoe.