What's My Superpower?: The Interconnection that Exist Through Sneakers and the Commodification of Blackness

Cameron S Hooks, Fordham University


My research examines the interconnection of Blackness and sneaker culture, rooted in sports (predominantly basketball) and Hip-Hop. In the midst of the 20th century sneakers became attached to African American cultural expression. Through marketing, the internet, Hip-Hop, Michael Jordan, and other factors have led sneakers to be staple in households across the world, which at one point the culture of sneakers seemed juvenile and meaningless. Where sneakers were once a means of expression for marginalized groups, they have now become a universal staple of consumer culture, In this thesis, I propose that cultural appropriation exists inside the sneaker industry. Using New York City as my case study, I explore the rich history of sneaker culture, and pivotal moments in pop-culture that have shaped a statement of cultural expression into an entire commercial industry. Pulling from mass media and archival publications; articles, documentaries, newspapers, and other informal resources, I trace the way in which sneakers have become so ingrained into the common individual's psyche, turning them into one of the most popular fashion staples in the industry’s history. There is a very clear cause and effect correlation between the growth/profit the sneaker culture/industry has experienced and the commercialization and marketing of Blackness. Less than 12% of the sneaker industry is owned by the Black demographic (Bunn, 2021), yet almost 80% of athleisure increase are due to African American endorsements. Nike released a sustainability report in March of 2021 that opened with a word from its president and chief executive officer, John Donahoe, saying, “Our brand would not be what it is today without the powerful contributions of Black athletes and Black culture.” In order to supplement existing sources of information, I also conducted semi-structured, open-ended interviews with key figures in New York City’s sneaker industry. Due to the fact that the field research component of my thesis coincided with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was only able to interview 3 participants. However, due to their key roles within the sneaker industry, they were able to provide key insights, and I was able to retrieve a large amount of information on the sneaker culture and industry. Each participant represents both the culture and the industry, which allows us to understand their interpretation of culture and industry and its current status. Analyzing the growth of sneakers allows me to stress the fact of the influence Blackness has had in sneaker culture. My thesis research presents the opportunity for sneakers to be considered a field of study in academia.

Subject Area

Fashion|African American Studies|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Hooks, Cameron S, "What's My Superpower?: The Interconnection that Exist Through Sneakers and the Commodification of Blackness" (2022). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI29207442.