The Intersection of Sneakerhead Culture and Racism in the United States of America

  • Erin Gunduz University of Virginia


Sneakers are an omnipresent force in our modern world. Sneaker culture is effectively an encompassing platform that breeds self-expression and creativity. They have been a continuous presence throughout history, evolving in accordance to societal and cultural changes. Today, sneakers symbolize material status and wealth. However, this has brought on an abundance of sneaker-related violence within the United States, generally geared towards the Black youth. The reason for this type of violence can be attributed to several different components. Sneaker companies create artificial scarcity during sneaker releases, which maximizes product anticipation, consumer excitement and profit projections. This, closely coupled with significantly increased resale prices and glamorized advertisements (which sometimes also indirectly promote violence due to poor product name) transforms sneakers into a dangerous market. However, it is irrational to only place blame on an individual group. Rather, there are many other forces at play, representing a complex network concerning sneaker consumption and associated violence. Through extensive research and interviews, the exploration of the robust theory of consumption, in terms of class distinction theory and the transmission of taste, stimulated  further investigation into racial social membership and consumption habits. This has been used to explain that sneaker-related violence is a result of many different failings in society by means of societal imbalance of values and social class, and racial inequality. These issues have merely been highlighted with this form of apparel-violence. We must harness the powerful ability of sneakers to potentially bridge the gap between socioeconomic and racial groups across the United States.
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