Adidas Off-White

by Steven Underwood

Nothing worthwhile is found in the streets. Before this September, if I were to walk home from school, I’d assume to find the usual swaying my head low, scanning the ground to dodge the broken glass and eye contact: a used needle (Retail: $20 per pack of 100): tiny green ziplock baggies barely big enough to hold a raisin (Retail: $5.05 per pack of 100): black gum stains pressed into cement after years of tramples (Retail: brand varying, $0.75): shoestrings (Retail: $1.00).

Now, those were shockingly the most common, mostly browned with age, but always bound together with a shoe not too far off (Retail: $0.05). When I tilted my head just slightly, I could see clouds of cloth-stuffed sneakers of all colors. Some were cheap and others were expensive. I even recognized a few of them, mostly Brice’s Concords (Retail: $125), identified by a dried penny-sized stain on the black plastic toe that hydrogen peroxide couldn’t clean (New Retail: $70).

Mama used to say they belonged to boys like me, and when I asked what they were doing walking around barefoot, she simply looked at me with her soulful brown eyes. “They ain’t, baby.” she’d say and then I’d stop asking questions, before her fondness of my curiosity turned into frustration-and-anger.

There ain’t need to be explanations, neither. If they were found on the streets, they’d be picked up: whether by God or by the Devil. What use did they have for some shoes except to dangle them?

Today, I didn’t just find shoe strings. It was a whole damn shoe, brand-new, with the strings perfectly in tact if not a little strained from dangle-stress. The logo was a three-pronged weed leaf like it was plucked off one of those tacky Marijuana brand shirts — the kind Grove City kids wore over cargo pants when they came around the block to buy (Retail: $9.00) . They were hightops, with a velcro tongue dangling from the sides across from a plastic white buckle.

Retail Price: $450.

Last person to have a pair of off-white Adidas on the block was Yvone. Her mama was just as poor as the rest of us, but her step-dad had a trucker job on route from Columbus to all places south, one of the few fortunes of living in a warehouse plant like the 614. He didn’t spend his money on much that couldn’t be carried in-and-out of truck-stops, so she found it pertinent to guilt him into an early present. She wore them to the first day of Sophomore year into Mrs. Martin’s Remedial Englsh with an outfit she snatched after a raid at Eastland.

In fairness, Yvone looked cute. She bought a rainbow of ribbons from Target to tie into her ponytail (Retail Price: $2.00) and a pair of golden hoop earrings (Retail Price: $1.50 a pack). It didn’t entirely come together, but Yvone, like the rest, made due with what she had — a single luxury in a body of cheapness, made whole with personality alone.

Alex Little sucked her teeth at Yvone from across the crowded classroom as she snuck another selfie — one arm fully extended, both lips puckered, an unfamiliar joy in her eyes. It was an Obama phone (Retail Price: $50), flat and silver with a pink protective cover (Retail Price: $12.00).

“She swear she part Indian, but her Grandma blacker than a skillet bottom.” Alex said. My friend snickered, as did I, to my shame. It was just funny; she didn’t even get her shoes in her pic — just half a fit. It hadn’t occurred till after what happened that Yvone didn’t have any, not any real ones. Being friendless meant no full-body pics. Just lonely, close-up selfies down a long three-year digital archive.

They got Yvone across the street, in the alley behind the Walgreens. Alex and my friends made a game out of how many times they could knock her down or bloody her nose. Yvone’d been cursing first, then fighting her mightiest, before finally crying and then, silence. And by the time of the Silence, Alex and her friends already made the effort to snatch her her ribbons, her phone, her cover, both of her earrings and, obviously, both shoes.

She walked back home barefoot in a pair of cerulean-and-white ankle socks (Retail Price: $4.50). The last time anyone saw her, she’d turned down Brighton Rd., her tears dried into two shallow grey trains down her chin.

A month later, when the cops stopped caring to find her, Her mother dangled her shoes from the phone lines. They twisted there, with her name scribbled on the bottoms. I saw her daily in the Walgreens, a blurred picture of a colorful girl I recognized in a house I didn’t, beside an aged rendering that I never would’ve recognized even if she walked up on me on the streets. I wondered how long those strings would spin there before they’d snap.

These Adidas had no name on the bottoms. Just a blurred stain.

The clam shell color was hardened, but striking all the same.

I stuff the shoes into my all black satchel and make my way home with a dedication to my stride. The morning felt defeated with silver in the skyline of the City itself.

Trauma and What I’ve Made of Isaiah Hickman’s Emoblackthot

Do we care about Trauma, today?

In 2013, I was deeply traumatized by an experience at a PWI culminating in the creation of my record, the first time I’d ever been in handcuffs and the development of my more serious contest with Adult depression. The memory of my paralysis before the prison hue of orange and the overwhelming terror of midnight suffocation are not things I can easily escape some six years later.

So, when I say Emoblackthot’s story of trauma and deception is not entirely what the first reaction would impress upon us. According to Isaiah Hickman’s testimony of experience and pain, he has endured something of a significant trauma both on his own Blackness and his own sexual agency, admitting to have survived a sexual assault earlier in his new adulthood.

Culminating with the habit of mistrust and suspicion, an account that was originally started to act in a sense of healing was born. In truth, nothing about this singular act is problematic. While many perceive a sense of entitlement within social media and creatives who employ it for branding’s identity, time and energy, they are not and it’s factually insensitive to assume you can have access to someone’s entire being, particularly if their own mental health is at stake.

A lesson that I have had to follow ever since my own battle with suicidal ideation and depression caused by a tic-for-tact on the very same app that Emoblackthot branded for his own wellbeing and health. In honesty, I was confused by where Hickman could’ve seen that he’d be in trouble for revealing himself, at first. On some level, I grew suspicious that he was suffering from the same sense of entitlement and access that I had been had one point: a guilt for not giving 100% of my all to people who’ve I’ve never met in my life.

I know too well that mistakes I’ve made personally because I was not, could not process the realities that my race almost destroyed me, and that someone else preyed after my being through the tight river of our relationship and trust. It fucks up your ability to ever want to be seen again. Today, despite my own publicness and outward energy as a middling writer and a larger than myself medium of my craft, I still hate the idea that I can be seen, read, consumed by anyone and everyone.

I’m terrified. I can’t stand it.

However, when we dig deeper into Hickman’s story and history as Emoblackthot/Madblackthot, we uncover a truth of the matter that I overlooked.

There was a time when Hickman envisioned himself as a Black woman not just in pronoun use, but in personality and lived experiences.

Blackness as a culture is obsessed with Authenticity. Who can do what, who has lived what, and how that has realistically informed whom and what they are. This ism ostly because Blackness is a form of Ethnostate in America — and without a language, Blackness has to identify itself in specific qualifiers, motions and ways of life.

One could easily make the argument that gender identity, being the lucid thing we want it to be on social media, shouldn’t matter in this situation; after all, I personally did not see emoblackthot as anything outside of the they/them pronouns I could deliver (thought, I DID envision Black femme-hood in some way).

But, that’s not the case here. There was no intent for Isaiah Hickman to have believed his reflection of being a Black woman. There are even dangerous cases of Hickman himself soft blocking individuals for outing Isaiah’s lived Black male-ness. And in that lies what Isaiah should feel some form of shame for and uphold a level of accountability.

Black women are allowed to feel whatever they feel on the personal journey to their identies being infringe and stolen by a culture that will do anything, but respect them. When we’re discussing the culture of Blackness that is being robbed in mainstream media, we are discussing the actual way Black womanism and feminities’ birth rights and creations are robbed from the proverbial cradle.

The accounts who are revealing stories of opening up to Isaiah Hickman’s emoblackthot are honestly shattering; particularly, because Isaiah Hickman himself seems to have internalized the reality of what he has done in his trauma

And there lies the thing that many aren’t investigating within Hickman: the trauma of it all. The reality that, perhaps, Hickman’s actions were not an intent to mock Black women, but a mad rush to invisibility. If in truth Isaiah has done what he has done not in honest realization that he was emulating an experience, rather than rejecting a reality that was in some way dangerous to a clean slate of healing, is he wrong?

Yes.

He is.

However, our thinking around what is authentic here is wrong. A lack of acknowledgement of the intent behind his actions is wrong. Accountability requires us to chastise accordingly to what we are looking at, the nuance of the thing, so that we find the heart of the matter at our feets. In this, we are not providing proper accountability if we do not actualize everything we as a community and culture have stated about the grand crime of trauma.

If we believe that there is error and flaw in the act of pain, that Black men are routinely subject to a specific set of standards and pigeonholing and the internalization of this creates a wrongness which expels itself in a variety of ways, then what are we to make of the ways we should be holding Isaiah Hickman accountable for his actions.

We do not make this arguments to uphold a praxis — that checkboxes are the entirety of the thing we are criticizing, not the spectrum of the problem and where the person stands on that spectrum. We uphold that we look at people completely and wholefully, because there is a portion of this problem that is easily repeatable, unless we express our anger without lying or denying the things we are really looking at.

And none of this is really about protecting someone because I empathize with them, or because of their clout on social media, or because I am a writer — in truth, this is about caring about the thing I feel we should be looking at ALSO.

Or not. I could be wrong.