By Demetrius D. Walker
Being the owner of a streetwear line, I try to stay semi-fresh… well at least when there’s a chance I might be seen by people outside my inner circle. Otherwise, I’m rather comfortable rocking my funky, old, grey sweatpants and a dangerousNEGRO tee. I’ve never gotten a rush out of spending exorbitant amounts of cash to impress others or fill a subconscious insecurity. This is not to say that I haven’t made any purchasing mistakes (uhh buying a brand new BMW 1 year into my professional career on the advice of my girlfriend). Like most Americans, I have succumbed to the pressure of “keeping up with the Jones’” from time to time. Even still, I realize that our current system of consumer driven capitalism has desensitized us to the world’s ills and shields us from what is most important in life.
Though these thoughts have been floating around my mind for quite some time, I wasn’t inspired to write this article until an incident at the Houston Galleria this week. After striking a deal with It’s On Fashions to carry dN|Be Apparel, I perused America’s 4th largest mall looking for new fashion trends. I decided to stop in Sneaker Lab to get some ideas on color schemes for our tees. Looking at the new Dunks, Forces, and Jordans, I concluded that purple and teal are still king in urban wear. Before I left the store, the owner told me he had something special for me – a pair of Air Yeezy’s, size 11. “Yo I’ll give them to you for the low low… $700 for the white ones and $750 for the grey joints” he said with a straight face. Internally, I was thinking “is this dude out of his @#$%* mind?!” He promised me it was a good deal and encouraged me to at least see them in person. I declined and hauled @ss out the store. 700 ways to better spend that sum of money scrolled through my cerebral cortex on the drive home. “What kind of person justifies a purchase for sneakers that expensive?” I thought. “People trapped in capitalism’s matrix” was the only conclusion I could comfortably surmise.
Ever since watching Neo choose the red pill in The Matrix, I have been highly skeptical of the way the world operates. Never would I allow myself to succumb to Herd Mentality I vowed. No matter how calm the climate in my environment, I know there are people facing storms elsewhere.
In 2008 I was able to travel to Arusha, Tanzania where I learned valuable lessons which reinforced my philosophy. Once I got settled, the first place I visited was the downtown market. For an American accustomed to shopping at Wal-Mart, Kroger, and the classic mega mall, the Arusha market would have seemed primitive, unsanitary, and unpleasant. There were chickens running aimlessly, merchants cutting fish on wooden stumps, and tons of non refrigerated produce exposed in the open air market. Nevertheless, the residents of Arusha were eager to show me that they had access to food. As an obvious tourist, I began to attract a significant following of locals during my walk through the market. Near the end of my market tour, two 6 year old boys approached me for money. My natural inclination was to ignore the young men in order to not attract an even larger crowd of beggars. In broken Swahili, I tried to tell them that I had no money. In their tattered clothing they began to point to my shoes. I was wearing a pair of grey Jordan IIIs worth over $100. How could I not afford to give them some change when I walked through their town with 3 months worth of food on my feet?
Later that summer, I participated in a youth camp in Colorado for Black children adopted by White families. One of the families insisted that I meet their daughter, adopted from Ethiopia. As I was introduced to the shy, innocent, young lady, I had no idea her story would bring tears to my eyes. She had witnessed the murder of her mother at the hands of her father. Starving and desperate to feed her family, the girl’s mother had stolen a potato from the local market. Upon coming home and seeing his family eat the potato, (which he knew they could not have afforded to purchase), the husband grew irate. When his wife confessed that she had stolen the vegetable to save their family from starvation he beat her to death… in front of the children. To put things in perspective, I purchase a 10 pound bag of Russet potatoes for $3 every time I shop for groceries. This girl’s mother was murdered for a single potato.
So what drives Americans to feel justified in purchasing severely overpriced items that serve no benefit to the greater good of society? I’ve heard several excuses which make my skin crawl. Speaking with women I am close to, the common rationale is that they feel they “deserve to have nice things”; whether this is the result of them having worked hard or it is an inherent birthright, they believe there is nothing wrong with coveting designer handbags, shoes, clothes, and accessories. Typically, the more expensive the item, the more they want it. Some will even save in small monthly increments so they can feel guilt free when they finally amass the capital to purchase said items. Can someone please tell me why it is so important to carry around your wallet, cell phone, and other miscellaneous junk in an $800 purse when people die over potatoes in other parts of the world? Do you really need a $300 pair of pumps to match the dress that you will wear only a couple of times in a given year (for fear of being caught dead in a repeat outfit)?
Men are not exempt from my scrutiny either. Fellas, if you’re buying Air Yeezy’s for $700 you should be ashamed of yourself. In fact, if you’re spending anywhere in the triple digits for your sneakers, you should reexamine your life. Last night I saw Soulja Boy spend 12K at the Louis Vuitton store on TMZ. I wished with all my heart that I could have reached through the screen and smacked his kufi off. What has Louis Vuitton, Gucci, etc. done to improve the lives of people across the Black Diaspora? Are you just wearing this crap so you can feed your own ego and make others think “he must have money to burn because he’s wearing a $500 shirt?” If you have the money to waste on luxury goods that benefit no one but the company you purchase them from, why not spend it on something constructive instead?
My belief is that the pursuit of the almighty dollar has corrupted people’s vision and impaired their judgment on life’s values. Because most people cannot imagine existing in a world where financial gain is not the number one priority, it is difficult to prevent them from being slaves to currency. When you believe that “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” (C.R.E.A.M courtesy Wu-Tang), there is no way to detach yourself from the rigors of attaining money for the purpose of spending your way to your coveted lifestyle. Essentially, you are trained to swallow the blue pill of conformity – get money and spend what you can since you worked hard to get it in the first place. After all, you deserve it right? Wrong. You may have earned your income legitimately and labored great hours to get it. Does that justify throwing it out the window on luxury goods? Swallow the red pill for once. Open your eyes to the shortcomings of your community, your city, your state, your country, your planet. Before you give Louis Vuitton and Mercedes your hard earned cash, think about how that same money could impact the homeless (humans and/or pets), the poor in 3rd world countries, and families in your neighborhood. I challenge you to exit the matrix, which wants you to ignore society’s pains so you can spend, spend, spend to keep this capitalism machine running. I’m talking to YOU Neo! In the words of Morpheus “Remember, all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”