An Excerpt from: “You’re White, You Don’t Fight” Branding and Racial Imagery in the Media

 “Hero Worship”

Some corporations have to put in more effect than others to succeed, however, to other businesses profits come more naturally or from the identity of their CEOs. This is the case once again for Nike Air Jordan’s and Apple’s iPhone. The “great man” appears frequently to be an athlete, an entertainer, or a person of relatively trivial accomplishment, whose values exhibit superiority over our own.  Mass hero worship can lead to blind devotion to leaders. With the rebellious Michael Jordan and stubborn Steve Jobs, it is no surprise the two figures have such a devoted fan following.

Steve Jobs

Apple’s iPhone has considered its self to be the “Jesus” phone because their launching or new releases have been the biggest thing since Jesus coming back. Through “Hero worship” one can express their characteristic values. It reveals not only the traits we admire most but also our fields of interest. The term is described as an extravagant or excessive admiration for a personal hero. iPhone also has attracted many consumers through “Hero Worship”. Steve Jobs made his consumers feel like they were creative, “bad asses”, clever, and cool, an embodiment of who he was while building the Apple brand. This “hero worship” is then carried down as a reflection on the person’s products.

Just like the iPhone, Air Jordan has a “Hero Worship” following Michael Jordan. The shoe makes its consumer feel like an instant basketball hero that can soar through the sky landing the perfect dunk. The shoe is known to bring tons of media when a new release comes out. When Air Jordan shoes are released they get much more attention than the iPhone does, but rarely regarding anything positive.

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With such similarities such as attractive CEOs with rebel attitudes, brand loyalty, and costly products between company stories why is there a bias in the media? This reason is racial imagery in the media.

Racial Imagery

Helan E. Page (1997) refers to the media as “white public space”. In this “white public space” African American men are a threat. Seen as “incompetents with violent behavior and unembraceable” black imagery is set up so that only a few can succeed (1997:100). Page believes that even when a positive image is displayed the media still views it in a negative light because of white privilege.

According to, TheGrio.com “Nike Air Jordan sneakers have been more than a basketball shoe in the black community. They represent a strong relation to the black community. They have become everything from a fashion accessory to a status symbol”. Before the Air Jordan, all basketball shoes were white in color. This simple statement only begins to describe the sheer magnitude of the changes that were about to occur to the sport of basketball and to the athletic footwear industry once Michael Jordan entered the league.

Timothy Vercellotti and Paul R. Brewer (2006) then explain the distrust African Americans have in mainstream media. As an alternative, black media serves as a way for the “black perspective” to be heard and viewed. African Americans have a greater trust in black media because it has double as an advocate to its readers making it more believable and creating a since of group pride. Without this sense of pride that black media creates there could be cultural oppression caused from mass media.

Film artist Spike Lee is great at creating a perfect experience of the “black perspective”. When the characters in his film began to wear Air Jordan’s along with Spike Lee himself, is the beginning of the media’s association between African Americans and J’s. The website NiceKicks reported that Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do The Right Thing “became an instant classic with a powerful message”.

The movie has resonated in many circles, but upon the film’s 20th anniversary is celebrated heavily by the sneaker community. Besides literally every sneaker in the film being a Nike product, the movie illustrated a sneaker heads greatest fear as well as what love we have for our sneakers. This film featured the Nike Air Jordan IV’s in a hilarious scene where a black character gets his pair scuffed by a white cyclist. The black character chases the white cyclist until finally reaching him for a final confrontation.

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3_12jxsteelgrey_194795download Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Martin Lawrence in the Show Martin, Will Smith as the Fresh Prince of Bel Aire

Spike Lee was not the only one to shape this image. The hip hop community had a huge hand involved when artists began to perform in these sneakers. Actors in popular African American television shows such as Martin and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air once again reinforced the media’s link by wearing the sneakers while on set.

In the article Mass Media and Racism, Stephen Balkaran explained that racism in the media exists in other ways that cannot be viewed visually using Michael Reich’s Segmentation Theory (1999). This viewpoint explains racism in an economic point of view. In this theory, Reich proposes that the ultimate goal in society is to maximize profits. As a result, the exploiters will attempt to use any means to: (1) suppress higher wages among the exploited class, (2) weaken the bargaining power of the working class, often by attempting to split it along racial lines, (3) promote prejudices, (4) segregate the black community, (5) ensure that the elite benefit from the creation of stereotypes and racial prejudices against the black community (Balkaran: 1999).

“Cultural oppression is a primary source of the social problems experienced by African American and has placed them at risk of cultural estrangement, a weakened black collectivism, and spiritual alienation” (Schiele:2005). This describes the impact of slavery and past blatant prejudice against African Americans. Lastly, Channeling Blackness by Darnell M. Hunt mentions the term “black-white binary”. This describes the negative terms that are associated with the word “black” when heard through the media versus the word “white”. The later comes to the equation of:

 “Black”= African=savage=emotional=inferior=slave=bad when viewed by audiences.

The equation of “white”= European=civilized=rational=superior=free=good is total opposite and uses all positive terminology.

The overall image of African Americans is an undesirable one cross-culturally. According to Mary Beth Oliver’s article, African American Men: “Criminal and Dangerous”, African American men are seen as violent, aggressive criminals due to fictional crimes shows, reality television, and other type of shows. 84% of all crime stories out of black suspects pertain to violent rather than nonviolent crimes. This is very apparent when looking at the press attention on release days for Air Jordan and IPhones.

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Release Dates

When the time comes for Nike Air Jordan and Apple iPhone to have a new release it is bound to draw local media and long lines full of enthusiastic patrons.  Unfortunately, the portrayals of the company’s consumers are shown in opposing lights in the media. The media depicts the consumers of Apple as well-behaved while those shopping for Air Jordan are rowdy and disruptive. Reinforcing the negative terminology envisioned by the audience when using the terms “African American” or “black”.

To Be Continued….

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