|Do not adjust your monitor. It's meant to look like this.|
The running shoe giant finds itself on the back foot in respect of its decision to nickname a new sneaker the "SB Dunk Low Black and Tan", a choice which the LA Times described, with perhaps a little hyperbole, as "akin, in some circles, to naming a sneaker the Taliban or the Nazi."
The controversy stems from the fact that, apart from describing the colour combination seen in the shoe itself, "Black and Tan" has two very different meanings. It is the name given to an alcoholic drink consisting of half a pint of stout, and half a pint of ale or lager combined in a pint glass (if poured carefully the black stout sits on top of the tan-coloured ale). For those who know their Irish history, however, the name "Black and Tans" has a less appealing resonance, it being the nickname given to an auxiliary police force who served in Ireland during the 1920-1921 War of Independence ostensibly to keep the peace but who in fact were renowned for indiscipline and brutal attacks on the civilian population. The Manchester Guardian newspaper in 1921 explained the phrase "Black and Tans" to its readers as "The Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force of 7,000 ex-soldiers, a byword for brutality". Not surprisingly this reserve force was almost universally unpopular in Ireland, the name retaining its negative connotations to this day.
All of which leads to Nike's apology: "This month Nike is scheduled to release a version of the Nike SB Dunk Low that has been unofficially named by some using a phrase that can be viewed as inappropriate and insensitive. We apologise. No offence was intended."
The IPKat does not doubt for a second that Nike's apology is genuine, or that anybody involved even suspected that the name might have such negative connotations.
However, the IPKat does wonder about the implied suggestion that Nike was a helpless bystander, watching from the sidelines as others dubbed the shoe with a name not of Nike's choosing (after all, the spokesman carefully says "unofficially named by some" rather than "nicknamed by us"). A photo of the inner sock liner shows a pint glass containing a beer looking suspiciously like a black and tan, with the "Nike SB" mark on the head of the pint. So calling the name "unofficial" is stretching it a little. And once the marketing gurus in Nike knew they were going to be launching a "Black and Tan" themed trainer, a Google search for this phrase should have told them they were treading on sensitive issues, which suggests that no such clearance was carried out.
|Unofficially named, with some very official prompting|
Nike is not the first to plant its size nines into this two-tone mess. Ben & Jerry's, the hippy ice cream makers from Vermont (or, if you prefer, the sub-brand of behemoth Unilever) had to issue a similar apology a couple of years ago when they named a new flavour "Black and Tan". They said “Any reference on our part to the British army unit was absolutely unintentional and no ill-will was ever intended. Ben Jerry’s was built on the philosophies of peace and love.”
For a contrarian view from an Irish person who thinks those who are critical of Nike have the shoe on the wrong foot, the LA Times quotes a commenter named hotdubliner on the Irishcentral.com website:
I say wear them proudly! The only place a "Black and Tan" belongs is underfoot! Every time you kick a ball or pound them down by dancing them into the ground, hold that vision of divine retribution finally having its day! Purely symbolic, of course!