Each year, when the new model of Air Jordans was introduced, every Black kid I knew, rich or poor, was trying to get those “sneaks.” A crisp, clean pair of brand-spanking-new Air Jordan sneakers was a supreme status symbol for anyone who wanted to be cool and “down with the streets.”
One kid could be heard saying to another, “Yo! Did you see the new Jordans? Them joints is fly, yo!” A typical response would be “Yeah, man, I got them on layaway” or “They’re fresh, but I still like last year’s better!” The latter was code for “my mom can’t afford them.”
The average outsider looking around the projects or a dilapidated inner-city neighborhood might not even have imagined that teenagers were wearing shoes that cost nearly the equivalent of an entire month’s rent. The visitor might have wondered, Why not trade the shoes in and move to a better neighborhood? But that would have defeated the purpose of buying the shoes. The point was to be in the concrete jungle and dress like a million bucks. That defiance was the essence of Black cool. It was one way for poor youth to defy the weight and gravity of their social class."