Nike’s new shoe, the Black and Tan, has been released presumably to take advantage of St. Patrick’s day drinking/marketing opportunities. Whoops. Turns out that the Black and Tan is a sour brand in Ireland because of the hated military/police group which murdered and terrorized civilians during the early twenties.
The Black and Tans were a colonial army recruited from England ostensibly to police the people of Ireland. The lack of oversight and genuine racism in the face of a guerrilla uprising led to a terrible disdain for civilians. The roughshod police force (their name is a reference to the haphazard uniforms of the unit) was almost 7-10,000 strong and recruited from former World War I veterans.
In retaliation for attacks on police forces, the Black and Tans attacked civilians, burned homes and businesses and in one case refused an entire village food. Consider the documentary The Burning of Cork.
The Nike marketing error is evidence of the smooth appropriation transforming actual Irish history into a bizarre tourist narrative emphasizing drinking, leprechauns, and Irish-affiliated brands. These tourist realities corrode against the actual history of Sinn Fein, Home Rule, and the bodily struggles associated with Irish Nationalism.
The assumption of Nike, that their party, party, party language was the universal meaning points to a kind of linguistic arrogance. NPR’s Melissa Block and Robert Siegel interviewed Brian Boyd of the Irish Times on the Nike apology.
BLOCK: Now, Nike has released a statement saying: We apologize, no offense was intended. At the same time, Nike says the sneaker has been, quote, unofficially named by some as the Black and Tan.
SIEGEL: That said, if you look inside the shoe – as we have done with online photos – you see an image of a pint of beer with two colors, black and tan.
BLOCK: Brian Boyd of The Irish Times has reported on some outrage over the shoe. But really, he says, it’s not about a shoe. It’s about a holiday.
BOYD: It’s how the Americans view Saint Patrick’s Day and view Irish culture and history. And it’s the very fact that some people are saying that these are beer-themed sneakers, that the only way to celebrate a national holiday of a country with a very rich culture and a very rich history and literature, et cetera, is to pour massive amounts of alcohol down your body.
It’s how the American treat St. Patrick’s Day. So we’re using this story to say, look, it’s the silly Americans, stupid Americans, look what they’re doing again. They’ve got it all wrong.