New Balance official shoe of white people, say neo-Nazis

Technically Incorrect: If you want to see how social media can inflame and unbalance, look no further than the case of New Balance.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

A pair of New Balance shoes.

From fashion statement to political statement?

Christian Vierig/Getty Images

I had always thought New Balance was the shoe of runners and nerds who have unnaturally wide feet.

It seems I may have been wrong.

It's actually the official shoe of white people who don't like people of other colors.

At least that's where a quite deranged series of events seems to have left us.

It all started last Thursday when New Balance's vice president of public affairs, Matthew LeBretton, spoke to The Wall Street Journal about the company's long-held opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

"The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us," he said, "and frankly, with President-elect Trump we feel things are going to move in the right direction."

Quaintly, New Balance still makes sneakers in the US.

Trump is against the TPP. He's been vowing to bring manufacturing back to the US from places such as China.

Some on social media, however, weren't in the mood to hear a sneaker company supporting anything Trumpian.

"I have been wearing New Balance shoes (at $160/pair) for the past 10 years," tweeted romance author Julie Brannagh. "If they support Trump, I've bought my last pair."

Romance tends to be cast aside when rancor awaits. Once rancor takes hold, there's no romance in reminding yourself that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were against TPP too.

And so people began to post videos of themselves trashing or burning their New Balance shoes. Boston-based New Balance told its local Globe newspaper, "New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump prior to election day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today."

But social media, like Fox News, wouldn't be fair and balanced without an incursion from the other side. So up popped neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer to declare: "Your Uniform: New Balance Just Became the Official Shoes of White People."

This was accompanied by a charming picture of sometimes controversial movie star and director Mel Gibson wearing New Balance.

The storming writer suggested that "We will be able to recognize one another by our sportswear." I fear that might introduce one or two Bay Area hipsters to some difficult company.

New Balance didn't respond to a request for comment. The company took to Twitter to say that it doesn't tolerate bigotry or hate. It said LeBretton's comment had been taken out of context.

A mere squint at the hashtag #NewBalance shows rival forces gathering and blathering.

But will the brand now be co-opted as a symbol of racial intolerance? Will it become a sort of secret Masonic handshake of those who believe white is might is right?

Or was this just another week in social media? Lots of fire, plenty of trashing and no progress made at all?