Timberland boots have come to be an emblem of the Black community, and this week—after a much-buzzed-about photograph of her stepping off a plane in California—vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris has owned that statement.
She was sure to take that cultural icon with her while conducting political, grassroots work, inspecting a site of the recent, devastating wildfires. It was as if she was letting the Black community know that she stands with them, and has not forgotten who she is or where she came from. On the flipside, she was reminding the entire nation that it’s OK to be Black, that it’s OK to not assimilate into “white” America.
The move was unapologetically Black. For me, it is the kind of move that signals that I can be Black without having to code-switch whenever I walk into a room of predominantly white people at a party; it meant that I can wear my hair in its natural curl pattern when I go for a job interview; it meant that I don’t have to change the radio station to Top 40 whenever a white coworker rides with me in the car.
So much symbolism was wrapped into that one choice she made, and it reminded me how much my Timberland boots have meant to me.
There’s such a huge emphasis on shoes within the Black community. I never quite got the sneaker game right because, for me, they involved too much work. There was too much of a necessity to keep them clean, to keep them from creasing.
I honestly just wanted my sneakers to be functional, and my favorite brand was not what was on trend at the time. So, as a nerdy kid, I typically got clowned for my shoe game—or lack thereof. Oftentimes, I would end up wearing a cute outfit with shoes that just would not match—and my peers did not hesitate to point it out.
Going to high school during the early aughts, there were certain rites of passage that would grant a kid a “cool card” of urban wear. Besides the infamous jersey dresses, white T-shirts that were so large it didn’t make any sense, and velour outfits, wearing a pair of Timberland boots gave me the key to finally being able to look as if I was a teen of the era. And thankfully, unlike the other three, Timberlands had the ability to be timeless.
I specifically remember my very first pair of Timberlands. They were wheat and cream-colored and looked somewhat like a hybrid between sneakers and boots. I was a freshman in high school, and it seemed as if everyone wanted the same style. My mother decided to get a pair for my brother and me that year while we were out Christmas-shopping. We no longer had to wear the off-brand boots or the knock-off, wannabe Timberlands. No, finally, we were able to say that we owned a pair of Timbs—as admirers so lovingly call them.
After that initial experience, it was as if my eyes were opened to the Timberland boot world and all that they represented to the Black community. My idol Mariah Carey wore a pair of Timberland Manolo Blahniks in one of her music videos. From there, I realized that they were not all the same, everyone could wear them, that they were versatile, that they were high-fashion, that they were something the Black community took pride in owning in ways to utilize them.
From that very first pair, I became more creative. I moved on to brighter colors, Timbs with wedge heels, more traditional varieties, ones that I could dress up or dress down. Each pair represented a different phase in my life.
The first was as if I was keeping safe and testing the waters. Next, I got bolder and I experimented with different designs, something that would not go with every outfit. Then, I explored my femininity with another pair. Now that I’m a grown-ass adult, I’ve found a way to incorporate them into my daily livelihood where I can wear them so that they no longer look like I’m trying to make an urban streetwear statement. Instead, I’m making a statement of my individuality, culture, and personal taste.
From Black artists making fashion statements at awards shows, musicians creating an ambience in music videos, actors showcasing their environments in film and television, Black Greek-lettered organizations using them to perform in step shows in order to achieve the sound of rumbling African drums, Timberland boots have been adopted within the Black community. They’re a sign of strength and perseverance. In a world of oppressive forces, we need shoes to help us step over the bullshit.
Seeing Senator Harris step off that plane wearing a pair of Timbs brought so much pride to me as a Black woman. Besides the obvious political message—this was a woman prepared for the physical side of the wildfire chaos—it also showed how comfortable she is in her own skin.
I know how she feels.