Racism has been around as long as slavery and still exists more rampantly than one would expect within the fashion industry. Zara, a Spanish clothing brand, in 2014 was called out for their striped pyjamas line which rocked a yellow star resembling the clothes worn by Jewish prisoners in concentration camps. Not to mention in 2017 the personal care brand, Dove, faced backlash after airing a contentious commercial which portrayed black women turning into a white woman subsequent to removing her blouse.
Clothing giant, H & M, has been under fire over the past week for featuring a black boy in a hoodie with the slogan ‘Coolest Monkey in The Jungle’. In the same breath a white boy with a hoodie branding him ‘Mangrove Jungle Survival Expert’ amongst other jungle themed apparel. H and M, more formally known as Hennes & Mauritz, was founded by Erling Persson in 1947 and sells a wide range clothing, footwear, cosmetics, accessories and home textiles for a diversity of persons young or old. H&M is on Forbes Top 100 lists for quite a while and just last year secured the 68th spot on the top national performers’ list, and on the World’s Most Valuable Brands and America’s Best Employers, landed number 36 and 39 spots, respectively.
Stephanie Yeboah, a style blogger, and influencer found fault with the launching of the advertisement and tweeted it on January 7th using the popular social media platform – Twitter. It was only moments after that the tweet evolved into a viral post, being re-tweeted fourteen thousand times within a day, and started trending.
“Whose idea was it @hm to have this little sweet black boy wear a jumper that says ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’?… “As somebody who has been called a monkey many times by white people (both to my face and online), this is absolutely unacceptable.” Stephanie Yeboah’s tweet on Twitter.
To the seemingly culturally clueless persons who find no fault with the hoodie, decriers are arguing that the term monkey was used as far back by slave owners to degrade black people. Models for Diversity, a British based organization aimed at advocating for the inclusion in the fashion industry, was baffled that the advert made it through all the marketing teams and debuted to the world. With the society and the nation peppered with the mindset that racism, prejudice, discrimination, and oppression are still the realities of many, this truly outraged many individuals around the world.
“Here they come with this bull****… These offenses are more about the makeup of the rooms where they happen than the items they produce,” he posted. “There is a concentration of power, committed to exclusion, whether casual, accidental or conscious.” – Jesse Williams.
Since the publishing of the $7.99, now termed “monkey” hoodie on their online store, persons have taken to social media to express their disapproval. Celebrities and culture critics alike have either made posts voicing their opinions and outrage or circulate updates of more influential persons doing same. With a strong sense of morality, even popular artistes, The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) and G-Eazy (Gerald Gillum), decided to cut ties with the multi-billion dollar enterprise along with withdrawing their existing and prospective clothing lines.
“Over the past months, I was genuinely excited about launching my upcoming line and collaboration with H&M unfortunately after seeing the disturbing images yesterday my excitement over our Global campaign quickly evaporated.” – Rapper G-Eazy.
However, the posts and tweets were not only negative. In addition, persons in support that H&M was, in fact, racist, for conceptualizing and launching such an offensive racial image, rallied together to change the message of the hoodie in hopes of getting the line removed.
“Enough about y’all and more of what I see when I look at this photo. I see a Young King!! The ruler of the world, an untouchable Force that can never be denied! We as African Americans will always have to break barriers, prove people wrong and work even harder to prove we belong but guess what, that’s what we love because the benefits at the end of the road are so beautiful!” –NBA Superstar, LeBron James.
With words and remixed images from renowned artistes the hoodie, in turn, portrayed him as royalty, with writings such as ‘King of the jungle’ or ‘Cooler king of the Jungle’ instead thus restoring a sense of peace after the social media protest and pushed H&M to remove the hoodie altogether with an issued apology.
“We completely understand and agree with his reaction to the image. We are deeply sorry that the picture was taken and we also regret the actual print…. We agree with all the criticism that this has generated – we have got this wrong and we agree that, even if unintentional, passive or casual racism needs to be eradicated wherever it exists . . .We will now be doing everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening again in future.” – H&M revealed in a statement.
There are always sides of a story, and even with the Dove commercial which started another row about racism, the black model in the ad saw nothing wrong with the concept but she understood the premise on which persons were offended.
“I thought it was fantastic and I remember being on set and they were explaining the concept and everyone thought it would be so cool and they were excited to be a part of it….I think the screenshots of it and then taking the media by storm paints a different picture which is why I felt it was interesting…. [But I also] understand why [Dove] apologized to an extent, however, knowing the concept was just to promote diversity and show the fact that there are different types of women who can use the same product and that we deserve that sort of treatment, I think they could’ve defended that as well as their vision for the project.” – Lola Ogunyemi
Furthermore, since the trending of this topic across many if not all social media platforms, his Kenyan mother does not see why there is an outrage and that the world is over-reacting about the image. Swedish resident Terry Mango, who has been branded a ‘sell-out’ among other things, wishes that people would just “get over it” and if it isn’t affecting her or her family it shouldn’t affect the wider population; racism is not her way of thinking.
“I am the mom and this is one of the hundreds of outfits my son has modeled…. Stop crying wolf all the time, [this is an] unnecessary issue here… Get over it. If I bought that jumbled and put it on him and posted it on my pages, what would that make me racist? I get people’s opinions, but they are not mine.. I have been to all the photo shoots and this was not an exception, everyone is entitled to their opinion about this.” – Terry Mango.
Some persons were also in solidarity of Mango’s stance, one of which was Loose Women’s Saira Khan.
“I looked at that and I saw a little kid in a T-shirt and didn’t even make a connection between racism and that top. I have a mixed race child and I would buy that top because he is a cheeky little monkey, I can tell you… You have to have a racist mind to make that link [and] I don’t look at my life through racism… Now it’s been pointed out, I feel uncomfortable but I don’t think H&M has done it deliberately; they’ve always promoted diversity in their campaigns..” – Saira Khan
Since the image went viral H&M has made the decision to remove the hoodie advert with the black boy, however, the other hoodies in the jungle-themed line modelled by white children remain on their online site. While the intention was not to portray themselves (H&M) as racist, the wide-spread impact on the world and not having the diversity on their marketing staff did just that which in turn marginalized and oppressed a group who have been historically marginalized and oppressed.
Moral of the story is that there will always be opposing views no matter the topic and while we live in a world where we have the right to have freedom of speech, in all aspects individuals should be mindful of their words and actions.
While some might claim that persons playing the race card are blowing the situation out of proportion, those finger pointers should also take into account the decades of oppression of black people and try to understand their stance. Also, those who call out others for being culturally clueless should take into account that maybe the intention was completely missed and the clothing line or any other advert was envisioned to send another message.
Often times the minority of persons, within any society, are wired to be oppressed even when there is no intention of feeling belittled or having any negative connotations due to their etched experiences in history. In the day and age of constant change, why don’t we as a people try to change the ideology of oppression? If more persons band in support of it, wouldn’t it make a difference or will the dogma of racism always be a plague?
Just a question, if the child was branded in a rainbow suggestive hoodie, would the internet blow up with accusations that the boy is LGBT and persons impacted would feel offended?
By Alexandra Daley