What H&M really got wrong
2018 is off to a rough start for H&M U.K.
That’s because they’re under fire for a really, really insensitive ad featuring a young black boy wearing a “coolest monkey in the jungle” sweatshirt.
People are weighing in all over social media. And despite the rage, some are urging others to lighten up because “it’s just a sweatshirt.” Right?
Sure, it's just a sweater. People have questioned whether it's really that serious. They've pointed to nursery rhymes that quote "no more monkeys jumping on the bed." They've pointed to phrases like "quit monkeying around." All valid points.
But there's this thing called history, which changes the context and the relationship between this word and black people entirely.
As much as I'd like to say that it's in the past, it's not. In fact, within the last five years, there have been incidents of racist soccer fans throwing bananas at black soccer players.
So there are a few things wrong with this story. The first is obvious. No black child, no black adult, male or female should be clothed in anything that even remotely infers that they’re a monkey, specifically because of the relationship with black people and the use of the word monkey throughout history.
The second issue with this ad is that a young white boy modelled a similar sweatshirt that reads “Mangrove jungle survival expert”. Some are calling the juxtaposition of the two models and their sweaters a metaphor for white supremacy. If this sounds far-fetched to you, consider yourself lucky.
But the third issue, in my opinion, is the biggest. And that’s the simple fact that no one caught this until it was too late. This ad had to go through so many people to get published on a website. And it still got published.
Think about it. Someone designed the sweater. Someone approved the design. Someone went looking for models. Someone hired a photographer. Someone organized the photo shoot. Someone edited the photos. Someone uploaded the photos to the website. And not one of these people intervened (enough, anyway) to stop this from making it to the site.
H&M is a massive clothing retailer. In 2016, their revenue was listed at US$21.73 billion. And for a company that big, that rich, it’s an inexcusable blunder in a long list of mishaps.
In 2013, faux-leather headdresses were pulled from stores after customers said the items were insulting to Canada’s First Nations.
A year later, a documentary by Marie Maurice revealed extreme exploitation of workers in Bangladesh, where they don’t pay taxes to produce, citing 80-hour work weeks in unsecured buildings.
The documentary also revealed that the business opened locations in Ethiopia due to a non-existent minimum wage policy.
H&M is also rumoured to be in business with Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, known for forcing evictions of villages for the purpose of industrial farming.
We can’t say for sure that no one flagged this as a potential marketing disaster. But we can say for sure that no one took heed to the red flags enough to stop this image from making it online.
That’s the kind of insensitivity we’re living with, yes, even in 2018.
I mean, how many times have we dealt with this? Wasn't it just a short while ago that Dove was under fire for that ridiculous ad where the girl took off her blackness? Remember when Nivea literally said "white is purity"? Oh and who could forget that time Kendall Jenner saved the world with a can of Pepsi?
This marketing disaster, much like the ones before it, reiterate the importance of people making noise. And whether that noise is made by wearing all black to Hollywood's hottest party or a simple tweet, retweet or mention, someone has to be responsible. And someone has to be accountable. These things can't slip through the cracks anymore. Not when we have voices.
Not when we were meant to be heard.