H&M has stirred the pot with a few controversies before this, but none could hold a candle to the magnitude of this current one. Twitter users fumed in anger as they found out that H&M published a photo of an African American kid wearing a hoodie that spells out “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle.” Some have dug even deeper and claimed that the brand has used a white child for a sweater that says, “Survival Expert.”
The controversy can all be traced back to the implied meaning of the word ‘monkey,’ used often in a racially prejudiced manner to discern black people from the whites back during the days of slavery. It’s little wonder then why the publication of such a photo sparked a wildfire of criticism amongst Twitter users.
As the photos circulated, big name celebrities have taken notice and are weighing in their opinions. Abel Tesfaye a.k.a The Weeknd was one of the first to speak out, saying he was deeply offended proceeded to immediately cut ties with the brand after collaborating on a fashion line together. G-Eazy did the same as well shortly after that.
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) January 8, 2018
Diddy, LeBron James, even Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United took to Instagram to voice out their opinions on this, editing the picture with a crown and substituting the word monkey with king.
H&M has since issued an apology statement on all social media platforms, and spokesperson Anna Eriksson went on to say, “This image has now been removed from all H&M channels and we apologize to anyone this may have offended.”
The Swedish brand then came out with a longer statement of the apology, after even more severe backlash on how the apology was structured and deemed to be insincere and frank;y, hollow. The second statement reads:
To all customers, staff, media, stakeholders, partners, suppliers, friends and critics.
We would like to put on record our position in relation to the image and promotion of a children’s sweater, and the ensuing response and criticism.
Our position is simple and unequivocal—we have got this wrong and we are deeply sorry.
H&M is fully committed to playing its part in addressing society’s issues and problems, whether it’s diversity, working conditions or environmental protection—and many others. Our standards are high and we feel that we have made real progress over the years in playing our part in promoting diversity and inclusion. But we clearly haven’t come far enough.
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 appreciate the support of those who have seen that our product and promotion were not intended to cause offence but, as a global brand, we have a responsibility to be aware of and attuned to all racial and cultural sensitivities—and we have not lived up to this responsibility this time.
This incident is accidental in nature, but this doesn’t mean we don’t take it extremely seriously or understand the upset and discomfort it has caused.
We have taken down the image and we have removed the garment in question from sale. It will be recycled.
We will now be doing everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening again in future.
Racism and bias in any shape or form, conscious or unconscious, deliberate or accidental, are simply unacceptable and need to be eradicated from society. In this instance we have not been sensitive enough to this agenda.
Please accept our humble apologies.
However, in an odd turn of events, the mother of the child model, has spoken out on the issue. Terry Mango claims that she knew what was happening, and has since criticised the controversy for crying wolf.
One of her comments in the screenshot read:
“Am the mum and this is one of hundreds of outfits my son has modelled,” Mango wrote, according to screenshots of the messages. “Stop crying wolf all the time, unnecessary issue here… get over it.”
The mother of the young boy wearing the “monkey” sweater has come forward to respond to everyone defending her son, she says stfu and stop being so damn sensitive 😅 At this point, I’m now over it 🤦🏽♀️🤷🏽♀️ But in her defense, by the way she says “she’s his mum” tells me they are from another country, maybe she doesn’t completely understand our racial stereotypes in America….??🤔😳 #TeaTENDERS
It’s quite apparent this was clearly an unintentional mistake, as given on how the mother of the model was fully aware of what’s happening, it probably would not have been a racial issue as the statement was a very innocent one. However, given the size of H&M, the company should’ve known better and researched on proper historical backgrounds relating to certain terminologies to avoid such mistakes.
What do you think? Was it An Honest Mistake? Or a ridiculous oversight and obliviousness where there shouldn’t be in 2018?
UPDATE (15/01/18): A resistance group in Africa who called themselves Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have taken it upon themselves to vandalise H&M stores in South Africa, prompting H&M’s upper management to close down 17 shops all across South Africa.