The Coolest Monkey in the Jungle
Updated: Apr 21, 2018
Recently I went to return a pair a pants to H&M. When I entered the store it was noticeably empty. This can be attributed to the end of the holiday season or the beginning of a new shopping year but most likely it’s a result of the controversial ad campaign they released on the internet showing a little black boy in a hoodie that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.”
The internet seemed to break at the sight of this image, people worldwide were outraged—rightfully so—at the organization and whomever was responsible for an image that can only be interpreted as racist. People, including myself, can’t understand how such a large retail organization could screw the pooch so badly. I can only conclude that this was done to incite some kind of public response, making the company relevant which it now is but for all the wrong reasons.
It would be nice to live in a world where we see no colour but unfortunately that’s not the case. I think it’s fair to say, if you know your history or even what’s going on in the world today that associating a black boy with a monkey will appear racist to the majority of people, especially black people who see it. We are still living in a racially sensitive society and H&M didn’t seem to take that into account when choosing a child to put in that sweater. If it had been a little Caucasian or Asian boy in the advertisement I believe the reaction would have been different, there wouldn’t be the public outcry that we are currently witnessing.
Rather this campaign has led to public indignation and continued intolerance of racism. Perhaps H&M saw no colour when they created the campaign or perhaps it was meant to spark a conversation. What they failed to realize was that the insensitivity of the ad would incite emotions and perhaps be the beginning of the end for their bottom line.
I realize that H&M had issued an apology but a true apology would have the hallmark of acceptance of your misdeed and a sincere request for forgiveness. Their public relations department did a good job of condemning racism but called what they did “unintentional, passive or casual racism.” They go on to talk about unconscious racism taking some responsibility in my eyes but not the full force. I’m not sure what it would take for this organization to come back from something like this but I’m sure they have a plan.
According to the young boy’s parents they didn’t think anything of it, which I find hard to believe when the mother admitted to experiencing racism and being called a monkey herself. They believe he is just a boy advertising a sweatshirt. They claim to understand why people are so incensed but explains their son doesn’t understand what’s going on, he is too young to process such a complex issue.
I can’t say I agree with their opinion. In the climate we are currently living in and frankly have been living in for generation messaging like this can set off a powder keg of emotions for a lot of people, myself included.
To H&M: It’s not okay to create campaigns that is offensive to an entire people. It’s not okay to stir up controversy in hopes of getting sales. And it is not okay to make a little boy subject of a campaign with ramifications far beyond his young mind’s comprehension.
I fear that with the time we live, the 24-hour news cycle, this story will be buried like so many others under H&M’s bottom line. We will all soon forget the little boy in the monkey sweater for the sake of business as usual. For H&M I hope they have learned something from this poor error in judgement and make better decisions in the future.
Image: H&M Website Screenshot