Here we are in the second week of 2018 and popular brands are showing their asses. How many times do we have to remind the bigwig companies, headed mostly by “good ol’ boys,” that diversity is something that matters? More than that, diversity is something that is here to stay, and there is really no way around it. When it comes down to it, the conversation about the importance of diversity should not still be an issue. I mean come on people; it is getting so old. When will these white run entities learn? H&M is the latest brand in hot water because they thought it was a good idea to advertise a green hoodie with the words “The cutest monkey in the jungle” using a young black male model.
This is a problem. I don’t care what all you “I don’t see color” or all you “Here we go again with the social justice warrior stuff” people have to say. Anytime a black person or in this instance, model, of any age rocks clothing that references monkeys or apes, it brings up harsh and bitter feelings that white people do not understand; mostly because they choose not to. You see the truth is we may be removed from a few things that once plagued our community, but when it comes to terms that were (and still are) not only used to describe black people but also used as a means to justify the atrocities that we endured (and still endure) it will always be a problem. It will never just be a child wearing a hoodie. It will never go over well. Period! H&M acted negligently and the fact that they allowed this to happen in the first place speaks volumes about the individuals running the company.
First off, let me start by stating the obvious – this would not have happened if there was proper representation at H&M. Meaning, if there were people of color in places where these decisions are made, there would be no offensive ad because black folks and brown people know what an image like this invokes. It is the same thing that stands as truth for the entertainment industry. The meshing of ideas by people of different backgrounds and walks of life is what makes good marketing. What happened with H&M is more than a misstep. It is an indication of company culture.
Secondly, for those rolling their eyes at the people who are up in arms about the ad, to you, I say take a moment and explore the history that was not taught to you in your public school classes. American history is whitewashed, to say the least. That means that there are things about certain aspects of our existence as a country that have not been properly told. Yes, we know about slavery, and the overall consensus is that it was “bad,” but when you delve deeper and explore the psyche behind the way whites treated black people, you will know that words like monkey used to describe us are not just hurtful, they are hateful and elitist.
The derogatory terms communicate the all too familiar notion that we are a second-class race of people that came from primates, mated with simians, think like apes, and therefore are disposable like we’ve seen monkeys, etc. be. In essence, we are animals that need to not just be tamed, but also thrown away, experimented on, beaten, owned, trained, and used for the pleasure of those who have the fortune of being apart of the group of people who run the whole world. Referring to any black person as a monkey or ape or any kind of animal, even in jest, is disrespectful and constitutes dog whistling. Do you not think we know exactly what you are saying when you oh so coyly call us these things? Think again white people.
Finally, to the adults in the life of the young black man who is at the center of the controversy, you need to do better. This is what I want black people to do this year – realize that all money ain’t good money. It astounds me that the parents, agent, manager, whomever, in charge of the young model’s career didn’t object to the use of his image. As a community, we cannot brush things off as trivial or try to explain them away just because money is involved. In the age in which we live, we have to see things for what they are and call them as such.
H&M, naturally, gave an apology. In it they stated,
“We are deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print… Therefore, we have not only removed the image from our channels, but also the garment from our product offering globally.”
There is no excusing this situation. People like The Weekend, who said he will no longer work with the brand, and others like Quest Love, are right to use their influence to demand answers from the clothing company and bring attention to this craziness. Black folks may be sensitive thanks to the racial climate in America and of course, Donald Trump and the madness he brings upon us daily, but we know when something is not right. Trust me when I say we are not overreacting. What H&M allowed to happen is not right.