A couple of days ago, people on social media were outraged because of the H&M advert that featured a coloured child wearing a green hoodie with the phrase “Coolest monkey in the jungle” written on it. Social media users branded the advert “racist” and “unacceptable”; some even posted that H&M is now on their list of places they are never shopping at again. The brand issued an apology, removed the image from its online collection and replaced it with a photo of the jumper.
This started a huge discussion at our office and the Identity team came up with these possible 3 scenarios below. We would like to hear your take on this, folks:
SCENARIO #1 H&M Is Indeed Racist
The term “monkey” has a long bad history with black people worldwide. Coloured people were compared to monkeys and apes; some people even went as far as saying that black people descended from apes! Coloured athletes have always been described as “fast monkeys”. Maybe it is not that common here in Egypt -not that we are not racist- we show racist behaviors towards our fellow Nubians and coloured people in general-, but we don’t call them monkeys. Anyway, there is no way that ‘ALL’ the H&M team who worked on the advert didn’t notice the word on the shirt, and didn’t make the link between them. Out of all the kids who were models in the same campaign, a black one wore the “monkey” shirt! That can’t be a coincidence.
SCENARIO #2 It was Just A Stupid Unintentional Mistake
H&M’s intention was not to cause offence. Why would they do that to their own brand, knowing it wouldn’t go by unnoticed, and will harm the brand? No one simply saw the double meaning that the advert carried. Kids are always referred to as monkeys, in all ethnic groups and cultures. It is nothing like the skincare campaign last October, where a GIF was posted of a black woman removing her shirt and suddenly becoming a white woman after using the body wash! That can’t be an honest mistake!
SCENARIO #3 H&M Is Not Racist but The Audience Are
Let’s put it this way, if a white kid had put on the hoodie, no one would have given a second thought to the words on the hoodie, especially that the term “Monkey” is well-recognized worldwide as a term of affection for a child. So in order to advertise this hoodie, the company has to make sure that the kid who models it MUST be white! Now who is the racist? A white kid could be called monkey, and it will be perceived as a cute pet name, but when it’s a black kid, it’s racism!!! H&M isn’t racist; we are the ones who should quit seeing racist slurs in everything around us!
Here are our three scenarios, folks. It’s up to you to agree or disagree with them. Let us know what you think, and whether you view the whole issue from a different perspective.