Lesson from H&M scandal: we've got better things to focus on
Twitter has become a breeding ground for outrage. Almost every day there is some sort of backlash; sometimes understandable, sometimes unnecessary and sometimes completely ridiculous. A couple of weeks ago, Twitter users expressed their fire and fury at clothing brand H&M. The offence caused? A product advertisement on the UK version of their website in which a Black child model wears a green hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle” printed on it. The two most popular tweets which spread the fire of outrage were these.
Twitter user, Selene Arianela argued that it was offensive, racist and inappropriate to juxtapose an advertisement of a White child model wearing a similar hoodie which read “Survival Expert.” As these tweets got retweeted by the thousands, many more Twitter users began to express their outrage at the perceived racism of the advertisement. It became a massive global conversation. Personally, however, I did not find the advertisement offensive in the slightest, in fact, it did not appear racially insensitive either. As a Black person, I am fully aware of the history of racist remarks about Black people as monkeys. However, it seemed almost too obviously clear to me the phrase “coolest monkey in the jungle” was used in the same way Adults refer to children as “cheeky monkeys” and that the use of a Black child to model this product was completely incidental. You could argue it was racially insensitive and I would see your point because as Black people we are suspicious of these things because racism is everywhere. In this case, however, I don’t understand the point of the outrage.
Several things baffle me about this outrage. I’m not sure the initial tweet has sparked the outrage but it seems suspicious that a child’s hoodie turned into this huge scandal. It’s as though someone was purposefully looking on the H&M website to find racism and start the outrage machine. The ensuing chaos was simultaneously fascinating and cringe worthy to watch. As an avid Twitter user, I’ve seen many things get called out for being offensive but I’ve never seen anything last this long and cause people to completely lose their minds. In response to the backlash, H&M removed the product from their website but it was too little too late. R&B and pop star The Weeknd cut ties with H&M. People threatened to boycott the brand. And in a bizarre turn of events videos began to appear on Twitter of people vandalising H&M stores. It spread globally with EFF members (Economic Freedom Fighters), a revolutionary socialist political party, in South Africa completely destroying H&M stores. Others started to Photoshop the advertisement, adding new positive words to the hoodie such as “King” or adding a crown to the child’s head. I’m all for Afrocentricism but surely we can’t be so insecure that a child’s hoodie causes us to react this way.
I found the entire affair to be completely appalling and embarrassing. There’s plenty to be outraged about of course, as Solange so wisely said “You got the right to be mad” but not about every single perceived slight. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Anti-blackness is global, yes, but to me, this advertisement seemed completely innocent. There’s a conversation about racial insensitivity in corporate marketing but this shouldn’t have been the subject of that conversation. The harassment of low-level H&M employees and vandalisation of H&M stores does not solve the problem of racism and anti-blackness; it just makes ordinary often working-class workers have to clean up your mess. As Black people, we have to pace ourselves as there’s so much to fight. And there’s a hell of a lot to be mad about, this is the least of our worries. We can’t put this much energy into a case of corporate ignorance and forget about the slave trade of Black African migrants in Libya. A lot of outrage on Twitter seems to be a lot of people trying to prove they’re “woke” and it’s completely unnecessary. If anything positive has come out of this it’s that H&M has now actually hired a diversity manager which is great. However, there are better, and in my opinion, actual examples of corporate racism to teach this lesson.