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This is why H&M’s “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” image isn’t racist

By January 13, 2018 No Comments

H&M sparked outrage on social media over the weekend for posting an image of a black child model in sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle.”

Netizens interpreted the image as a racial slur and reacted so vehemently on social media that the company was forced to remove the image from its website by Monday and on the same day posted an apology.

H&M, which is based in Sweden, apologized Monday morning for what many said was an insensitive association between the young model and a hateful slur against black people.

But was it a hateful slur against black people or was it the use of a word “monkey” in a foreign idiom that has nothing to do with insult?

Was something just lost in translation? Has all the hullabaloo been pointless?

At least one person thinks so

Is having a black child model a “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” hoodie racist, or are netizens reading too much into an innocent take on childhood? This is the question RT asked its guests when they discussed the advertisement controversy in an on-air debate.

Luke Gittos, law editor of Spiked magazine, believes the controversy is overblown and reflects a kind of outrage mentality online, RT reports.

“This is a very sad day. The word monkey’s been used because this boy is a child, and the word monkey is used to describe children of all races because they’re cheeky and mischievous,” he said.

“The idea that this was somehow racially malevolent I think is utterly ludicrous, and really I think this is a symptom of what Twitter does to people; it encourages people to see the absolute worst in [other] people’s motivations.”

Not only that, but scandals like this may in fact deepen the racial divide, Gittos added. “Twitter makes racial solidarity impossible by encouraging everyone [to] believe the worst about everyone else.”

Was it really necessary for H&M to issue a groveling apology on its Twitter page saying they were ‘deeply sorry the picture was taken, and we regret the actual print’. They added: ‘We’ll thoroughly investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake from happening again’.

And what exactly are they apologizing for? Did H&M mean to insult blacks? In this day and age and so blatantly? Surely not.

The H&M ad was not racist – something simply got lost in translation. Their text on the hoodie really meant that the child was the coolest, cheekiest, most mischievous child in the neighborhood.

Surely it’s common knowledge that children from different backgrounds are often referred to as monkeys. Not because monkeys are black, but because monkeys are cheeky and mischievous.

The age of hypersensitivity

This outrage is just hypersensitive neurosis of people who insist on connecting a black child with a monkey in a negative way.

Here is the kicker: the boy’s mother sees nothing wrong with the image and says people just need to get over it.

According to African Warrior magazine the son’s mother, a Kenyan living in Stockholm Sweden, thinks it was an “unnecessary issue” and things were just blown out of proportion.

The boy’s mother, Terry Mango, took to Facebook and posted a photo with her son saying: I am the mum and this was just one of the hundreds of outfit my son has modeled. Stop crying wolf all the time — unnecessary issue here. Get over it.

https://twitter.com/oluwa_popoola/status/950705017035554817

So there you are, not even the “victim’s” mother is offended.

Having said that, the outrage online is very real and H&M can expect to see a significant drop in sales following the catastrophic ad.

A different perspective

Here is another, different, but very valid point:

“If you’re gonna specifically choose a campaign where a black child is chosen as the monkey and the white child is chosen as the jungle survivor, in a climate of racial tension, you know it’s going to have connotations,” Remy Fadare of Models of Diversity, herself a victim of childhood bullying and the racial slur ‘monkey’ said in the debate on RT.

She said she was very disappointed in H&M as the implications of associating a black person with that word should have been obvious.


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Coert Engels

Coert Engels

I'm a South African based writer and am passionate about exploring the latest ideas in artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology. I also focus on the human condition, with a particular interest human intuition and creativity. To share some feedback about my articles, email me at coert@ideapod.com.