H&M ad and the importance of context

Clothing company H&M received many criticisms from people all over the world including famous celebrities over the seemingly racist advertisement they posted on their website selling boys’ hoodies.  Many others have disputed the criticisms and reactions by claiming that black people are overly sensitive about the issue and have over interpreted the writing on the boy’s sweater which reads “coolest monkey in the jungle”. This sentiment has been noted not only by many white people but also some black people. The boy’s mother also tweeted saying that people should “get over it” and in her opinion it was not racist.  However, let’s not forget that she capitalized on her son modelling the hoodie.

First, I believe the reaction from all of us who claimed the racist nature of the ad to be very valid. We cannot continue to ignore racist messages, actions or sentiments whether subtle or overt. The main argument from those who do not oppose the ad have is that “monkey” is often used as a term of endearment to describe cheeky, mischievous or very playful children. However, the issue is not the term used but the importance of understanding context and what it means for a young black boy to be referred to as a “monkey”. Calling black people “monkey” has been used by many people as a racial slur and it was done to demean and dehumanize people of African descent.  The historic context of the word “monkey” has caused a lot of outrage and pain to many black people past and present. In the 1980s spectators would hurl bananas at black players during soccer games in England and the racist trend has continued.  These acts imply that black people are less than human and this belief has justified many things from slavery and other structural forms of violence perpetuated on black bodies. Even more disturbing with regards to the H&M ad is other hoodies from the same line that showed “survival expert” were modelled by white children; the racist undertones cannot be ignored.

It’s really hard, exhausting and painful to try to explain racism to people who choose not to understand racism or who have never faced racism. Its hurtful when white people speak from a position of privilege telling black people to tone down their reactions or to stop seeing things as black or white. Don’t discard people’s thoughts, feelings or opinions when you haven’t walked a mile in their shoes or know about their lived experiences. Just because it may not affect you directly does not mean you should erase or try to silence the voices and protests of those who understand that a message on a hoodie reminds us of a dark past,  a troubling present with systematic oppression perpetuated on black bodies every single day. You simply have to turn of any cable news to get a glimpse of the lack of equality and that the idea of a post racial world is a huge fallacy.

We need to work together as a human collective to battle racism and any reinforcements of racist stereotypes whether its intentional or passive. So no the writing on the hoodie is not just a bunch of words for millions of black people; it stands for so much more , reiterates the power and importance of context and serves as a painful reminder that we still have a very long way to go.

“Aluta continua” – The struggle continues.

 

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