Remember after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States how racism and discrimination were now a thing of the past? Well regardless of what side you were on for that comment, I think we can all agree that assumption / belief / hope is all but gone. While there are many examples of this (e.g. White Nationalists march on University of Virginia), there are also issues that, in my opinion are overblown. For the H&M controversy, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
For those unaware, H&M “showed a black child dressed in a hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle.”” The result of this action was that NBA star LeBron James and rapper Diddy responded with insult and outrage leading to Canadian and American musicians like The Weeknd and G-Eazy cancelling their partnerships with H&M (which btw USA Today…The Weeknd isn’t American, he’s Canadian). While this is one way to respond to the photograph, the question I would like to pose is this; Are we as a society making too much out of the H&M hoodie issue?
To begin, H&M is a Swedish fashion retailer. This means that many of the offenses / racist remarks we grow to understand in America are not as apparent as in Sweden. While they have recently gone on record as saying they have appointed a diversity leader to ensure these issues don’t happen again, the truth is that no company is perfect and another issue like this will probably happen over the next decade or so.
For those unaware comparing African Americans to monkeys is an age old derogatory method whites would use to denigrate blacks for their physical appearance and “uncivilized” nature.
Does this mean we can never again have a black person wear a shirt with a monkey on it? Who knows. But at some point I do think we need to move past certain stereotypes. I want to be careful and make it clear that I’m not defending the hoodie per say, but I am wondering at what point (if any) fashion retailers can sell a hoodie that says “coolest money in the jungle” to African Americans.
I understand the toxic hyper-racial environment we exist in today where anything can be seen as a discriminatory act, but I also think we should be able to tell the difference between purposeful racism and perhaps accidental racism. Or maybe I’m too naive and racism isn’t as clear cut as to be put in categories as that.
All in all, this issue does bring up a conversation that we all need to have among ourselves which is this; What is racism?