H&M messed up.
And now the Swedish clothing and retail company is apologizing for marketing a hoodie. Well, not just any hoodie. A hoodie that reads: COOLEST MONKEY IN THE JUNGLE.
The problem? It is worn by a Black boy. And to make matters a bit more messy, a contrasting hoodie, worn by a white boy, had a starkly different epithet: MANGROVE JUNGLE OFFICIAL SURVIVAL EXPERT.
— NHYPEMAG (@NHYPEMAG) January 8, 2018
The distinction between the two—the monkey hoodie rocked by a Black child, the “survivor” hoodie worn by a white child—further concretized the age-old racially constructed idea that Black people evolve from primates.
The Black outrage was ubiquitous. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Negro tongue. I couldn’t shake the subject if I wanted too—so here we are. I’ve written on shiftless white shit so much so that I could copy and paste and change the date. Literally. I’s tired. This situation is no more different than others perpetuated by billion dollar corporations that have made asinine mockeries of Blackness, only to jump into sorry-mode when Black folk protest and their bottom line is threatened. As I’ve stated before: whiteness, in all its whiteness, stay doing silly white shit in the name of whiteness.
Both images were found on the company’s UK website. However, being the multinational conglomerate that is H&M—it has more than 4,135 stores operating in 65 countries, employing more than 161,000 people—it is hard to believe these images were not scrutinized for political correctness all the way up the chain of command in the marketing department(s). Also odd is no one on team H&M called this out. I’m willing to gamble a liter of fine single barrel bourbon that 1/161,000 employees is familiar with racialized messages, specifically one that correlates Blackness with monkeys due to its European origin and long ass white history. The comparison derives from a 16th-century myth about a Portuguese woman raped and impregnated by an African ape. What better narrative for the progenitors of slavery (Europeans) to conflate in order to objectify, other, racialize and subjugate African peoples?
Sweden (read: whiter-white people) is certainly not without racial awareness. They, too, participated in the transatlantic slave trade and brutal slavery traditions. Somebody up in H&M UK damn sure knows what racial sensitivity is.
But again, white people gon’ white.
But Blacks gon’ Black, too
A white-handed slap to the Black face is never received without the proverbial clapback. The Folk went in. That is, everyone from Pastor Plies to lil’ Junebug’dem from Twitter, jumped in the cyber ring to soapbox. There was a collective condemnation of H&M and the Black boy’s parents, calls for boycotts and Black diversity and revisionist productions of the boy and problematic hoodie.
Listen: I’m here for resistance. But not the ig’nant or non-effective kind. Nah. Seriously, when are skinfolk gonna enact some real Black power?
Just think—if the energies put forth to subvert whiteness were to pervade Black spaces like Chicago–where the death toll from 2001 till 2015 almost matches the number killed in both Iraqi and Afghanistan wars in the same time span; Mass Incarceration—where people of color are overrepresented at suspect rates; Public Education which lags behind sixteen foreign countries; Puerto Rico’s storm crisis; Anti-Blackness; Black Health; Child Abuses; R. Kelly’s sex cult; homelessness; joblessness; hunger; your community; your bathroom; your kitchen; your own humanity—just think.
These white-companies-got-it-wrong stories are coming so frequently, I could practically copy and paste and change the date. Literally. I’s tired. Aren’t you? What are we going to do to make it stop?
Ida Harris is a journalist and cultural critic covering a range of topics that intersect with Blackness, including art, activism, pop culture, parenting and womanhood. Ida is especially known for her critical writing on sexual assault against Black women and girls. Her work is featured in ELLE , DAME , Blavity, Teen Vogue , and USA Today.