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? RT’s guests weigh in on H&M’s advertisement controversy in an on-air debate.
The online outrage caused by the Swedish retailer’s pick of a photo of a black child modelling a hoodie with the words ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’ emblazoned on the front, has forced the company into an official apology while removing the image from its site.
Many users on Twitter went as far as calling for a boycott over H&M’s alleged racism. However, Luke Gittos, law editor of Spiked magazine, believes the controversy is overblown and reflects a kind of outrage mentality online.
“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.”
“I think it’s really sad when adult conceptions about racism and race get read into childhood interactions. I think that is potentially extremely corrosive. If this kind of thinking gets into our school environment, for example, what are we going to end up saying? That black children can’t get involved with games that might involve jungle animals?”
But Remy Fadare of Models of Diversity, herself a victim of childhood bullying and the racial slur ‘monkey’, said she was very disappointed in H&M as the implications of associating a black person with that word should have been obvious. “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,” she said.
“This is really ill-timed to say the least. This is really badly thought out by a board of white directors. Even if there’s that opinion that it’s just been badly thought-out and it’s the parents who are negatively thinking about this, you cannot deny the connotations that it holds. I was bullied, called a monkey by the whole class and it really had an effect, and if that had an effect on me, it’s going to have an effect on generations to come.”