When H&M’s ‘monkeygate’ first kicked off, I was only mildly amused by it – in that I’m so used to seeing brands making stupid and racially insensitive marketing choices that I’m slightly immune to it now.
I don’t think H&M is racist, I do however think that H&M is run by white people and so that privilege will colour and influence everything they do.
Sometimes they’ll get it right and sometimes they’ll fail, spectacularly.
I think it’s right and only fair that when they do, people are allowed to express their outrage and H&M, accordingly, is allowed to rectify it.
Which is exactly what happened with their issuing of a public apology and the withdrawal of the image and jumper (though I do think removing the jumper itself was unnecessary).
What I’m not so amused by, however, is the tide of commentary from people lucky enough not to find the image offensive.
Even going a step further and labelling the people who do as racist because ‘it’s just a kid in a jumper’ or children get called ‘cheeky monkey’ all the time.
Actually, it’s not just a kid in a jumper – it’s a black kid in the jumper and that changes everything, though I really wish it didn’t.
Firstly, the jumper doesn’t say ‘cheeky monkey’, it says ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’.
In fact, there is another similar jumper featuring a white child that says ‘mangrove jungle survival expert – official tour guide’.
So the black kid gets to wear the H&M sweater with "Coolest monkey in the jungle" and the white kid with "Survival expert". This is beyond disgusting. It's a projection of your neocolonial thinking. You won't see me anywhere near your shops these days @hm. pic.twitter.com/Gl7OtdVw4p
— Volkan (@vulkaanrots) January 8, 2018
Why wasn’t the black child modelling both or vice versa?
Secondly, the word monkey is a very loaded word when used in conjunction with black people.
It’s historically used as a racial slur, and even in modern times, almost always used in a derogatory way.
If not, why are football hooligans so very fond of using it to abuse black footballers and why was an image of Michelle Obama vandalised to make her resemble a monkey?
Sitting in a position of privilege, which allows you not to see the image as offensive, doesn’t mean that it’s not.
If you or your ancestors have never had your membership card to the human race revoked on the grounds of being sub-human or ape-like just so you could be sold as chattel, then you don’t get to tell those who have what is and isn’t offensive.
You also don’t get to tell me I’m racist because I find the image problematic.
Acting as if the image is a non-issue is an attempt at revisionist history and another example of the whitesplaining of black people’s experiences.
I am sick to death of people who have not and cannot walk in my shoes telling me how I should feel about things.
It all goes back to privilege and that often, those who enjoy it seldom realise they do.
So the next time a white people-run company releases or says something that offends a whole bunch of black people (and they will), instead of assuming that they’re overreacting because you personally aren’t offended, find a black person who is and have a conversation about it.
You’ll probably both learn something new.