On Monday morning a screenshot of a product listing on H&M’s official website caused a furore when it surfaced on Twitter. The screenshot in question depicts a young black boy wearing a hoodie with a caption saying “coolest monkey in the jungle” strewn across the front.
H&M swiftly issued an apology saying “We apologise to anyone this may have offended.”
The reactions to the photo followed the usual pattern whenever someone does something perceived to be racist. Different groups emerge ranging from the offended, indifferent, to the downright dismissive.”
Indeed, reactionaries will often tell you that this generation is “soft” and is the age of the “snowflake” with regards to their sensitivities.
Policing offence doesn’t ever seem to have much point to it. However, minority and marginalised groups need to look at the bigger picture and realise that their offence is being exploited as a means to an end.
H&M apologised for offence caused but this is incredibly hard to believe when one considers who prepares the marketing materials in the first place.
— H&M (@hm) January 9, 2018
Marketers understand the conscious and unconscious intricacies of the human mind, they often have university degrees also. To put it simply they tend to be quite clever people. Therefore to accept that no one involved in the production of the photo could not have seen how this might offend a certain group of people (in this case black people) is to be taken with a pinch of salt.
This isn’t the first time a gaffe of this nature has occurred either. Back in October of last year, Dove were in hot water when an advert depicting a black woman removing her shirt and appearing as a white woman afterwards – thereby implying that non-white skin is dirty and can be washed away – was shared thousands of times on social media. That’s exactly what they wanted.
Dove received backlash for its advert last October
Dove followed the same ‘Let’s offend some black people to make some money’ protocol by issuing an apology and then allowing the dust to settle. The consequences are far and few between.
One could argue that increased regulation in advertising standards is necessary, however, an alternative would be simply to ignore it.
DON’T BITE THE BAIT!
These corporations know that in order to have their merchandise splashed all over the media, all they need to do to increase their site traffic and media presence is offend Afro-Caribbean communities.
The picture above comes from the BBC website, which achieves daily views of 51 million. That’s potentially 51 million people talking about H&M. If I worked for them it’s a risk I’d probably take too.
— نهاد نور (@Nihad_Nour) January 10, 2018
Stop being so predictable and eventually, they’ll stop. Like that big burly man hurling abuse at you from across the street. Eventually, he’s the one that begins to look ridiculous.
If you truly want to effect change you need to organise as a group of people with a goal, whether that be a boycott of H&M and affiliated companies or a coordinated lobbying effort aimed at the Advertising Standards. At this point, you need to be told that a flurry of angry tweets simply won’t cut it. This goes for both black British and African communities.
It’s a good instinct in life to know when you’re being used. In this case that is almost certainly what is happening.
The message of this piece isn’t don’t stand up for what you believe in, but rather to pick your battles. That way you might just stop being used as some corporations plaything.