H&M stores in South Africa had to close briefly over the weekend due to protests going on about a little black boy modeling a hooded sweatshirt that had the words,”Coolest monkey in the jungle” on it. Protesters said it was racist considering the other two male child models were white and their shirts didn’t say anything about a monkey, although they were also jungle themed.
The protesters saw an image on H&M’s online store and this caused not only protests at several of their stores across the country by people who represent the second largest opposition party in South Africa, Economic Freedom Fighters, but also an uproar all over social media. There were videos online showing protesters standing outside of the store, others storming through the store knocking mannequins over, overturning clothing racks, and scattering clothes everywhere.
EFF supporters at H&M WATCH the trashing… pic.twitter.com/Kw0xUaG4Cb
— Yusuf Abramjee (@Abramjee) January 13, 2018
In a statement on Saturday, H&M said:
Out of concern for the safety of our employees and customers, we have temporarily closed all stores in the area. None of our staff or customers have been injured, we continue to monitor the situation closely and will open the stores as soon as the situation is safe again. We strongly believe that racism and bias in any shape and form, deliberate or accidental, are simply unacceptable. We stress that our wonderful store staff had nothing to do with our poorly judged product and image.
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Although there were protesters at several store locations throughout South Africa, and more protesting was happening on social media, there were some people who did not think this was racist at all. However, H&M closed stores briefly and constantly apologized for the product and image. They also removed the image from their online store and stopped selling the product.
Even some celebrities such as pop artist, The Weeknd, and rapper, G-Eazy said they would stop working with the company. However, the mother of the child who modeled the sweatshirt for H&M clearly disagrees with everyone saying this was not racist. According to her, the “backlash” of her son wearing the sweatshirt was unnecessary and that this was one of the hundreds of clothes her son had modeled for the company.
Even if H&M did not mean for people to perceive their ad campaign as racist–it was. And frankly, they should have been aware of the historical significance of monkeys and racism against black people. Their ad campaign was ignorant and inexcusable. The employees of the stores, however, are not deserving of the threats.