No, that H&M ad isn’t racist
This wilful offence-taking is warping the anti-racist cause.
The once great political project of anti-racism is rapidly being transformed into a byword for triviality, censorship and offence-taking. Just witness the latest ‘racism’ story to hit the headlines. The high-street retailer H&M has been criticised for an advert that featured a black child modelling a hoodie with the words ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ printed on the front. Before you could say ‘not okay’, the outrage began.
Canadian singer-songwriter Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, tweeted that he was ‘shocked and embarrassed by the photo’ and cut all ties with H&M (with whom he had a clothing line).
The footballer Romelu Lukaku later posted his own version of the advert on Instagram, with the words ‘Black is Beautiful’ photoshopped over the offending hoody. Even Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs has weighed in, and tweeters have called for a global boycott.
Sadly, H&M wasted no time prostrating itself before the church of the hypersensitive, and issued a grovelling apology. On its Twitter page, H&M bosses announced they were ‘deeply sorry the picture was taken, and we regret the actual print’. They added: ‘We’ll thoroughly investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake from happening again’.
This is madness. The advert wasn’t racist. Children of all backgrounds are referred to as ‘monkeys’ by their parents. The only people connecting the old anti-black slur to this little boy were the hypersensitive people are so offended by this advert. And H&M has endowed its critics with a legitimacy they do not deserve by withdrawing the ad and apologising for it.
The problem here is not the supposed ‘racism’ of H&M — it’s the race-obsessed perceptions of its accusers. This borderline pathological tendency to racialise everything, to find racism where it simply doesn’t exist, is discrediting anti-racism as a progressive cause. Worse, it trivialises the thankfully increasingly rare kind of racism that does real damage to ethnic minorities.
Courtney Hamilton is a writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter: @MrCDHamilton
Picture by: Getty