H&M responds to outrage over ad

Protests lead to a temporary closing of all 17 store locations in South Africa

Photo courtesy of Twitter | An H&M store in South Africa was left in shambles following protests in Johannesburg and Boksburg. The protests were organized by the Economic Freedom Fighters, a South African political party, as a response to controversy with the clothing retailer’s choice to post an ad which featured a Black child wearing a hoodie that read “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”

Swedish clothing retailer H&M closed all of its stores in South Africa on Saturday, following controversy regarding an ad portraying a Black child in a hoodie bearing the phrase “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”

The ad appeared only on the British version of the online store and brought immediate controversy because of the history of “monkey” being used as a derogatory slur to refer to people of African descent.

“To have anything with a Black person, and in this particular case, a Black kid, and a saying around a monkey is problematic historically,” Dr. Taj Smith, director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, said. “We know that that representation has always been there throughout history. It has a lot of negative connotations.”

H&M apologized shortly after people began speaking out, saying in a tweet on Jan. 9, “We understand that many people are upset about the image of the children’s hoodie. We, who work at H&M, can only agree. We’re deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print. Therefore, we’ve not only removed the image from our channels, but also the garment from our product offering. It’s obvious that our routines haven’t been followed properly. This is without any doubt. We’ll thoroughly investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake from happening again.”

There has been public outcry around the world, including several celebrities such as The Weeknd and G-Eazy cutting ties with the brand. In South Africa, people have taken their objections to the street.

Over the weekend, two H&M stores in Johannesburg and Boksburg were torn apart, with clothing thrown on the ground and mannequins destroyed following protests planned by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a South African political party. Smith explained that South Africa as a nation has a long history of dealing with racial issues and that the extreme reaction could be linked to the history of Apartheid, which legally separated Black South Africans from White South Africans.

“I imagine there’s something deeper to (the issue) that led to this grade of frustration (in South Africa),” Smith said. “I don’t think if we didn’t have the history of racism and Apartheid there that there would be this strong of a reaction. I think it’s just the icing on the cake, one thing on top of another thing that makes people tired of facing injustice.”

Some have been critical of the protests by the EFF, claiming that the people who will primarily be affected by the demonstrations are employees who had nothing to do with the sweatshirt design.

“In the moment of people being upset about an issue, usually our reaction is to want to strike quickly, and protests tend to lend themself to that,” Smith said. “Not every protest goes to this sort of extreme.”

Julius Sello Malema, leader of the EFF responded to criticisms in a Jan. 13 tweet.

“We will never be told by any fool on how to fight against our oppression particularly those who have never been at the picket lines. There’s no formula on how you should fight the oppressor, expect more action against all racists, individually and collectively this year.”

H&M South Africa released a statement on Saturday, saying, “What matters most to us is the safety of our employees and customers. We have temporarily closed our stores in South Africa. 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.”

There are 17 locations across the country.

“This incident is accidental in nature, but this doesn’t mean we don’t take it extremely seriously or understand the upset and discomfort it has caused,” a representative of the company told INSIDER. “We have taken down the image and we have removed the garment in question from sale. It will be recycled. We will now be doing everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening again in the future.”

Senior PPP major Adrian Parker is not satisfied with H&M’s response.

“I think H&M will close all these stores and give their official response of ‘we stand against racism,’ but then underneath nothing’s going to change,” Parker said. “If they want the appropriate response, the appropriate response to me would be that whole marketing team or whoever was responsible, they’re fired.”

Parker also expressed uncertainty about how people expressing outrage now will act in the future.

“A lot of people don’t think about where they’re spending their money,” Parker said. “(The outrage) may just stick to H&M and then may just blow over because they’re cheap, they’re affordable, even though they’ve done this heinous thing. The narrative will turn into ‘Well, everyone makes mistakes.’ At the end of the day, we need clothes, which we can get for cheap at H&M.”

By: Kevin Thomas ~U.S. & World News Editor~