Sweatshirts and Soap: The Marriage Between Microagressions and Marketing

Did they do it on purpose? Why didn’t anyone point out the implications? Should we boycott? How much do they have to discount their goods before we stop the boycott? Why don’t we just shop at black-owned businesses? Why the hell are black-owned businesses so damn expensive?

These are the questions that are all over social media after a marketing scandal. The most recent scandal was a young Black boy modeling the H&M sweatshirt that said “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”.  



To provide some context to the situation, African Americans have historically been labelled and compared to monkeys. A lot of people perceived this sweatshirt as a nod to that history, and were outraged. Why would they choose a black boy to model this sweatshirt? Why didn’t anyone realize the implications of this ad? The answer probably lies in the location of the H&M stores that had this ad. The ad was originally posted on H&M’s UK website. One way to perceive this is that the ad is due to a combination of an ignorance among UK employees of the American history that underlies the monkey slur, and the popularity in the UK of calling children monkeys as a form of endearment.In my opinion, this is most likely what happened. It was a mistake, and had no actual intention behind it. However, I still think there is a huge issue with this ad. Did they intend for it to be racist? No. Does it seem a little racist? Yes. How could this have been prevented? A person on the marketing team whose job is to look out for things such as this. A person that is trained in cultural sensitivity. If H&M already has a person that has this as their job or at least a part of their job, then they need to be replaced/restrained because it is pretty obvious to me, and tons of other people, that this ad is problematic.


Another recent scandal that resembles the H&M one was a Dove soap commercial.  This controversy was based on a gif of a black woman removing her shirt to reveal a white woman.

To provide some context for this situation, African Americans have historically been referred to as dirty; whereas, their White peers were pure or clean. So a black woman seemingly turning into a white woman on a soap commercial was perceived as another demonstration of this extremely racist trope. Do I believe this ad was intended to be racist? Nope. Did it seem a little racist? Yep.


The point I am trying to make here is that I do not believe these ads had any true malicious intent behind them. I do not think these companies are racist, I think they are negligent. I believe that these companies should hire a person to view these ads and double check them for cultural sensitivity before they publish them.  Do I think we should boycott companies that make these mistakes? I guess that’s up to you. If you want to teach these companies a lesson because their negligence offended you, by all means, abstain from buying their products. Am I? Nah. H&M is cheap, and surprisingly, not too unethical. I think they learned their lesson, as they have already hired a “diversity leader” to prevent future ads such as the aforementioned one,  so I’m satisfied.