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Culture > News

Racism or Diversity Issue: The Problem With the H&M Scandal

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Toronto chapter.

Edited By: Joy Jiang


Words have meaning. It seems like a unnecessary statement to make, given the gravity they have and they are the means that you are reading this article right now, but it is important to realise the personal history of all words. Words that are seemingly harmless can have a painful and triggering history for some people. This can be as trivial as the word “moist” for some people, to as traumatizing as “monkey” for others. I am of course referring to the recent H&M scandal and the backlash because of it.

So lets run over the facts before we get into the history and why this event is actually more important than some piece of outrage to fill our social media feeds with. H&M is a large, fast fashion store that has stores world wide, and due to their affordable and somewhat trendy clothes, caters to most people. These stores are run regionally but all fall under the H&M banner. In the H&M UK online store, a series of children’s hoodies advertised, one of which featured a black child, modeling a green hoodie with the phrase: “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” on it. This drew massive outrage, many calling for a boycott of H&M (Artists The Weeknd claiming he will no longer be working with H&M) and culminating with a South African H&M store being trashed. The mother of the model has since spoken out telling the public to “get over it”. H&M has since apologised for the hoodie and removed it from the store.

There is a long racist history behind the word monkey. It is an intentionally racist term used originally by European slavers to degrade the people they were capturing in order to make them seem more like animals. To the Europeans, this made the trafficking of humans in horrific conditions bearable. In racist racial theory, there were lots of comparisons drawn between Africans and Chimpanzees in order to rationalise the trans Atlantic slave trade. This is why, even after the banning of the slavery across the world, the phrase continues to be used to demonise and dehumanise black people across the world. In the United States it took the form of Jim Crow laws, and in South Africa as the Apartheid Regime. Both of these pushed black people down by demeaning them and calling them animals. Therefore, it is no wonder that a word, when worn like a name tag, has racially charged emotions behind it.

I’m sure that the designers at H&M did not mean for this to be a racist symbol, and the modelers/ model did not mean to be making a racial statement. However, one would think that with the power that H&M has over national fast fashion, there would be a large team of international advisers who would have caught this mistake before it escalated to the problem it has. The problem is not that H&M is racist, but rather that H&M is narrow minded and not diverse enough. One could argue that certain people of colour, like the mother of said model, did not have a problem with the hoodie and likely people of colour at working at and for H&M also subscribe to that particular view. However, in response, it must be said that H&M is an international company that is trying to appeal to as many people as possible. By hiring diversely, they can understand a bigger target market and therefore maximise sales.

I condemn the actions taken by those who ransacked the store in South Africa for one major reason: South Africa is already in a largely jobless economy, and most of the employees at the store are likely black. By destroying the store, the only people who are being hurt are people of colour. The store itself may shut down if it is seen as too much of a liability given the harshness of H&M as a global company.

In conclusion, in order to understand a large audience, one has to understand the history of that audience. This means knowing the personal history of even the smallest things, such as words, and seeing how their impact can be catastrophic. H&M, step-up your game and hire more people of different backgrounds.  



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