H&M has apologized for an online advertisement that featured a black boy modeling a sweatshirt reading “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”
The image, which was recently advertised on the Swedish clothing retailer’s website in Britain, ignited an uproar on social media, with critics saying it was tone deaf and filled with racist undertones.
“We understand that many people are upset about the image. We, who work at H&M, can only agree,” H&M said Monday in a statement to The Washington Post. “We are deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print. Therefore, we have not only removed the image from our channels, but also the garment from our product offering globally.
“It is obvious that our routines have not been followed properly. This is without any doubt. We will thoroughly investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake from happening again.”
People took to Twitter on Monday, noting that other sweatshirts from the same line, including one reading “Survival expert,” were modeled by white children.
So the black kid gets to wear the H&M sweater with "Coolest monkey in the jungle" and the white kid with "Survival expert". This is beyond disgusting. It's a projection of your neocolonial thinking. You won't see me anywhere near your shops these days @hm pic.twitter.com/5FS9HHvhKu
— big_deen (@big_deen75) January 8, 2018
Twitter was abuzz with criticism from celebrities, journalists and social justice advocates.
“Woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo,” music artist Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, better known as “the Weeknd,” wrote. “I’m deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore . . . ”
New York Times columnist Charles Blow asked, “@hm, have you lost your damned minds?!?!?!”
NBA star LeBron James posted an altered version of the photo on Instagram, superimposing a picture of a crown over the original print and offering an word of encouragement.
“Enough about y’all and more of what I see when I look at this photo. I see a Young King!!”
@hm u got us all wrong! And we ain't going for it! Straight up! Enough about y'all and more of what I see when I look at this photo. I see a Young King!! The ruler of the world, an untouchable Force that can never be denied! We as African Americans will always have to break barriers, prove people wrong and work even harder to prove we belong but guess what, that's what we love because the benefits at the end of the road are so beautiful!! #LiveLaughLove❤️ #LoveMyPeople⚖️⚖️
Retail strategist Wendy Liebmann said it is imperative that companies, especially in the retail industry, are conscious about how their products are perceived by consumers. “Sometimes this happens — a global company is not sensitive to another culture, another political commentary,” said Liebmann, chief executive of WSL Strategic Retail. “This is something that is relevant across the world. So not to be sensitive to that is an everyday issue; it’s not just the times we live in. This is a consciousness that we should all have at any time — not just at these heightened times.”
Liebmann said incidents such as these used to blow over more quickly, but not in today’s digital age. “We’re much more sensitive and much more overt in expressing ourselves,” she said, adding that H&M needs to address the issue and be sensitive with its other collections.
Still, some argued on Twitter that despite how it appeared, H&M may not have had that intention.
Am I the only one who doesn't feel h&m meant it like that with the black little baby in the monkey shirt? Kids wear little cute stuff like that all the time..
— livibabyy (@LiViBADD88) January 8, 2018
Other brands have had similar issues, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Urban Outfitters and Zara.
The international personal-care brand Dove faced backlash late last year after running a video advertisement for body wash that appeared to show a black woman removing her shirt to reveal a white woman. As The Washington Post’s Cleve Wootsen reported, Dove responded with an apology saying it had “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully.”
H&M: "Now then, any ideas on how we should market this 'Monkey' hoodie?"
Dove: "We may have a few ideas…" pic.twitter.com/EgSWeg97Bs
— Michael Gravesande (@OldBlackHack) January 8, 2018