H&M is learning a hard lesson on racism and diversity from South Africans
South Africans are teaching H&M a tough lesson on the importance of diversity.
Just days after the Swedish chain was forced to temporarily close some of its South African stores after anti-racism protests, an NGO is demanding that H&M executives undergo “compulsory anti-racism and diversity training, so that there can be a change of attitude within the company around issues related to race.”
The Ahmed Kathrada foundation released a statement on Jan. 16 saying it had approached H&M’s South African offices and its global headquarters immediately after spotting the advert with a black child wearing a hoodie with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle.” The foundation says it wrote to H&M on Jan. 11 already, but only received a “a bland and automated response.”
“It is of serious concern that your company published the advert without considering the historical context of how the word and image of a “monkey” has been used to racially demean black people for generations,” the letter read. The foundation is the legacy of Ahmed Kathrada, a tireless anti-apartheid activist who was jailed along with Nelson Mandela.
H&M learned the hard way that an apology was not enough in South Africa, a country where race-based controversies often hog the headlines. South Africa’s fraught, but brutally honest and very public conversations on race offer a lesson to global brands on the importance of diversity. Increasingly across the continent, consumers are teaching brands that diversity matters, as Nivea had to learn in Ghana last year.
H&M creatives baffled by why associating a black boy with a monkey is considered racism should have looked into the case of Penny Sparrow, a South African woman whose Facebook post calling black people monkeys resulted in national uproar, court proceedings and a fine.
South African protesters ransack H&M stores over ‘racist’ ad
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Protesters angered by a “racist” H&M advertisement ransacked several of the Swedish fashion group’s South African stores on Saturday.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) protesters targeted six H&M stores in the Gauteng province, where South Africa’s economic hub of Johannesburg is located, tearing down shop displays and throwing clothes around, police said.
In one instance, officers fired rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, the police added.
H&M earlier this week issued an apology for the widely criticized ad, which featured a black child modeling a sweatshirt with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle”, and said it had removed it from all its marketing.
But Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, spokesman for the ultra-left EFF, said that was too little, too late.
“The time of apologies for racism are over; there must be consequences to anti-black racism, period!” Ndlozi wrote on Twitter, posting pictures of a vandalized H&M store and video footage of chanting EFF supporters.
H&M South Africa did not respond to a request for comment, but its local website carried an apology for the advertisement.
“Our position is simple, we have got this wrong and we are deeply sorry,” the apology read.
Police said they were monitoring the protests, but that they had made no arrests so far.
Protests over perceived corporate wrongdoing have a history of turning violent in South Africa, where some drivers for ride-hailing service Uber have had their vehicles torched over the past year by regular taxi operators.
“Our position is simple, we have got this wrong and we are deeply sorry,” the apology read.Police said they were monitoring the protests, but that they had made no arrests so far.Protests over perceived corporate wrongdoing have a history of turning violent in South Africa, where some drivers for ride-hailing service Uber have had their vehicles torched over the past year
RACISM STORM: Shoppers slam H&M over ‘racist’ advert showing black youngster wearing a ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ hoodie
Style blogger Stephanie Yeboah shared the advert on Twitter, writing: “Whose idea was it @hm to have this little sweet black boy wear a jumper that says ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’?
“I mean. What.”
“I’m f***ing disgusted,” she adds. “Like…what was the thought process behind this @hm ???”
The post was retweeted nearly 14,000 times within a day of being shared on January 7.
But many people disagreed with the accusations.
George wrote on Twitter: “That obviously isn’t meant to be racist. It’s only offensive if you choose for it to be, which you have.”
And Twitter user Kwame said it was “just modelling” and “done with no harming intention”.
However, Ms Yeboah adds: “As somebody who has been called a monkey many times by white people (both to my face and online), this is absolutely unacceptable.
“Ignorance is not an excuse anymore, it’s 2018.”
H&M have since removed the image and apologised for any offence caused.