The H&M Controversy: The Different Viewpoints

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Recent H&M ad, in which a child wears a hoodie reading “coolest monkey in the jungle”.

When you look at this H&M UK advertisement what do you think? Do your eyes inadvertently go to the adorable little boy’s face? Maybe you even think it’s a cute little hoodie for a child? Or (like most Americans) are you immediately taken aback by the phrase on the hoodie? “The coolest monkey in the jungle.” The phrase can be seen as very cute to you or idiotically prejudiced. And this may have to do with the region of the world you come from.

North America’s Viewpoint

When confronted with the term “monkey” many Americans (specifically black) feel disrespected. Though it may seem like “just a word” to some, black americans have a generational trauma to the word.

Europe’s Viewpoint

In the United Kingdom where the H&M hoodie was produced monkey has no history rooted in prejudice. In contrast to America most European blacks were never called monkey as an insult. Therefore this may explain why the UK H&M was so ignorant and blind to the issue and why the boy in the hoodie’s mother (According to Newsweek) and many others are saying, “Get over it.” Even if monkey or ape was used as a racial slur it wasn’t as widespread as it was in other regions of the world, such as America.

American history on the other hand has monkey origins rooted in a long history of prejudice. In the above publication we see blacks depicted stereotypically as “coons”. According to Dictionary.com, coon is “extremely disparaging and offensive…a contemptuous term used to refer to a black person,” or “rustic or undignified person”. Basically coon has origins in blackface, which was a very popular american industry of whites painting their face black, drawing their lips plump, wearing white gloves, and stereotypically depicting blacks as either lazy, violent, or stupid subhumans, all to the enjoyment of eager, racist, white americans. In these coon “shows” white “performers” and sometimes black would stress the “animal-like” tendencies of the African American. But the slur monkey goes further than blackface. From the moment Africans got off the boat they were being compared to apes physically and mentally. This is because African features (normally) consist of brown skin, wide noses, and voluptuous lips which the whites of the time compared to apes. Additionally, unlike white americans the slaves and their free counterparts were a lot more free spirited and cultural, which whites may have mistaken for uncouth, animal-like behavior due to their conservative tendencies. For this reason, many black Americans had to prove first that they were humans before any civil rights war even started.

In light of the recent events multiple celebrities such as The Weeknd, G-Eazy, Lebron James, and P. Diddy have given their views on the subject. The Weeknd and G-Eazy even decided to end their partnership with the brand, while P. Diddy reportedly offered the baby boy wearing the hoodie a million dollar contract with his own brand!