Swedish retail chain, H&M has been in the news for its controversial “Monkey in the Jungle” sweater but even though the rest of the world is aggrieved, the mother of the boy who modelled the sweater has said she does not think the ad is racist.
Social media went agog over the week after a Twitter user called attention to a promo image featuring a young black model wearing a sweater with the phrase “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” emblazoned in front.
The ad was deemed extremely racist, especially at a period where race relations are a very delicate topic. Celebrities and notable personalities the world over have already expressed their disgust.
Canadian pop singer, The Weeknd has severed all ties with the brand.
A big part of the outrage was the connotations of putting such an apparently insensitive message on a young black boy.
But the Kenyan mother of the young model has taken to social media to say she does not believe the ad is racist and people are blowing the entire situation out of proportion.
Sorry, Sorry, WHAT?!!!
In a post on her Facebook profile, Terry Mango, the model’s mother drew attention to the fact that this was an isolated incident.
Apparently, her son had modelled in hundreds of other clothes for other campaigns.
“Stop crying wolf all the time. Unnecessary issue here, get over it”, she wrote.
She went further to pose a serious question. “If I bought that jumper and put it on him and posted on my pages, would that make me racist?”
At the end of her less-than-elaborate post, the Kenyan mother distanced herself from the popular sentiment that has risen in reaction to the H&M ad.
She wrote, “I get people’s opinion but they are not mine”.
The beauty of perspectives
The reactions to the H&M ad from all corners of the internet and the celebrity world are completely valid. Racial tensions in the United States and by extension, the world are higher than they have been in decades.
The implications of a racist gaffe of that nature should not be lost on a chain like H&M considering that popular brands like Pepsi and Dove and personalities like Donald Sterling have had their axe gored over racist statements and actions.
Yet, it should be easy to see where Miss Mango is coming from.
It is difficult for her to see how a single sweater could make an entire retail chain racist after her son has tried on hundreds of other sweaters.
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Her statement is not altogether strange. There is an unpopular belief that the delicate matter of race is being projected on to completely harmless situations that are then blown out of proportion.
This is largely a product of social media and platforms like Twitter where individuals with a large following can start a campaign and gain massive traction before anyone bothers to ask what exactly they are talking about.
Brace yourself, Miss Mango
However, one could make the case that Terry Mango is being naive. The fact that her model son tried on many clothes does not count for much because, in the end, it only takes one.
It takes one sweater to subliminally associate a black child with a monkey; one ad with such a sweater to sell this message to the world; one retail chain to spread subtly a message that has been fought since the days of colonialism.
Already, H&M has apologised for the ad and taken the sweater off the racks but that has not eased the barrage of angry feedback they are getting.
With her comments on how she sees the ad, you can be sure Terry Mango is about to get some of that anger too.