H&M Controversy: Unfortunate Mistake or Intended Message?

Angel Emodi, Staff Writer

H&M has been the topic of the day! Recently, the H&M Swedish department uploaded a controversial product photo. The photo was of a black child, Liam Mango, wearing a green hoodie with the words “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle”. The media was outraged as soon as the photo was released. Customers called the photo “racist” and “racially insensitive”. Some people believed the black model was referred to as a monkey. In addition to this, a product photo depicted a white child wearing an orange hoodie with the words “Survival Expert”. This made matters worse. People believed this was done intentionally. Tweeters claimed that this illustrated persisting “neo-colonial” views. Throughout history, whites have barged into lands and demanded dominance over the “uncivilized” people, especially in Africa. The wounds reopened as the white child was perceived to be described as a professional while the black child was perceived to be described as an animal.

In South Africa, protests at H&M stores spurred. The Economic Freedom Fighters stated that they were “teaching [H&M] a lesson” and they were not “going to allow anyone to use the colour of [their] skin to humiliate them”. The protestors destroyed H&M stores throughout the country and stated that they were “black . . . [and] not ashamed of being black”. Violence erupted as a result of the ambiguity of the product photo. H&M closed all stores in the country until further notice.

Despite all the commotion, some people believe the picture was blown out of context. Liam’s own mother, Terry Mango, told people to “get over it” because the chaos was “unnecessary”. Later on she added on that “[i]t is not an overreaction when it comes to racism; everyone should act differently based on their opinions of what racism is”.

Despite all the controversy, H&M removed the product photo from the Swedish retail website and apologized to the public. H&M’s apology reads: “To all customers, staff, media, stakeholders, partners, suppliers, friends and critics. We would like to put on record our position in relation to the image and promotion of a children’s sweater, and the ensuing response and criticism. Our position is simple and unequivocal – we have got this wrong and we are deeply sorry.”

Although H&M’s apology bettered matters, they still suffered greatly. Multiple celebrity partners ended their partnerships with H&M. Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, tweeted that he was “shocked and embarrassed by [the] photo”. He stated that he was “deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore”. Another celebrity that separated from H&M is G-Eazy, musician and producer who collaborated with H&M on a menswear collection that was to hit stores on March 1. G-Eazy stated that “[a]fter seeing the disturbing image . . . my excitement over our global campaign quickly evaporated, and I’ve decided at this time our partnership needs to end”.

After these losses, H&M has begun changing its policies. Recently, H&M has hired a “diversity leader” to adhere to the feedback following the hoodie controversy: “Our commitment to addressing diversity and inclusiveness is genuine, and therefore we have appointed a global leader in this area to drive our work forward”.

Was the H&M hoodie controversy an overreaction or a racist scandal? Also, H&M offered an 80% discount at all their stores. Do you think this was an appropriate response? With these facts, it’s now up to you to decide.