Officials for Sweden-based international clothing retailer H&M apologized today (January 8) after a website product page prompted accusations of racist advertising.
The page in question featured a Black child model wearing a hoodie that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The slogan points to a long and ugly history of racist associations between primates and people in the African diaspora. Critics like The New York Times columnist Charles Blow tweeted about the image, which was posted on the company’s British website, yesterday (January 7):
Vox Media branding designer Alex Medina noted the juxtaposition between the photo and others featuring White children on the same page.
In the year 2018 there’s no way brands/art directors can be this negligent and lack awareness. If look at other sweaters in same category they have white kids. We have to do better. pic.twitter.com/Av4bS4t6yn— alex medina (@mrmedina) January 8, 2018
A Twitter user responded to Blow’s original tweet by pointing out how one of the White child models wore a sweatshirt that read “Mangrove Jungle Official Survival Expert” and “Junior Tour Guide.”
but wait for it…there’s also the loaded message on the orange hoodie…the junior tour guide & jungle official survivor expert…the entire narrative is a fail for 2018. pic.twitter.com/8hpHQPxOgQ— paisley (@alwayspaisley) January 8, 2018
“We sincerely apologize for offending people with this image of a printed hooded top,” H&M said in a statement to USA Today. “The image has been removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States.”
“We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do, and will be reviewing all our internal policies accordingly to avoid any future issues,” the statement continued.
The sweatshirt is still available on the British sales site, with the images replaced by photos of the sweatshirts on a plain white background.
This is not the first time that H&M has encountered criticism for racism. As The Huffington Post reported in 2015, the company faced backlash for a South African campaign that exclusively featured White models. The company initially defended the advertisements, saying it wanted “to convey a positive feeling.”