Things haven’t been particularly good for Swedish fast-fashion brand H&M lately. The second-largest clothing retailer in the world caused mass media outrage when an image of a young black boy modeling a hoodie that said "coolest monkey in the jungle” surfaced on social media.
An astonishingly large number of people, along with dozens of high profile celebrities, took to social media to express anger and disbelief over the image that was advertised on the retail chain’s website. Saying that the words inscribed on the hoodie were “derogatory,” social media users have branded the ad “racially charged” and called for a mass boycott of the retailer.
Although H&M was quick to issue an apology over the ad, saying that they agree with all the criticism that the image has generated, noting that the image was "unintentional" and "accidental in nature,” there was no lack of celebrities feigning outrage.
Singer The Weeknd announced his departure with the retail agent, along with rapper G-Eazy, whose collaboration with H&M was due to come out in March. Joining their ranks and publicly denouncing the brand were Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku, rapper and producer Diddy, basketball player Lebron James, and rapper T.I, to name a few.
While it might seem like the hashtag warriors plaguing social media websites with their call for boycotting H&M were doing enough damage, the brand has faced serious property damage in South Africa. The retailer was forced to close all of its stores in South Africa over the weekend due to safety concerns after a group of self-branded “anti-racism” protestors turned violent and rampaged through the stores.
"Out of concern for the safety of our employees and customers, we have temporarily closed all stores in the area," a statement posted on H&M's website said."None of our staff or customers have been injured," H&M said. "We continue to monitor the situation closely and will open the stores as soon as the situation is safe again.”
Most of the protestors are suspected to be members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a South African revolutionary socialist party. The opposition party’s H7, the former head of the African National Congress Youth League, said that although the retailer had been taught a lesson, the EFF’s job was not quite done yet.
“We must not allow the humiliation of black people to continue,” Malema told his supporters in Polokwane.
“No one should make jokes about the dignity of black people and be left unattended to. We make no apology about what the fighters did today against H&M. All over South Africa, H&M stores are closed because they called our children baboons. So we are teaching them a lesson, if they don’t know what a monkey is, then today they know what it is.”
“Every shop that undermines black people must be attended to,” he added. “It must be shut down. It must be closed.”
However, Malema’s calls for the abolishment of racism towards black people quickly turned into calls for violence. Later in his statement, Malema called for his supporters to “deal” with any individual that uses the K-word on a black person, referring to the derogatory term used to describe black people in South Africa.
“Their pictures must be circulated after you have attended to them so that others can see what you have done to them,” he said.
While it’s highly unlikely that the brand that operates more than 4,000 stores worldwide and made $3 billion in 2016 is going to be toppled by a marketing scandal, the media outrage surrounding H&M is an extremely important phenomenon that needs to be addressed.
The political correctness that has been plaguing the media and suffocating free speech for decades seems to have reached its tipping point. In a sea of hashtag fighters and the professionally outraged, a stupid, insensitive, and mostly just ignorant mistake of low tier marketing employees was enough to cause violence and deepen the schism between races.
We’re living in an extremely racially sensitive climate where outrage seems to be the currency people measure their value in. And when your value in society is measured by how much injustice you can spot, you’re bound to see it everywhere.
Was this a deliberate act of racism, an evil scheme conspired at the very top of H&M’s corporate leadership aimed to implant the idea of racial inferiority into young kids looking to buy a hoodie? Highly unlikely, to say the least.
It was a little spark that somehow managed to find its way out of a photo studio in Sweden. And it’s not the spark that’s the problem - it’s everything around it that seems to be soaked with gasoline.