When I first saw the H&M ad of the black child in the “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie on twitter, my first thought was “how did no one catch this?” I wanted to have the opinion “I’d like to think this was a coincidence.” I thought “I have no way of knowing whether or not this was intentional, but I’d like to think it wasn’t.” However, the problem with me thinking that is that it doesn’t address the fact that “unintentional” racism is unacceptable. Going into 2018, we need to be aware, and make others aware that these sorts of “accidents” aren’t excusable anymore. Even if this was an accident on H&M’s part, someone at that photoshoot should have said something before that ad was put out, and the fact that no one did is an issue on its own. It comes with any “ism”, when you’re so used to it, that you don’t notice it, that’s a problem. We are so accustomed to racism and sexism (and many other forms of prejudice and oppression) that we sometimes don’t even notice them in pop culture. So many movies, advertisements, or tv shows have stereotypical characters and make sexist or racist jokes. The idea of “accidental” or “unintentional” racism means that as a society, we are sometimes not conscious enough about what we say or produce. H&M wasn’t conscious enough in the ads they were putting out, and understandably, it upset people. The issue isn’t the hoodie itself, “coolest monkey in the jungle” is a cute idea for a children’s sweatshirt. The issue is that it was put on a black child, and no one thought “oh, this might come off as racist?” The mother of the model, Terry Mango, said “if I bought that jumper and put it on him and posted it on my pages, would that make me racist? I get peoples opinion, but they are not mine.” The answer is no, it wouldn’t. The sweatshirt itself isn’t the problem, and it would be a completely different story if the model put it on himself, but he didn’t. While “unintentional” racism is certainly something to discuss and recognize, it is the least of our issues right now.
In our current political climate, we have much bigger fish to fry. As a country, as a society, and in the world, we have much bigger forms of racism to protest over. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think you shouldn’t shop at H&M. But not just because of their racist ad. I also don’t think you should shop at Gap, Old Navy, or Forever 21. Have you ever wondered how these companies’ clothes are so affordable? It’s because they are made in countries such as Cambodia, Bangaldesh, Myanmar, and even America, in outrageous working conditions, by very young women (the majority of these workers are women) and for unlivable wages. These sweatshops are extremely hot, causing workers to fall out from working long hours in unbearable heat. These sweatshops do not follow normal labor laws; the workers are forced to work 60-100 hour weeks, in hot and unsafe conditions, for well under minimum wage. After the racist ad they put out, they have since hired a “diversity leader.” “The recent incident was entirely unintentional, but it demonstrates so clearly how big our responsibility is as a global brand. We have reached out, around the world, inside and outside H&M to get feedback.” was included in their statement . Their unethical working environments, however, have been recognized, but not fixed. In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing roughly over a thousand workers. This caused many companies to agree to make a commitment to providing safe working environments for the workers making their clothes, H&M included. H&M was the first and largest company to sign the 2013 Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Sadly, according to the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, there has barely been any progress made. “Due to failed compliance with the accord, 78,842 garment workers in Bangladesh continue to produce garments for H&M in buildings without fire exits.” A report done by the Clean Clothes campaign, only looking at H&M’s best factories since the collapse in 2013, has also shown that progress has been incredibly slow. About 61% of those factories didn’t have fire exits that meet the Accord’s standards, and that number is far too high for how at-risk Bangladesh is for factory fires. Other risks included in the report were lockable doors, sliding doors, and collapsible gates. I’m not saying a racist ad isn’t a priority, or that unintentional racism is acceptable, because it isn’t. We need to watch our language and what comes natural to us, and that goes for companies as public as H&M. What I am saying is if H&M can’t keep their promise of providing safe working environments for the people that make their product, then their “unintentionally” racist ad should be the least of their worries, and the least of ours.