It’s hardly surprising when people are outraged by racist subliminal advertising. The racially coded marketing of products, such as the Dove (Unilever) soap ad last year and now the H&M ad, placing a Black boy in a hoodie that reads ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle,’ seems to be following a tired trend.; publish the campaign, watch the fallout ensue, and offer a swift apology.
Even less surprising are the people involved, the actual models or their chaperones, who quickly issue statements, claiming those offended by symbolic imagery are making a big fuss out of nothing. In the case of the H&M ad, the little boys mother, Terry Mango claims she doesn’t understand why everyone was outraged. In contrast to the social media theories circulating social media – H&M photoshopped the shirt after the shoot; the parents were not aware of the slogan on the hoody being promoted. It appears that Ms Mango was present and took to Instagram to address the controversy:
“[I] am the mum, and this is one of hundreds of outfits my son has modelled. Stop crying wolf all the time, [it’s] an unnecessary issue here. Get over it.. That’s my son, [I’ve] been to all photoshoots and this was not an exception. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about this… I really don’t understand but not [because I’m] choosing not to, but because it’s not my way of thinking. Sorry.”
Currently a resident of Stockholm, Sweden, Ms Mango was born in Nairobi, Kenya and it would be fair to say that whilst she may not be aware of the racial division engulfing America and the spread of white nationalism throughout Europe, one would think she should be mindful of the long-standing association between apes and Africans, and the higher esteem generally accorded by Europeans to other races rather than African civilisations. For example, it is not uncommon for football fans in Europe to throw bananas at African players, and teammates of African descent to show their disapproval of the player’s performance or to simply humiliate and insult black players.
When we look back at the early formation of racial theories and anthropology, the predominant theory of race was the’ great chain of being’, the idea that human races could be rated from most superior to most inferior; with God, white people, and then an assortment of people of color, with blacks at the bottom of the pile. Before Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’, Samuel Morton, an American physician and surgeon, was collecting skulls from around the world to back up his claim that he could judge the intellectual capability of a man by his cranial capacity. Morton’s theories influenced the racist and often discredited works of those to follow. One such man, Josiah Nott, used his influence as a physician and owner of slaves to conclude that the” negro achieves his greatest perfection, physical and moral, and also greatest longevity, in a state of slavery”
The common theme of many of those to follow was to claim that Africans, or African Americans were more ape-like, and in turn ripe for toiling the lands of America and elsewhere as beasts of burden. The dehumanisation of Africans has been an ongoing theme, perpetuated throughout Europe and America. In fact there was a period when it was a common perception of the working class Irish and Africans. However, the punishment and treatment meted out to enslaved Africans is surpassed by none when you consider the sheer cruelty and barbarous nature of the transatlantic slave trade.
Of course the most prolonged scorn and lasting simian comparisons have been reserved for black people around the world. From the backlash of a black family in the White House, to the narrative of white nationalists, supremacists and Neo-Nazi’s, and the common bigot, the symbolic racial coding of firms courting controversy have begun in earnest for 2018. The time to plead ignorance has well and truly passed. H&M may be losing the power of the black consumer, but is sure to find favour with the socially programmed masses who choose to ignore this method of racist marketing and for some, H&M are simply satisfying the perception of white supremacy. It is easy to understand why so many people are outraged by the H&M ad when you take a glance at the past. It is also a sad turn of events to hear Ms Mango disclose that “I really don’t understand but not [because I’m] choosing not to, but because it’s not my way of thinking. Sorry.”