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KENNETH DONALDSON: H&M fiasco points to diversity blind spots

On January 23, 2018

BY KENNETH DONALDSON / VN COLUMNIST

The popular clothing outfitter H & M came under fire after displaying a black boy modeling a sweatshirt featuring the words “coolest monkey in the jungle.”

This caused wide-scale backlash against the brand.

Social media ignited with a slew of angry tweets expressing outrage and proposing potential boycotts.

Artists such as G Eazy and the Weeknd cut ties with the outfitter, halting highly anticipated upcoming projects.

In South Africa, tensions escalated to the point where some stores were destroyed by protesters, causing them to temporarily close their doors.

Since then, the company has done due diligence to correct this mistake by issuing an official apology, vowing to destroy the sweatshirt and promising to prevent such an incident from happening again.

Now that much of the burning anger and outrage has subsided, most logical people understand that this was really nothing more than a tragic accident.

H & M, as a company, has shown itself time and time again to appreciate the work and value of people of color via collaborations and models for years.

The company employs many people of color at many store locations.

To intentionally produce such a sweatshirt, even as a joke, would not be in the best interest of the company, especially during this tense social climate due to politics.

Knowing all of this, it begs the question how something like this could happen in the first place.

Doesn’t a massive company such as this have a public relations team?

Don’t ads and displays go through many different departments before they are finally released to avoid such problems as this one?

With H & M having all these means to avoid such problems, how did this incident still occur?

A result like this simply occurs as a result of a lack of diversity.

Though racism definitely exists, it has become more covert.

America has had a massive positive shift to where racism is publicly unacceptable.

When walking down the street, a racist person would more likely give a glare of disdain than use offensive terminology.

As a result, people not from communities affected by racism begin to sometimes forget the diction and vile rhetoric of old times and hold very few terms or phrases in the category of racist.

However, in communities of color, these terms, sayings and allusions are still held in memory.

When people from these communities are not present in these forums where details are discussed and displays approved, things such as this may fly under the radar.

If H & M and all other companies want to ensure they protect their image, avoid further incidents of accidental racism and continue to play their part in promoting diversity and inclusion, people of color must be employed in the right positions to monitor potential advertisements and products.

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