2018 has had a concerning start, with various problematic racist incidents taking place around the world.
Incidents like famous Youtuber Logan Paul being racially insensitive in Japan have exposed more division, hatred and ignorance in society.
More recently, massive clothing retailer H&M came under fire for racism. The incident inflamed debates about racism in the clothing industry worldwide and the oppressive, discriminatory forces that still hold sway within many large clothing corporations.
An advert on H&M's website portrayed a young black boy wearing a hoodie bearing the slogan "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle". This sparked outrage on social media and calls for H&M to remove the advert, apologise and remedy its racist marketing.
Probably meant to be cute for kids because everyone calls their kids little monkeys but it's not an appropriate marketing decision by H&M. You have to consider every customer. Pull it.— sellis67 (@Vegasplayerguy) January 8, 2018
Dear @hm, about that ad, 👎🏻👎🏼👎🏽👎🏾👎🏿👎. So wrong.— Micaela van Zwoll🦋 (@MicaelaVanZwoll) January 8, 2018
One of the worst things the @MetroUK have ever produced - the H&M advert is racist, you can't tell me a room of planners, marketing team, designers & photographers are not aware of the racial connotations used🧐 pic.twitter.com/IODXSitbfT— Behlul (@behlul_official) January 10, 2018
White supremacists, racists and oppressors have been comparing black people to monkeys for years, and it continues to be an ongoing racist trope. H&M's brief statement in response to the outrage was a short apology, and the company immediately deleted the advert from its websites.
However, this is not the first racist incident involving H&M. In 2015, when H&M launched its first stores and marketing campaigns in South Africa, many black South Africans were not happy that its adverts only used white models.
It is of the utmost importance that we hold companies, governments and sectors of society accountable for their dehumanising actions.
H&M's response to complaints on Twitter on that occasion created an uproar –– because they said that their marketing plan was one "which created a positive image", which implied that only white models "create a positive image".
H&M had to issue a statement trying to explain their intention and insisting that they are an all-inclusive global brand.
The sad reality is that racism is a problem in companies around the world, including clothing retailers.
In H&M's case, the fact that nobody in a senior position queried the implications of the hoodie slogan or the remark about the models before the company caused offence is a problem. A complete brainstorming, verification and approval process had to take place, in order for these decisions to be made and executed.
Spanish label Zara's 2014 anti-Semitic debacle is no different. They were called out for selling clothes that looked extremely similar to the outfits that Jewish children wore in concentration camps during the Holocaust. All of these decisions required research, decision making and approval, which shows that there are problematic prejudicial individuals on the management teams of these corporations.
These have been concerning, dehumanising incidents in the past few years. Racism, and the corporate cultures that allow its expression, need to be called out and dealt with. We also need to look at the treatment of people of colour in these spaces, to ensure that discrimination is not taking place there either.
As active citizens and concerned individuals, it is of the utmost importance that we hold companies accountable for their dehumanising actions and work towards building an equitable society that truly empowers and includes all of us.