19 Jan Afterthoughts on H&M’s Racist Hoodie: A Lesson for the Other Capitalists
As an entity doing business in times of racial turbulence, I wonder what drove H&M to think that an advertisement with a BLACK boy – Liam Mango – wearing a garment which read ‘coolest MONKEY in the jungle’ would not stir up a storm. As a capitalist entity motivated to increase the bottom-line, I wonder why H&M thought such a tacky garment would help boost sales, especially from the black community. This fiasco served to highlight the need for diversity and education on diversity issues. Of course, these two elements, on their own, are ineffective unless power – to air views, affect or make decisions, etc
If your marketing strategy is to penetrate or develop a certain market and your marketing department comes up with a tacky tagline which is highly likely to be construed as racially/culturally insensitive by the targeted market, you need to fire that department. Okay – that may be too drastic a remedy but then again… If you are serious about running a profitable business that seeks to attract and retain customers from different backgrounds, if you are in charge of giving the green light signalling the implementation of proposed plans, you are solely responsible for any potential damage done to your brand.
H&M failed to put in place measures to educate everyone – including themselves – about external environments. Our society is marred by a lot of racial/cultural tension and negative stereotyping of specific individuals. It is therefore imperative that organisations operating in such an environment ensure that their business processes are sensitive to this. Just as being attuned to sensitive issues is important, so too is the willingness to unlearn any biases that negatively impact the issues we ought to be attuned to.
Our words are impactful. They matter, and what may be a term of endearment for some may be a derogatory term to others. Again, this speaks of the vital need for (unbiased) sensitivity. Black folks may have claimed some words used to dehumanise us but that does not mean that white folks can use those words (especially not to line their own pockets) and think they won’t carry the same disparaging undertone. For H&M to claim to have not ‘known the implication’ of their chosen metaphor is to implicitly admit that they are a business that is detached from its macro environment as are their ineffectual marketing and research & development departments which have failed to keep abreast with our complicated social environment.
One can’t help but wonder if the company has any black folks working for them in these departments? It would be a bit ballsy for any business to attempt to attract black customers all the while relying on a team that has no black member and operates with a lack of – clearly much-needed – input or guidance on near-effective ways to win black folks’ over. Diversifying departments is important! Diversity, on its own, it is not enough though.
If H&M does have blacks folks in these departments who would have knowledge of marketing plans before they are implemented, how much power do they have to voice their concerns over what can be construed as racial microaggressions? I know that there is also a possibility that the blacks working there may have not read the statement as bearing any racist connotations. After all, we are not a homogenous group.
In the instance that a black member of H&M’s marketing team thought that there was no harm in using the word since ‘it’s a word that many folks colloquially use to describe each other’, they are also responsible for overlooking the implication of using a term that white folks have used to offensively describe black folks because they refused to see us as humans. Bluntly speaking, that term, when used by white folks, is a hate-filled word reminiscent of a hate-filled history of black folks being chained and kept in zoos while white folks took out their cameras and snapped photos of another human being whose humanness they refused to see. That cannot be taken lightly.