The Sweden-based apparel retailer received complaints of racism after a product page on their web site featured a black child modeling the sweatshirt.
Worldwide apparel retailer H&M issued an apology and vowed to review their internal policies on diversity and inclusion after controversy erupted over a page on their web site promoting a hoodie with the slogan “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”
The page (since revised to replace the offending image) featured a photograph of a black child modeling the hoodie—an article of clothing that took on specific meaning for the Black Lives Matter movement after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The juxtaposition of the black child with the slogan struck many as redolent of racist imagery dating back more than a century in which dark-skinned people were likened to, or represented as, apes and monkeys. That insulting characterization has persisted over time; notably President Barack Obama was often the target of such racist imagery during his term of office.
The outcry on social media was swift. Models of Diversity, an organization devoted to promoting equality and diversity in the fashion, beauty, and media industries, condemned the promotion in a tweet:
New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow also spoke out against the image, questioning the company’s sanity:
Vox Media brand designer Alex Medina called the display “negligent,” observing that white models were used for other sweatshirts in the same line:
We reached out to H&M’s media relations department, who replied with this brief statement:
“We sincerely apologize for offending people with this image of a printed hooded top. The image has been removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States. We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do and will be reviewing all our internal policies accordingly to avoid any future issues.”