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raceAhead: Everyone's Mad at H&M

raceAhead: Everyone's Mad at H&M
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January 09
20:342018

A new advertisement from H&M has the public, including some very high profile celebrities, crying foul.

The ad, which showed an adorable black boy modeling a hooded sweatshirt that said “coolest monkey in the jungle,” was met with widespread derision.

The Canadian singer, The Weeknd, tweeted the offending image and this: “[W]oke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. i’m deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore..” The singer, whose name is Abel Tesfaye, had previously collaborated with the Sweden-based company on a collection and modeled their clothing.

LeBron James edited the offensive language out of the image and posted a new one on Instagram, with the child wearing a “King James” crown. “African Americans will always have to break barriers,” he wrote.

The company rushed to apologize yesterday and pulled the sweatshirt from U.S. stores.

“We sincerely apologize for this image. It has been now removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States,” H&M said in an email statement to Fortune.

It’s not just a cute kid in a hoodie. The animalization of black people has roots in slavery, a simple gambit to justify the abuse of other other human beings that is impressive in its simplicity and endurance.

Neal A. Lester, an English professor and the founding director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University explains how the ugly underpinnings that inspired the backlash live on today, in an essay on TeachingTolerance.org:

Add incidents, headlines, illustrations and images of black people as primates to historical pseudo-scientific efforts to equate black people to animals, and you challenge the notion of a supposed 21st-century post-racial United States head on.

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