Highlights

Plea letter to the mother of boy caught up in infamous H&M ad

This issue is not about you. This is about your boy. This noise you hear all around, the opinions you disregard, is about every Black person, all people of African descent, whose bodies and intellect are targeted daily.

Screen capture of a chat with Terry Mango, mother of boy in H&M ad, purporting to support the ad  \ no image credits

So, let me get this. The whole world is in an uproar over the infamous “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” hoodie and the boy’s mother wants us to believe she has no issue with it? Incredulous! Let me say from the outset that I’ll be unfair to smugly bash the poor boy’s mother without acknowledging that the onus of miscalculation solely rests on H&M. Mother obviously has all rights regarding her son, but she invited our opinions the moment she allowed him to be photographed in that top and later defended an ad that is in such bad taste.

A couple of  possibilities here as I try to come up with an excuse for you: It appears you, boy’s mom and fellow Kenyan, live in Europe. Thus, unless your life is in a bubble, you  cannot be new to racism. And if you were so lucky as to be insulated from it, please open a few history books or watch a couple of movies. Second possibility is that you are a very recent immigrant from Kenya, where most people other than in cities don’t ever encounter racism till they become a visible minority in a foreign country.  But, from my WWW view, the most obvious reason, where I’m putting my $$$ on is of course the bottom line. In the digital world, drama + sensation = clicks = fame & profit. Sadly, we’ve seen this scenario too many times before with a number of other companies, and despite their apology,  I’m willing to bet this ad by H&M was no mistake or oversight.

Clearly, you Terry Mango (allow me to address you by the name on your social media posts) are missing the point. You may think it’s cute, maybe even funny to call your handsome little boy “my monkey”, “mommy’s little monkey”, or whatever other cutesy monikers mothers conjure up for their kids. The one thing I can assure you won’t be funny is when someone on the school yard or a stranger in the streets will call your son “monkey”. Not in jest because of some hoodie he once modeled,  but in that mean, racist, denigrating, displacing, threatening, I am superior to you kind of way. The way that is meant to deliver a message to your son that he doesn’t belong anywhere except in Africa and thus should go back to the jungle he came from.

That day,  when his innocence and self-esteem are shattered, and you’ll be having a hard time convincing him that he is instead the King of the Jungle, I’m sorry to tell you that then, you will have to write an apology letter to a world you spat on. To all that were offended by this ad. To everyone who raised their voice on behalf of your son, to defend blackness and denounce institutionalized and casual racism that is boldly rearing its ugly head again (owing mostly to current political climate). On that day, you might also want to acknowledge some famous & prominent personalities including basketball superstar LeBron James, Hip Hop mogul Diddy and Toronto native music star The Weeknd for using their platform and risking their dollars to speak for your boy and against prejudice and discrimination.

That day, you will understand that this issue is not about you. This is about your boy, a black male. I hope you know that “the internet doesn’t forget” and that his innocent face will be forever linked to this racially insensitive H&M campaign.  But more importantly, this noise you hear all around, the opinions you disregard, is about every black person, all people of African descent. People whose bodies and intellect are daily targeted, simply for the colour of their skin. A people who continually need to or have to prove their value & worth both at work & play. When that day comes, and it will, instead of being defensive, you will understand that your attitude is regressive and a detriment to any progress made against racism.

We, the world don’t personally know you, but sorry to say that at this moment, many of us collectively view you on the same level as the misguided H&M. We don’t know if their apology was sincere or just issued because their hand was caught in the cookie jar. What many of us know for sure is that their name and products are forever tarnished in our minds & memories. It’s more likely at this moment that you too are a victim of your ignorance. You believe that you have power over such a corporation just because you were present at the photo shoot. The fine print Terry, read the fine print. Those in the industry know-how will tell you that watching your son get photographed doesn’t mean you get to make a decision on the final images used. Ask Lupita Nyong’o. She didn’t know her hair bun (musondo) had been smoothed out until she saw the final cover of Grazia magazine. I would believe you knew your power if you had at least asked them to swap your son’s hoodie with the orange one won by the white kid. You know, the one printed “….. Jungle Survival Expert”?

Better still, let the those in the daily fight against racism know when you eventually change your mind. You are allowed your thoughts and opinion of course, but don’t let history judge you as someone whose folly and/or poor judgment went against the rest of progress loving world, in 2018.

Oped

~Wakenya Canada

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