When I first saw the H&M ad with a black boy wearing a hoody that said “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle,” I thought “Man, that’s not a good look at all. How did they let that happen?”
Then I watched as the predictable outrage cycle set in motion. Social media anger, followed by news reports, followed by celebrity endorsers cutting ties, and ending with the company apologizing.
But once I saw what the mother of the boy in the ad had to say about the situation, my perspective changed, and I was forced to ask myself, “Why do we have to get so mad over everything?”
Terry Mango, the mother of the boy in the controversial ad, took to social media to give her opinion on her son’s picture turning into national news story.
Here are her comments (edited for clarity):
“I am the mum and this is one of hundreds of outfits my son has modeled…stop crying wolf all the time, unnecessary issue here…get over it,” Mango wrote on Facebook. “I really don’t understand, but not because I’m choosing not to but because it’s not my way of thinking. Sorry.
“If I bought that jumper and put it on him and posted it on my pages, would that make me racist? I get people’s opinions, but they are not mine,” she wrote.
Mango said she was in attendance at the photoshoot, as she has been at all of his shoots.
Before I go any further, I get it. I get why the word “monkey” attached to a black person is perceived as a racist insult. And I do agree that it was a bad idea for the company to put the combination of that hoody and that boy together. The optics are unfortunate, and to be clear, I would feel insulted if someone called me that.
But that’s not what happened here. So what if, before we get outraged, we were to think through the situation? We might ask ourselves this series of questions:
Did H&M, as a company, decide to intentionally be racist toward this boy? It’s unlikely, as that would be damaging to the only thing we can be sure H&M cares about: profits. Do we know the perspective or intentions of the designer of the hoody? No. It could have been a person of color, for all we know. Did the subject of the photo, and the adult(s) responsible for him, take offense? Apparently not.
So maybe, in this case, the right thing to do would be to take a breath, accept H&M’s apology and assertion that they were not being intentionally racist, and move on.
Two popular musical artists, G-Eazy and The Weeknd, cut ties with H&M over the ad. That feels like an overreaction. Was H&M not racist before the ad, and suddenly the entire company is racist afterward? That would have to be what you believe if you suddenly decide you can no longer accept endorsement checks from them.
The quote from the mother that stuck with me is “it’s not my way of thinking.”
That’s the issue here. A way of thinking. For various reasons (some legitimate and others not), we are trained to think about everything with the worst possible assumption. Accidents don’t exist, because we’re so pessimistic about the world that we attribute malice to every mistake.
So I’m glad this mother stopped me in my tracks here and reminded me, and hopefully others: Don’t make a big deal out of nothing. You don’t have to think about things that way. Don’t cry wolf. Save your outrage for things that deserve it. And believe me, there are plenty.