An Analysis of H&M’s Garment Scandal and Apology

Screenshot of H&M’s Scandalous Product from USA Today

In early Jan. 2018, the global clothing company H&M released a young boy’s hoodie which read, “The Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”, modeled on a young African American boy. The clothing ad immediately caused wide-spread backlash on the internet, as well as store protests and online boycotts.

H&M released an apology in response to the issue, explaining that the racist undertones were accidental and a consequence of negligence, not intentional discrimination.

After reading the apology statement, my initial thoughts are drawn to the crisis management tactics they employed. The company acknowledged the central faults with the ad while also defending the company in a, in my opinion, tasteful manner. It is clear that H&M wants the public to not only know they are sorry, but also that the incident was purely accidental. However, the company also acknowledges that accidental racism is still racism, and that future steps will be taken to prevent incidents such as this.

H&M has a page dedicated to the apology, has removed the ad from the internet and the hoodie from the market, and has hired a diversity manager to oversee operations and advise. Because of these things, I am inclined to feel that H&M is being sincere with both their apology, and the actions the company is taking to back-up the apology.

Before this assignment, I was aware of the scandal, but as unaware of the official apology and the actions H&M has taken to repair the situation. After researching the issue, I now feel more positively towards H&M and am interested to see what the company does in the future as it continues to operate in today’s social climate which is focused heavily on present-day institutional racism and discrimination

 

 

We Are All Stardust

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As I am not a minority race in the United States, I feel shameful in trying to discuss racial discrimination and its prevalence. In my mind, my doing so is comparable to the offspring of Nazi soldiers attempting to describe the struggles of holocaust victims’ offspring. I simply have no credibility here because I have not faced the kind of discrimination that still plagues blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and even Indians in the United States. Further, as much as I believe that I put myself forward without judgment or prejudice, I will never know how deeply the views and actions of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and earlier ancestors have influenced me. Thus, I try every day to educate myself on other populations (in the U.S. and around the world), to slowly rid myself of ignorance and to ultimately become as understanding and transparent as I can be.

Chapter 1 of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists is a particularly unsettling example of current racism in the United States, as he explains that withdrawing support, resources, and opportunities from minority populations is the 21st century version of the blatant abuse that was occurring just 50 years ago. His writing emphasized to me that I have a responsibility to help stop this. With regard to inclusivity, I cannot cite any specific situations, but I am always open to meeting, working with, and making friends with people. If I have learned anything in my life, it is that people are valuable because of their character, and as I get to know people, they become more and more appealing because of their resilience, morals, intelligence, wit, and values. When my father passed away, I remember looking at his body and realizing that humans are nothing more than the intricacies of their minds. Our thoughts, our ideas, our dreams – they are our substance, abstract and incredible, able to exist only because because our bodies exist to house them. People invent, write, paint, design, study, and develop extraordinary technology all because of their brains, yet we judge and discriminate based on the houses of these brains.

In particular, it seems that people discriminate against certain races most when they do not have any personal connections to people of this race. And for this reason, I am so thankful that the University of Oklahoma provides plenty of organizations to connect students. In particular, OU Cousins has been the most amazing experience for me. It is an organization that pairs international students with OU students who are native to the United States. In doing so, each party develops a personal relationship with someone from a different background and consequently learns about the culture and life of the other student. My OU Cousin Xuelian is from China, and we bonded very quickly through the program. Because I came from a very uncultured home environment, meeting Xuelian and gaining an intimate perspective of her life stressed to me the importance of cultural awareness and tolerance.

Inclusivity will always be of the utmost importance to me, and as I continue with my college degree, I will continue to advocate for total equality and tolerance. One of my favorite quotes regarding race comes from famous scientist and writer Bill Nye. In this quotation from his commencement speech at Rutgers University, he emphasizes that race is just a social construct, a separation of people based on one of our most minute differences. He says,

“Along with the evidence of common sense, researchers have proven scientifically that humans are all one people. We’re a lot like dogs in that regard. If a Great Dane interacts (can we say interact?) with a Chihuahua, you get a dog. They’re all of the same species. Same with us. The color of our ancestors’ skin and ultimately my skin and your skin is a consequence of ultraviolet light, of latitude and climate. Despite our recent sad conflicts here in the U.S., there really is no such thing as race. We are one species — each of us much, much more alike than different. We all come from Africa. We all are of the same stardust. We are all going to live and die on the same planet, a Pale Blue Dot in the vastness of space.”

To me, this sums up the truth of race, and I hope that more people will begin to view it this way.

Racism: it is well and alive

When the topic of racism comes up, a group of people become frustrated or go through various negative emotions because they have either experienced racism themselves or have heard of/seen their friends and/or family members experience racism.

Another group of people, however, tend to hastily dismiss the topic because they think this issue has been settled and taken care of  decades ago.

Dear reader, let me tell you this: In today’s society, racism is very well and alive.

Now I have been well aware of this fact for years, but it was not until a recent event that it suddenly hit me very hard.

As you may or may not know, aviation is a very expensive major because of the flight fees. To give you an estimate, just my flight fees for my first flight course equated my tuition and fees for one semester of college. That is A LOT of money. Now being the responsible college student that I am, I have applied to numerous scholarships and continue to do so and have received a few thanks to the generous donors. I have to say that it makes me that much more motivated to see that such wonderful people want to see me succeed and give me their hard-earned money.

During a recent scholarship interview, I felt discriminated against from the moment I sat down in front of the panel until the hand shakes and “thank you for your time” farewells. The chairman of the scholarship organization first asked me where I was from as I was sitting down on the chair. I replied to his question as anyone else would when asked that question. I was a bit confused, however, because I had clearly wrote about my past experiences and immigration process in my scholarship application.  “Maybe he does not remember my essay out of several other applicants'”, I thought to myself. After some small talk, all three individuals on the panel spent about five minutes reading my application while I had to sit in silence and watch them. I had never experienced this before–all of the interviews I had attended in the past included many questions from my application as they skimmed through it.

I don’t want to give you a headache so I will get to the point of this post. On my application I had stated that I have over three hundred and forty volunteer hours. One panelist asked what I spent those hours doing, so I explained to him that I volunteered at OU Medical Center and Norman Regional Health System for a few summers, while volunteering at a local gym and other events in the community such as the 2013 Moore tornado, distributing food to the homeless, etc. Here comes the juicy part….

“Did you spend any of those hours volunteering for a church?” I was taken aback by the chairman’s question. After a few seconds of pause, I explained to him that I am not a Christian, but I have volunteered at churches before around Thanksgiving time. He then concluded the ‘interview’ by asking me what religion I practice. Was this even legal? Did this really happen to me?

In all honesty, I was angry at first–angry that they put me through such an awful ‘interview’ and could not see past my race and religion. Then I was disappointed in myself–disappointed because I spent my time and energy trying to impress people that only saw the parts of me they did not like.

I want to finish off by saying that if you have ever experienced a similar situation, please do not let the ignorance of others get to you. You are worthy and deserve equal treatment. Those who cannot see past your race, religions, gender, etc. and cannot see your accomplishments don’t deserve your time and tears. Stay strong and keep going. There are still individuals that want to see your success and will help you stay on your path.