An apology from international retail giant H&M was not enough to quell the widespread anger over a promotional image that many have described as racist because it shows a black child wearing a sweatshirt with the words, “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”
Groups of protesters in South Africa answered the call from an opposition party to demonstrate at six H&M stores in the country. Many of the protesters were dressed in red that is the signature of the Economic Freedom Fighters as they proceeded to ransack some of the stores, tearing down displays and throwing clothes around in the process.
In at least one store, police fired rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, some of whom were allegedly stealing clothing.
Floyd Shivambu, a leader of the EFF, posted several pictures on Twitter of ransacked H&M stores, writing: “All rational people should agree that the store should not be allowed to continue operating in South Africa.”
H&M has closed all its stores in the country temporarily out of concern for the safety of employees and customers. The company issued a long apology that is displayed prominently on its South Africa website:
We agree with all the criticism that this has generated – we have got this wrong and we agree that, even if unintentional, passive or casual racism needs to be eradicated wherever it exists. We appreciate the support of those who have seen that our product and promotion were not intended to cause offence but, as a global brand, we have a responsibility to be aware of and attuned to all racial and cultural sensitivities – and we have not lived up to this responsibility this time.
This incident is accidental in nature, but this doesn’t mean we don’t take it extremely seriously or understand the upset and discomfort it has caused.
But the apology was clearly not enough to quell anger. “The time of apologies for racism are over; there must be consequences to anti-black racism,” EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi wrote on Twitter.
EFF leader Julius Malema agreed. “We are teaching them a lesson, we are not going to allow anyone to use the color of our skin to humiliate us, or to exclude us,” he said. “We are black and we are proud. We are black and we are beautiful. We are black and we are not ashamed of being black.”
Several celebrities have also criticized the retailer, with singer The Weeknd announcing on Twitter that he was cutting all ties with the clothing retailer because of the ad. “Woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo,” the Canadian singer wrote.
LeBron James also joined the chorus of criticism but used the opportunity to send a message of empowerment, photoshopping the original image: “We as African Americans will always have to break barriers, prove people wrong and work even harder to prove we belong but guess what, that’s what we love because the benefits at the end of the road are so beautiful!!”