Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Coolest Monkey in the Jungle

Dublin, Ireland

Five words, one sentence, uproar.

In case the title of this post doesn't immediately tell you what I'll be talking about today, then I'll fill you in. H&M recently released, and pulled, a piece of clothing from their latest children's collection. This said garment cause outrage because of the sentence written on the garment and it's relation to the black child model wearing it. You can find the image and more about the story here.

It is common knowledge that the word "monkey" has been used as a racial slur against black people for many years even till this day. I myself have been subjected to this insult and needless to say, I also know other black people have been on the receiving end of this hurtful insult.

Monkeys are incredibly smart animals however the insult, for me, lies in the lack of recognition of your identity as a person, a fellow human being, of flesh and bones and blood like every other human.

However, and I speak solely for myself, I do not find the H&M campaign or advertisement, racist. For me racism comes with intentionality and until proven otherwise, I can see no intention behind the circumstances that led this black child model to wear a hoodie that featured a sentence with the word "Monkey" in it.

When I initially sat down to write this blog post last week, I was immediately conflicted between what I thought of the issue, what the media portrayed and the questions that other people's comments, articles, Facebook posts and such suggested raised in my mind.

I didn't want to be an angry black woman seething that things were being blown out of proportion but I also didn't want to be a complacent black woman on an issue that, if not to me directly, would change the fabric of the world I live in today. That change for better or worse would eventually affect the way I move in this world because of how others' perspectives would be shaped by it. With this is mind I knew there was only one thing left to do.

Before I decided to actually write and publish my thoughts on this issue, I had already thrown the idea out once. I was afraid of what people would think and that I wouldn't be able to defend my opinions and the truth is, I wouldn't have been able to defend my opinions because I hadn't taken the time to understand the thoughts or opinions of others.

Why was it so many people were offended by something that to my eyes was completely innocent?

Obviously the people at H&M aren't calling this child a monkey! If anyone sees this child and thinks by having the word monkey written on a jumper they are being racially insulted, surely that's more a reflection on their negative perspective that's still stuck on dragging into the present a dark past?

And yet I didn't feel right in my opinion but I didn't feel wrong either, I simply felt... uneducated. So I decided to dive in and see what I could learn. I reached out to all the black people I could for some schooling and I was not disappointed.

I discovered and learned to see from the many different perspectives people have taken on this issue and question things that hadn't occurred to me prior to these conversations and finally I was able to develop and build and come to a final opinion that feels right to me and my situation.

I enjoyed and learned so much from talking to those around me and getting informed and now I'd like to share my opinion on the matter.

Like I said before, I am not personally offended by the H&M garment or ad and prior to speaking with all the people I did, 19 in total ( and yes I was 100% interested in each person's genuine response ), I did not agree that it was racist. At best, it would be 'possibly' insensitive.

In my mind, there was no racial intention therefore it could not be racist and seeing as neither the child, who is old enough to know the racial connotations of being called a monkey, or his mother ever felt the garment was chosen for it's racial connotations, the offense was then on the part of the viewer and not an insensitivity on the part of H&M.

However, and this is the most important part...I was wrong!

My main problem lied in the fact that I could not easily understand how people could be so offended by the ad. I mean yes if H&M had been calling the child a monkey it would be racist but they weren't. If the model had been of a different race there would've been no issue and I'm sure black people would've bought these for their children or nephews/nieces without thinking about the racial element because I would have. There certainly would've been no outcry so what's the big deal!?

It's so easy to fall into wanting to convince someone to see from your perspective and how right you are that you fail to take into consideration the other person's point of view. When I initially formed my opinion on this topic, I was thinking selfishly. In talking to people about what they thought and felt personally about this issue I learned the biggest flaw in my initial opinion and why I would never have been able to defend it. I was being selfish. A selfishness based on my own experiences.

Given my personal nature of dealing with the past and moving on, I harbor no anger from the years of racism I received when I initially moved to Ireland. I'm over the egging of our house, being chased home, taunted, the harsh words etc. I've dealt with the big things and deal with the little things I encounter now.

I personally now in my life do not encounter a quarter the racism I did 8 years ago even in a month, dare I say a year but the difference is that some people still do. Racial tensions are incredibly high in society right now because black people are FINALLY able to express the anger and hurt that they have endured for hundreds of years which were still horrendous even up until forty years ago.

The hundreds of years of our dark, hurtful past has shaped a society that is still stacked against black people and other people of color. We fight a conditioned society every single day and for some people the reminders and hurt is very much present and painful. And for the first time in maaaany years people are able to express that.

Being called a "black monkey" may be something I experienced a few years ago but for someone else it may have been 5 minutes, days, weeks ago. The years of work that has gone into media representation alone  of black people is only just  beginning to break the surface. There are still so many challenges faced by black people and depending on where you live and your personal experience, your perspective of black issues will vary to some degree.

Therefore I can now say I understand the definite insensitivity of the ad and the offense someone can take to it because offense is taken on a personal level based on ones perspectives, experiences and opinions.

I could feel no offense to the ad because for me it did not strike up any hurtful memories or feelings. I had moved on from anything that could hurt me but there are billions of black people who's painful wounds of racism haven't healed. And as I was reminded, it would be selfish of me to expect people to move on like I have when they have not yet finished their healing process. And healing takes time and expression of emotions that were repressed.

Black people and other minorities have yet to receive an apology for the tragic and dark history that lingers not so far behind present day. Wounds are still raw, if not for me personally or those born outside of the time, the wounds are carried on and grieved for those who lived it and could not grieve it then.

There are people who's entire identities are based in these tragic times and yes they also need time to move on therefore it would be selfish of me and anyone else to think them wrong or try to convince them otherwise because of how we feel about it.

With that said there is just one thing about this entire controversy that I simply cannot stand by to be done in my name as a black person.

What happened in South Africa was a crime and I do believe is something that reflects well on the issue at all.

If anything H&M's lack of racial sensitivity would present a learning opportunity and one that could have been achieved by explaining and educating people on why such a seemingly innocent thing can be so hurtful and insensitive. However resulting to violence benefits no one and teaches nothing.

It is actions like these that blows a learning opportunity completely out of proportion. Things have been taken a tad too far and o for one do not support it. I never wanted to see thrashed up stores on the front pages of a newspapers next to a title that speaks of a fight against racism. The only message I see lies in the actions of the people.

At the end of the day H&M have accepted their mistake and apologised ( of course an apology is only worth as much as the actions that follow) and it would have been the perfect time to turn to the cameras that are pointed on the issue and share a much needed lesson on black issues to the world. But what is out there now is a mess. This apology has fallen on some stubborn ears and hearts and the issue continues to escalate.

There is no reason why a family should have to move home for security reasons because they do not agree with something even if they are at the centre of it! What kind of message does it send that black people are fighting each other instead of working to educate others? How does this benefit a fight towards a less discriminating world?

I can't help but question the motives behind any racial respect that comes from this controversy. Will it be out of understanding or fear? H&M have since the incident  hired a diversity leader in an act I can only see as a way to protect themselves from something like this happening ever again. I believe they have learned a lesson from this but what that lesson is will only be revealed in time. Have they understood why thier thier garment truly offended people are the acting out of fear? What will these reactions of disproportionate anger alter the fabric of the world we live in now?

Celebrities ending partnerships or boycotting the brand? What's that going to do to a huge corporate group like H&M? They'll lose some money and you'll look great defending your personal values and morals ( which I support) but the world would learn so much more from an explanation of your pain than your condemnation. At least that's how I've come to see it.

In my quest for better understanding, I've experienced how the lack in education about black history greatly undermined my own opinion and how with better education, thoughts become informed and therefore can translate to action. However without this education, we only have time and issues like these, which are nowhere near as big as other more pressing racial issues, to raise a platform for a conversation about such a serious topic.

I feel saddened by my new found perspective but I am inspired to learn more, not allow the media to influence or inform my opinion and to share what I learn with others as a way of passing on some knowledge.

I am so grateful for all the people who shared their thoughts and feelings on the issue with me and helped me to see it from their point of view.

I also hope in my short education by these people some of you reading this have been able to learn something.

If you'd like to add something or even share your own opinion with me, I'm available on any of my social media and I'd love to talk and learn some more! And a conversation that's always happening whether in the media lime light or off it and it's one I'd like to keep going.

You can also let me know in the comments!

Till Next Time

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