Last year I wrote a post – Back to Black 🙋🏿 when I felt angry and upset about the treatment of black people in America after reading a book by Michael Moore. That was one of the quickest posts I have written, even though most of it was done with tear filled eyes and I was using my mobile phone. That is how much I felt I had to put my point across.

I’ve had similar feelings brewing this week following the news scandal surrounding clothing giant’s H&M and their ‘racist’ advertising where a young black boy was modelling a jumper that said ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ whilst stood next to a white boy who’s jumper said ‘Official Survival Expert’.

I first saw this on Tuesday morning whilst I did my morning scroll of Facebook. My first thoughts:

“2018 and this shit is still happening?!”

Followed by:

“I wonder what the trolls have got to say about this!”

At first I wasn’t going to post my points of view but an uneasy feeling kept with me throughout the week so I saw it as a sign that I needed to write.

  • Do I personally believe that H&M were being racist? No
  • Do I think they were being ignorant and unconsciously biased against black people? Yes – 100%

The reason I say this is because a lot of people, myself included have hidden biases. My blog post Results from the IAT 😶 delves deeper into the test. I also include the link to where you can take the test yourself.

I used to air my thoughts in the heat of the moment without actually thinking about the point I wanted to get across. All that did was lead to a defence on defence conversation with all parties involved feeling more riled up than first started, and further away from a resolution.

So I took the time to read people’s point of views, trying to understand the opinions from the opposite side:

  • They’re just jumpers for children – loads of people call their children monkeys. It doesn’t mean anything.
  • People are too sensitive these days. The PC brigade are always out in force.
  • Black people are always looking for a way to play the black card.
  • I’m not racist so I don’t see this as racist.
  • Only people who think that black people look like monkeys will find this top offensive. So if you find this offensive, then you’re the racist one.
  • Your experiences are in the past. Slavery and segregation ended years ago – things are better now. I’s time to move on
  • If the boy’s mum doesn’t think it’s racist. Neither should you.

Since breaking out of my cocoon and removing the blinkers from my eyes I have seen so much underhand racism that although these comments pissed me off, I really wasn’t surprised. What actually surprised me more were the sheer number of people who kept in the shadow, sneaking out a thumb to like a post before quickly retreating to like another post of a similar vein.

I wonder how many of these people before taking to social media to get angry or to support the anger, actually took the time to ask a black person how they personally felt about the advertising?

If someone asked me how I felt, I would have shared a story from my past:

As most people who follow my blog know. I was born in the 80’s and raised by a white family in Leeds, which is a rather multicultural city but not without it’s problems. We used to holiday on the East coast, seaside towns which were far from multicultural. I was always the only black person wherever we went and I got used to that.

This one holiday in Hornsea, I don’t recall how old I was but was not yet a teenager. Me, my brother, sister and cousins went to the Floral Hall, which was like a community centre, as I think there was a party on there. On the way back to the caravan we got followed by a group of boys who had singled me out and were out to hurt me. Shouting:

“You black monkey. Get on your banana boat and back to the jungle”.

Fortunately for me, I had the protection of my family. I can remember the four of them hiding me from the disgust in each of the bullies eyes. My brother and boy cousin yelled back at them to fuck off and threw stones at them until they went away. I didn’t understand why they were being so mean. I didn’t know what a banana boat was or why they were calling me a monkey. They didn’t even know me. I wanted to go back to Leeds.

I am just one person BUT I know I will not be the only person to have a similar racist story to tell – which featured someone calling them a monkey.

I would have then said, still upset for having to relive the ordeal.

“That H&M were in the wrong and I don’t think the advertising should have got the seal of approval. As one of the comments above states ‘It’s in the past’ {my experience}. For which I agree BUT the tears I just cried are in this moment


“That I was sad for all the arguments that would materialise from this. Creating more ‘us and them’ silos and opportunities for cyber bullying.”

All you have to do is watch football to see that monkey chants are still alive. I’m not sure how many of the people who were defending the top took to Google to see how many times football fans abused black players in 2017? On the first page I came across 3 separate stories. The last one a mere 4 months ago! One player even got a banana thrown at him on the pitch when he went to take a corner. So it still does mean something to some people!

I could give my opinion, followed by a story, followed by a statistic, followed by evidence that my research has brought up to provide a response to each of the statements I included above. But that would turn the blog into a research paper and look like I’m forcefully trying to change people’s opinions.

So I will end with this………………….

We have a long way to go with tackling racism, which is why I wish everyone would take their part and actually listen and learn from those that are facing it. Act with empathy and not defence. The same goes for other inequality issues.

What you may see is an innocent boy in a cute slogan top but what many see is a nod to the haters (that still use this word as an insult) and a step back in time. What many feel are old wounds being reopened before they have had chance to heal.

I see this as an opportunity. An opportunity to talk. To talk about privilege. To talk about solutions. Yes, it can feel uncomfortable to talk about but the important things always are!

Back at the caravan at a happier time. I was offended and no I don’t think I look like a monkey!

Emma x

Instagram: @emmalouhalliday 

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