When H&M a couple of months ago announced a sweater for sale with the text “coolest monkey in the jungle” they probably were not prepared for the gigantic backlash that was about to hit them. Denunciations from celebrities, medial outcries, H&M stores in South Africa vandalized because of the rage. The core of the issue was that the child model wearing the sweater in the picture was colored, leading people’s minds to the deeply racist depiction of colored people as monkeys. From here on, two immediate questions arise. One: Are only white children allowed to wear a sweater with the word monkey on it? Two: did anyone honestly think that H&M were trying to behave in a racist manner on purpose? Nevertheless, the dice had been thrown and the company publicly condemned, even though the mother of the child herself did not agree with the outcry.
Quickly the reactions rained in over twitter. People denouncing the company, promising to never set their foot in an H&M store again. Famous artist The Weeknd stated he will never work with the company again. A lot of this can be understood as Swedish culture being examined through an American lens. Monkey is a common word of affection towards kids in Sweden, as well as in many other cultures for that matter. But that kind of reasoning is hard to fit inside a scope of 280 characters.
This is not an uncommon turn of events in 2018. Someone makes a misstep in the intricate labyrinth of societal norms. Society responds with immediate fury. The offender bends under the immense pressure and comes out weaker on the other side. It is a debate climate that is stormy to say the least, and I get the feeling that it is only getting harsher. The most important thing when having a debate is not what your thoughts are on an issue but how quickly you arrive at the conclusion, and with what force. It is a world where uncertainty and evaluation is a sign of weakness. The only convincing position on an issue is total condamnation. You cannot say that our prime minister is not that good, or terrible. He needs to be the worst we have ever had. Rapists should not be locked up, or even killed. They should be tortured to death.
I think that this is a way for people to distance themselves the most they can from things that they find questionable. Don’t just swat the fly, burn it to ashes. I went to a seminar involving a few prominent writers where the theme of the evening was “Impacts on culture that the Trump era can bring”. One writer proudly declaimed that he did not want to know what made the Trump voters vote how they did. They were idiots, to hell with them. Maybe if he had called for the collective revokement of their voting rights he would have amassed even more applause.
Somewhere in Lund, outside a small store, there is a sign depicting a man showing what can be described as stereotypical traits of an asian person. It is not obvious that this is was the intention, just as it is not obvious that H&M meant to make a scribble on a sock for children resembling the arabic spelling of “Allah” – another recent incident for which the company suffered backlash. But the first thing that struck my mind upon seeing it for the first time was “how has this not been an internet scandal yet?”. It has every component needed for a viral debate and an angry person could easily collect an online collect an online mob of people supportive of the rage. This leads me to believe that maybe people simply are not that angry. Maybe most people passing the sign see nothing more than a sign of a man. Maybe they are on their way to a lecture or home to study and do not think of it. Maybe people simply are not offended by it.
This feels reassuring in a university town. A lot of times rage and hate have gained traction in the disguise of reason and intellectuality, which is hypocrisy, since those things could not be more different. In a way, one can see the sign as a symbol for that people are focusing on bigger, more important things. This is not to say that I care deeply for the sign to be left up. It can also be seen as a symbol for racial hate, discrimination through stereotypization and the common trivialization of the hardships of asian people. What I do hope, however, is that any person who might feel strongly against the sign in the future, before collecting an army to tear it down with force like it were the statue of Saddam Hussein, first walks in, buys a pastry, and has a level headed conversation with the manager. To avoid jumping to conclusions.