For centuries, Black people have been the object of simianization -- the classification with or representation of being related to apes/monkeys. From the writings of Plato to the ads of H&M, being ape-like has a negative connotation that we have worked hard at shedding for years. Porch monkey, King Kong, baboon...these words have followed some of us since we were children. Primates are considered the most violent species -- quick to anger and territorial. They are known as natural born killers. Simians are the lowest on the primate totem pole. Added to the violent perception, they are also regarded as imbeciles, sneaky and in general, less than human.
It’s these stereotypes that infiltrate our existence, that determine whether or not we’re followed in the grocery store or by the neighborhood watch. They become unconscious biases that sneak into our son's classrooms and permeate their place of work. The misconception grows with them and with people they encounter throughout life. Unrealized, this bias can be the decision maker in whether a child is placed in a Special Education class for fidgeting, whether a young man should receive harsh punishment after a misdeed, or even if he should be given a job for which he is qualified. It’s present in the gyms and on the football fields where they are both applauded and ridiculed. Some may say that we’re taking this too seriously, or as moms, we're being too sensitive. The truth is that many studies have been published sharing the how stereotypes and implicit bias plays a part in how our Black boys are perceived and treated by their teachers. Additionally, studies have proven time and time again that racial disparity seen in law enforcement and criminal justice systems (caused by systemic issues and unconscious bias), can have life-changing implications.
When H&M approved the image of a young black boy wearing a hoodie with the statement “Coolest Monkey in the jungle,” they further fed into the stereotypes that we, our grandparents, our foremothers, and forefathers have been fighting against for years. To add insult to injury, the image ran alongside a young white boy whose shirt labeled him as a “Survival Expert.” What message does this send to the impressionable mind wearing the shirt? Or to the people reading it? What does it say to the teacher responding to young Jamal when he, in his affordable H&M sweatshirt, is being the “cool” class clown?
The ramifications of feeding these stereotypes is no laughing matter. It can no longer be ignored, nor can it be tolerated. We keep seeing these ”mistakes” made with no accountability, except for acknowledgment of wrongdoing. As a mom of a black son, I stand with hundreds of thousands of Moms of Black Boys United in stating, “saying sorry is NOT enough!” Until retailers like H&M realize the part they play in the misperception of our sons and the effect it has on their lives, we can NO longer be their customers. At some point, we must realize that we have a say, we have choices, and we have a voice. Therefore, we have the power to force change. But that change will not come if we are only incensed at the visual cues that come across our timeline -- waiting for moments to rise up in arms. We must be persistent in our demand for the end of the dehumanization of our sons!
Not only must we fight to rewrite the narrative of our sons, but we must also demand accountability from those that continue to perpetuate these negative stereotypes. It starts here with Moms of Black Boys United, Inc., an organization focused on changing the perception of Black and brown boys. By working with organizations like MOBB United, H&M can help support programs designed to do just that. In 2018 MOBB United is committed to administering diversity training for law enforcement and several school districts across the country. We call on H&M to become a part of the solution. Stand with us and others fighting to be heard on issues of racial disparity in the educational and criminal justice systems.
This past Sunday evening while some were watching history being made as Oprah Winfrey accepted her award as the first black woman to be awarded the Cecil B. Demille award at the 2018 Golden Globes, others were reminded of the slippery slope we climb in this jungle we call life. And though it often feels like we are taking three steps forward to take two steps back, the words she delivered so eloquently still ring in my ears, “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Now more than ever, we must exercise our voice. We must tell our truth and demand the accountability from those with whom we spend our hard earned money!
Moms of Black Boys (MOBB) United, Inc. is a non-profit organization formed by Depelsha McGruder to galvanize concerned mothers who want to work together to make a difference in how black boys and men are perceived and treated by law enforcement and in society. What started as a Facebook group of about 30 women has grown into an online community of more than 180,000 Moms nationwide and globally, representing every race, age, religion, socioeconomic background, marital status and education level. From the school-to-prison pipeline to the broader criminal justice system, our goal is to change the trajectory of racial injustice to ensure that Black boys and men survive and thrive.