Back in January, there was up roar when H&M chose a black child to model their “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie. Pretty much everyone except the child’s mother were thoroughly outraged by the levels of racism involved, and those outraged extended their outrage to the mother’s lack of outrage that resulted in her having to move home because of threats against her family.
Last week, Topman released a t-shirt. It was red with the number 96 printed on the back above the words, “what goes around comes back around”. It included a white rose through the 6 and “karma” printed on a sleeve.
Now, ignoring the fact it’s a pretty rubbish looking garment (yes, that’s coming from me), you might be asking what the problem is. In 1989, Liverpool Football Club (who play in red) played a football match at Hillsborough Stadium in Yorkshire, the White Rose County. Due to massive failures in policing, 96 fans lost their lives.
In 1985, Liverpool fans were involved in another stadium disaster in Heysel, when a group of hooligans stormed a barrier and crushed Juventus fans against a wall which eventually collapsed. Thirty-nine Italian fans died. It’s one of the reasons why certain opposition fans at Liverpool games choose to sing, “always the victims, it’s never your fault”.
With all that, you can see why some people thought the t-shirt to be in particularly bad taste.
Topman apologised and pulled the t-shirt, saying that it wasn’t intentionally insensitive but was supposed to reflect Bob Marley’s “What Goes Around Comes Around” (no “back”) which was remastered in 1996.
And most people nodded and understood. It was a mistake and unintentional. Others, though, wondered how many people had to sign off the design and production before the t-shirt hit the market and how not one of them possibly knew how the design could be perceived.
That was the thing about the H&M hoodie too. I can’t believe that a company that size intended the racism, but how could it really have escaped everyone’s attention that it maybe wasn’t the best design to release?