It would seem January brings with it racial tensions in South Africa.
Last year we had to contend with the Penny Sparrow saga, and this year it’s a Cape Town racist calling a black woman by the k-word.
Swedish retail fashion brand H&M chose that moment to launch what was supposed to be an international campaign with a black boy wearing a hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle” emblazoned across the front.
And as is to be expected on our shores, all hell broke loose.
Although this was an international campaign the racist undertones of which were first slated on Twitter and Instagram by international opinion makers, it received particular attention in South Africa.
This was because the EFF launched a store invasion campaign in major retail centres like Sandton City and the East Rand Mall, trashing H&M stores there.
Strangely, some of these stores still had the offending poster on display even after the company issued an apology for their “unintended” racism.
Given our context and most recent history, it is to be expected this issue would receive particular attention here, but were the EFF justified in going as far as invading H&M stores?
A casual survey of social networks reveals that the answer depends on which section of the population you’re asking that question of.
Young black people are tired of what they regard as obvious cases of racism by either individuals or corporates that are then followed by what seems like a standard apology.
“We are deeply sorry … we regret … a thorough investigation to follow.”
These words are repeated each time a corporate is caught in a racist act.
The point is that a brand as big as H&M should have more than enough checks and balances to avoid an incident of this nature, which gets young black people really angry.
It should have never occurred.
The other half of social media in SA was concerned with the damage caused by the EFF protesters, summed up by: closing down shops will lead to job losses which the mostly poor, black workers in those H&M shops cannot afford.
So, according to these observers, the racist undertone of the advertising campaign were met by an over-the-top reaction from the EFF and its supporters.
This reaction is not totally uncommon in South Africa.
Loss of already-scarce jobs is almost always cited as a reason to duck from addressing ourselves to the scourge of racism.
This group of observers fails to see that the attitude of “let’s save the jobs even if the campaign is racist” is akin to asking a group of people to put aside concerns about the erosion of their dignity because “you can’t bite the hand that feeds you”.
The way these observers want this type of thing to blow over really quickly so jobs can be saved is a sign that a large section of our population has a very poor understanding of what continued racism does to the psyche of the majority of the population.
“Get over it, it’s nothing” will not do the trick.
However negatively one views the actions of the EFF supporters, rational minds should see it as a reminder that we cannot keep missing opportunities to have a proper dialogue about our very recent racist past.
Without it, more radical acts can be expected to follow future instances of racist acts by corporates and individuals.