DUBAI: Liam Mango blew out the candles of his fifth birthday cake on Thursday, blissfully unaware of the social media uproar surrounding him.
For Liam is the boy at the heart of ‘Monkeygate’. He’s the black boy pictured in an H&M hoodie bearing the slogan ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle.’
“He’s no idea, but he has noticed his picture going round,” said Liam’s mum, Kenyan-born Swedish national Terry Mango on the phone from Sweden. “You try to shield them as much as possible.”
And Terry does feel the need to shield her child, for while the celebrities who have become involved in the social media frenzy have focussed their criticism on H&M - who issued an apology for the photo, and withdrew the hoodie in question from their shops worldwide - others have turned on Terry herself.
“It’s horrible,” she said, in an exclusive conversation with Gulf News. “You wake up one morning and everything has changed.”
Terry said she did not initially consider the slogan a racist one. In a well-circulated Facebook post, she pointed out that photogenic Liam had modelled hundreds of clothes and asked people not to blow the issue out of proportion.
As a result, some social media users turned on her - and the abuse she received included racist comments, including describing her as a monkey.
“How can you fight racism if you make racist remarks,” she said. “You cannot try to defend my son and use the same words to describe me.”
Terry’s uncle, Kenyan-born music promoter Clay Onyango, CEO of the music promotion firm orkarine.se, said the family met with H&M representatives on Thursday, and would meet with them again on Friday.
“What we are hoping for is an apology,” Onyango said. “We have left a lot to the lawyers. We’ve not really decided what we want - we want to hear from them [H&M] first, then we can go out with a press release. We are still talking to them.”
Onyanga said he did not believe H&M weere being deliberately racist. “I think they overlooked it,” he said. “Maybe it’s just one of those mistakes that one makes. But there are many questions you can ask - how did they miss that?
“We spoke to them and they said it wasn’t meant to be racist.”
Following the social media uproar, H&M yesterday issued a statement reading, “We understand that many people are upset about the image. We, who work at H&M, can only agree. This is about common sense.
“We are deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print. Therefore, we have not only removed the image from our channels, but also the garment from our product offering.
“It is obvious that our routines have not been followed properly. This is without any doubt. We will thoroughly investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake from happening again.”
A spokesman for H&M’s Middle East franchise holder, Kuwait’s Alshaya, referred Gulf News to H&M’s statement.