On The Fragility Of Boycotting In The Age Of Social Media
By now we have all seen the image of the adorable Black boy in the H&M ad wearing the hoodie that reads “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle”. The image has trended, been repurposed, sparked outrage and elicited the predictable apology from the company. The hashtag #BoycottHM caught fire over the past few days and several otherwise loyal consumers of the brand have denounced their support. In a moment of sheer marketing absurdity, someone at the H&M decision table thought it would be “cute” or “risque” or “tongue-in-cheek” to put this Black boy in this piece of garment as a way to sell it. Or they didn’t think much at all. Or there’s an unchecked culture of cultural insensitivity/hipster racism at play over at H&M that believes that habitual line stepping is good for business because it’s “provocative”. But when corporations like H&M find themselves in hot water, they rarely do inventory on the culture of their business because they know our habits. And more often than not they are right.
H&M, as well as several other companies that have made this kind of misstep, know that by & large we are a culture of temporary angst and selective amnesia. That they/we are usually a few trending topics and salacious headlines away from the flames fanning on our outrage. I imagine that after the initial scare of a boycott permeated corporate headquarters, a few H&M stakeholders and execs emailed, conference called & gathered around the table to calm themselves in assurance that the storm of controversy will pass. And why would they have reason to believe otherwise? We are a distracted generation of people that often operate from a non-principled stance. Generally speaking our moral compass aligns with what conveniently draws our attention. I am guilty. You are guilty. We live in the age of pissed then dismissed partially because of the speed in which we receive information but more so because we have a tendency to either forget or outright abandon the original reasoning for our grievances. It comes with the spoils of having the ability to log off from outrage as opposed to it replaying on a daily basis with minimal ability to escape.
In a time when only a few sources of media showed only images like this
Many of my social media friends started the 2017–2018 NFL season abstaining from watching games due to Colin Kaepernick not being signed. A lot of those same people are tweeting/Facebooking live updates now that their favorite team is in the playoffs. Meanwhile Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY his reasoning for taking a knee during the national anthem is still a reoccurring thing. Which is to say that police have not stopped killing unarmed Black people under suspicious circumstances, but that our collective outrage was swallowed by the sensory overload of stadium lights & halftime shows. Again, I’m sure that NFL stakeholders were secure in the fact that if nothing else would bring ratings back around, playoff season would. Based on casual observations I have made of my own online community, the league was right. Once the narrative of Kaepernick’s protest was hijacked into commentary about the anthem & the military & other arbitrary shit that had nothing to do with its original purpose, it would only be a matter of time before the same folks who were screaming boycott would be the ones screaming “touchdown!”. The age of internet activism is complex in that it grants us easy access to the fight but Etch-a-Sketches our resistance the minute another polarizing image of injustice or discrimination surfaces. Luckily, there have been those among us in this era to show us what being unrelenting in a fight looks like.
The legacy of the late Erica Garner was one of persistence. Day in and day out returning to the scene of her father’s murder advocating for accountability and justice for him and other victims of police brutality. A similar steadfastness was seen in Ferguson, where young protestors rallied & organized & fought for justice for Mike Brown for months on end. We can also look to the efforts of Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo campaign, who has spent more than a decade advocating on behalf of victims of sexual assault, only to recently see her movement highlighted (and co-opted) by Hollywood A-listers. These change agents are not examples of folks who boycotted businesses per say, but they are examples of warriors who refuted the status quo and used their positions to boycott unjust systems. Boycotts cannot be effective as tools of petty, they must be principled. We owe the seriousness of our convictions to those who have been victimized. Otherwise we just out here chasing hashtags.