What Does Education and the Recent H&M Controversy Have in Common?

With the Saints losing their position to advance to the NFL’s semi-finals, I’m willing to bet that most who were “outraged” at the recent H&M advertisement debacle have long forgotten about it.  Like most scandals in today’s society, an immediate feeling is evoked, typically disbelief, disappointment and/or outrage.  Social media creatives hastily develop crafty memes to elicit even more feelings of discomfort or they resort to humor to pacify the incident and generate a laugh.  Then, we forget. We go back to our normal lives and wait for the next Trump tweet or the next celebrity or big company to be exposed for ill practices. Then, in a situation like the H&M debacle, we lose the creativity to think about situations beyond the easy and overt scapegoat of racism.  

As someone is who OFTEN mentally, emotionally, and painfully enthralled in race dialogue and thought on a daily basis, this situation breeds more than it being JUST racism even to me.  Most ask, “Who made this decision?”  Considering the estimated $12.7 billion financial lost as a result of poor decision-making, I couldn’t help but wonder if this incident is ultimately the consequence of having a lack of diversity amongst top management within a franchise that serves consumers other than those who run it.

Bios on H&M’s website feature CEO Karl-Johan Persson, its board members and leaders whom for the most part, all resemble the same likeness with the exception of one gentleman of South African decent and a woman of Asian decent.

When you dissect this situation and look at it beyond just a racist act, does this sound like something familiar? Yes…there’s a lack of top-level management diversity.

From a lot of appearances, our country and city’s current public education system operates under this same practice, and consequently, you see individuals, although some well-intended, making decisions that impact communities and families that do not resemble their likeness, resulting in a cycle of students of color being ill-prepared for college and black educators feeling less than appreciated rather than supported in their roles where non-black teachers dominate the staff pools.

Now I don’t know the background story of the young boy and his family who appeared in the ad, and I am aware that because H&M is not founded in the U.S(origin in Sweden), potentially, there may be some uncertainty as to whether or not there is a clear understanding of the historical association between blacks and monkeys, but despite all these questions and possibilities, the fact still remains the same that diversity needs to be an emphasis if and when the demographic of people served differ from the service providers. Perhaps with such consideration, nuances like this could be caught and halted before public display and scrutiny.

Tying this corporate matter back to education and it’s lack of diversity among leaders, A UNCF report titled, “Done to Us, Not With Us”  shares parent perspectives on various agendas and as it relates to education reform:

One mother expressed her frustration about outside organizations coming in to provide services without paying attention to the local culture. Many parents agreed that decision makers who create education policies are out of touch and cannot relate to the daily challenges of single parenthood, unemployment or working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

And for our public/charter schools throughout the city, in a city where 68% of the youth population(aged 0-19) are African American(87% enrolled in schools), 21% white, 6% Hispanic and 3% other(presumably Asian, Middle Eastern, etc.), it’s crucial that the decision-makers reflect this.

We’ve seen the argument and plea for more teachers of color, but if recruitment and talent teams are experiencing difficulty with getting teachers in the classroom, then at minimum, we need to get more into positions of leadership.  Perhaps simply starting with this could lend itself to greater development of strategies to not only hire more teachers of color, but make them comfortable enough to want to stay within their role(s).

So no matter which side of the coin you support with regards to the perceivably poor choice of outerwear in the ad for the young black boy,

  • The boy’s family, although likely uncomfortable with all the negative attention, was financially compensated and glorified via the internet.
  • H&M took a financial hit, but I’m sure strategist will identify successful tactics to recoup.
  • And people will run into H&M or click online when there is a huge sale or need a last minute stylish piece of clothing.

But in terms of education,

  • there are no do-overs.
  • no one walks away unscathed

The fostering and development that occurs based on the decisions that are made MUST be made with the input of individuals who represent and/or have a frame of reference to the experiences and characteristics of this unique community and its families.

Otherwise, you have a cycle of poor decisions, outraged citizens, and most importantly, children who will grow into adults without their dynamic qualities being taken into consideration.
And, that is nothing to gloss over and forget about.

Click here to read more about parent perspectives of K-12 education from UNCF

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