The budget fashion retailer Matalan has got itself into trouble over a photograph in its latest catalogue showing a group of cute kids dressed up in onesie animal costumes. Unfortunately, while the various white children are dressed as ladybirds, rabbits and Angry Birds characters, the only two black children have been dressed as monkeys.
Some customers have complained that this is racist.
One told The Sun newspaper: “We’re living in a sensitive time and you would have thought someone would have realised how bad this is.”
Another tweeted to Matalan: “I’m finding this quite racist.”
Just in case anyone wonders why it might be racist, the Mail has included a paragraph explaining: “Racist caricatures of black people as monkeys date back more than 100 years, when they were used in cartoons and postcards to dehumanise the people they mocked.”
What I love about this story is the way everyone is treading on egg-shells a) to show how completely un-racist they are and b) to pretend how totally unamusing they find the incident.
And this, of course, is what makes it so funny.
For many years now, our diversity industry has created a climate in which every fashion catalogue, every Dr Who episode, every TV ad, must include its quota of ethnic minorities. This is what South Park is satirizing when it calls its token black character Token.
You can well imagine that this is what happened on the Matalan shoot. Yes, it’s theoretically possible that both stylist and photographer were sinister agents of the Ku Klux Klan. But more likely, the stylist hired a range of appropriately ethnically diverse children from some kiddy model agency and encouraged them all to slip into whatever animal costume they fancied or which happened to come up in their size.
The reason the stylist didn’t notice the monkey “problem” was most likely not because he or she was “racist” but rather because he or she was so completely colour-blind it didn’t even occur that having two black children in monkey outfits would be in any way an issue. The stylist – as most normal people do these days – would have seen not two black children in monkey outfits, but simply two children in monkey outfits.
Matalan will no doubt soon be apologising for the offence it may inadvertently have caused. But really it shouldn’t. If anyone is to blame for this, it is not the hapless stylist, but our po-faced, sanctimonious – and culturally divisive – diversity industry. If it hadn’t put so much energy into making us pay such close attention to the incredibly trivial issue of skin colour, no one would have thought to have been offended by that charming, innocent picture of kids wearing animal costumes in the first place.