A little more understanding

  • Howard Feldman 2018
Some time ago, clothing store Zara marketed an item that looked like an overrun from the now defunct Auschwitz clothing line. Jews around the world were deeply offended that anyone could be so oblivious to their painful history. They were also perplexed because the item was really, really ugly. And so Jews protested and the product was removed. And no mannequins were harmed in the process.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Jan 18, 2018

And everyone was happy.

Contrast that with the H&M situation. H&M was wrong. It was as stupid as it was insensitive to market a hoodie worn by a black child with the word “monkey” imprinted on it. H&M is an international brand, and greater care needed to be taken to ensure that no one would be offended by any image. It isn’t their first day in this business.

Condemnation, as in the case of Zara, was swift. H&M withdrew the brochure, apologised for its decision and everyone should have been happy.

But they weren’t.

South Africa, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in particular, reacted violently, with the mannequins bearing the brunt of this tale. The question is: Why? Why would the H&M situation elicit a different response to that of the Zara one?

It is easy to explain the behaviour of the EFF as hooliganism or even political posturing and point scoring. There is no excuse for a political party, or anyone else for that matter, to break the law. But that is a simplistic and knee-jerk response.

What is more important is to try to understand why it is that people reacted with such anger towards H&M.

I believe that the answer lies in the way in which the past has been dealt with for Jews of Europe versus the current situation in South Africa. The painful wound of the Holocaust is one that will never fully heal. The 1930s and 1940s in Europe will remain part of the Jewish consciousness forever. And no matter how far we travel from this horror, it remains with us.

But we have been allowed to deal with it. We have spoken, written, discussed and dealt with it. We have made movies and we have been compensated financially.

Germany has apologised and still has laws in place today to deal with the embarrassment of the history of their making. One visit to Berlin, and a tourist will see how much part of current Germany this remains.

Contrast that with South Africa, where many painful and difficult conversations are yet to be had. People have not been compensated fully (Black Economic Empowerment has not achieved this) and the past has not been fully explored. When change did take place, the people of the country rushed to embrace so-called rainbow nation imagery. Although this is wonderful in theory, it was premature. The country, and particularly those who suffered, needed to go through a process of mourning that the goodwill and the best intention denied them.

What this means is that, as a people who have suffered and have had to deal with the most terrible past, Jews are equipped and able to assist South Africans in dealing with theirs.

The anger that was unleashed by the H&M advert is an indicator that the matter is far from settled and that much more needs to be done to close this ugly chapter of South African history.

The EFF’s behaviour was unacceptable. It is a political party and needs to uphold the law and respect the alternative legal processes that are available. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a little more understanding of just how painful and unsettled the past can be.




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