Racist or Adorable? This T-Shirt Pairs a Black Kid’s Face With a Banana-Eating Monkey Body

The company, Just Add a Kid, says the imagery is just an honest mistake.

(Photo: elchekatzo/Twitter)

Jul 10, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Images comparing black people to monkeys are as old as America. Sometimes it’s obvious that the association is racist—a quick Internet search of “Michelle Obama monkey” will give you an idea of just how overt and offensive things can get. Then there’s the line that a controversial T-shirt from San Diego–based fashion brand Just Add a Kid is blurring.

(Photo: Justaddakid.com)

As you can see in the photo above, the company’s shirt features the body of a monkey holding a banana. That’s paired with Just Add a Kid’s custom hanger bearing the smiling face of an African American boy. Together, the shirt and the hanger create the impression that the black kid is a monkey eating a banana.

An image of the shirt was posted on Twitter on Wednesday and soon drew outrage from users of the social media platform. The company released a statement on Thursday stating that this particular instance of the monkey T-shirt being partnered with the African American boy hanger was a mistake.

“The widely distributed and inappropriate picture of a mismatched ‘Just Add a Kid’ hanger with one of our T-shirt products was not authorized, condoned, or tolerated by our company,” wrote spokesperson David Oates in a statement. “We sincerely regretted this occurrence and immediately directed our retail partner to change the product placement.”

The company said that the individual retailer simply “paired a particular hanger with a shirt without consideration for how it may appear to many customers.” It also said it would train its retailers to be more culturally responsive.

Not everyone is buying the company’s apology. “Let’s stop putting the offensive material out there and just say BOYCOTT JUST ADD A KID!!!” tweeted CarolCubby.

Countless little black boys and girls love monkeys and would probably be thrilled to wear the shirt. But, interestingly enough, also available on the company’s website are Confederate army uniform T-shirts, onesies, and baby bibs, complete with a Confederate flag.

That flag has long been seen by many, particularly African Americans, as a symbol of racial injustice. The monkey may have been an honest mistake, but the Confederate flag outfit certainly seems to be authorized, condoned, and tolerated by the company.