Racism or Overreaction?

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Is the new GapKids ad racist or are social justice warriors going too far?!

The racially charged advertisement from GapKids by Ellen DeGeneres that was released this week has started a social media frenzy. Gap spokeswoman Debbie Felix has apologized for the ad in a statement earlier today. The concerns come from the latest in the uplifting and girl power campaigns Ellen started with her GapKids x ED line in 2015. Every ad features a girl, or group of girls, that are challenging gender norms and offering empowerment through their skills such as skateboarding, starting a business, building robotics, or being outstanding at dance. The idea is to motivate and inspire other girls that may feel repressed by gender appropriation.

This week’s ad features some of the female dancers from Le Petit Cirque, the only all-kid humanitarian cirque company in the world, that operates out of Los Angeles, California. The ad has 3 white children and 1 black child. There are two white girls in powerful dance poses while the third white girl, Fanny, is resting her arm on the passively standing black child, Lucy. The e-zine The Root refers to this as ‘a distinctly unempowering pose that harkened back to an antebellum South in which black children were used as armrests and footstools, and a present where black children are systemically devalued.’

Ms. Felix, the Gap spokeswoman, offered her apology today: “As a brand with a proud 46-year history of championing diversity and inclusivity, we appreciate the conversation that has taken place and are sorry to anyone we’ve offended. This GapKids campaign highlights true stories of talented girls who are celebrating creative self-expression and sharing their messages of empowerment. We are replacing the image with a different shot from the campaign, which encourages girls (and boys) everywhere to be themselves and feel pride in what makes them unique”.


Interestingly, the July 2015 ad campaign ran an ad with a similar stance only reversed, the black girl is resting her arm on a white girl’s head and nothing was said at that time. There has been an outpouring of Tweets about looking for social issues when there is nothing there. Others discuss how disengaged Lucy seemed at the shoot and during the interview, due to shyness. Some say the lack of political correctness is a huge issue for the black community. There seems to also be a disappointment that Gap caved to the Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) today with their apology.

I was curious what a contemporary would say. So, I asked my daughter, Gray, who is the same age as Lucy, what she thought of the ad. She stared at it for a while and then said three points:

Why are those girls wearing pajama pants? (ok, so she wasn’t into this clothing line.)
Why is that girl putting her arm on that girl’s head?
Why are they not wearing shoes?

Ok, so Gray thought it was weird that someone would put their arm on someone’s head like that.I thought that Gray’s opinion would hold weight because she is mixed race and she is raised in a household with lesbian moms who discuss gender, social and political issues on the daily. She has a heightened sense of political correctness compared to her peers and she has an awareness around racial issues. Interestingly, nothing came up about the racial issue until we discussed it after. She said she did notice that there were three white children and only 1 black child in the photo, something she admitted she notices regularly, just doesn’t mention to us out loud.

Natasha and I were discussing these ads today, she highlighted that race aside, anyone resting their arm on another’s head is offensive… she was speaking from experience seeing as she is a solid 4 foot 11 inches, so I suspect she has had this happen once or thrice.

So, we want to know what you think of the ads. Is it a group of kids being kids, or is there something careless about the newest addition to the GapKids x ED campaign?!

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Bianca Sprague

Bianca Sprague is a birth doula, lactation educator, childbirth educator and business consultant. She and her partner Alana are the moms to their 8 year old daughter, Gray. Bianca is the co-owner of bebo mia and Baby & Me Fitness.


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