Is This Gap Ad Racist? Social Media Furor Forces Clothing Line To Issue Swift Apology

It may not be immediately apparent why a new Gap ad promoting a new kids line is racist. But people on social media were quick to spot the snafu, and the retailer has quickly issued an apology.

Take a closer look at the ad: It features four young ladies — three white girls and a black girl — from the dance group Le Petit Cirque, the Hollywood Reporter noted. The image is framed by two of the dancers showing off their acrobatic skills — one in a handstand and the other in a backbend with her leg in the air. But the pair in the middle is grabbing the most attention.

And that’s where the allegations of racism are centered: on the tall white girl on the right, casually placing her arm on the head of a shorter black girl next to her.

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People on social media were quick to accuse Gap of demonstrating the “passive racism” pervasive in modern society.

The ad was posted on Twitter Saturday to promote the Gap Kids x Ed line and featured the caption “Meet the kids who are proving that girls can do anything.” This particular tweet featured four separate pictures: a girl at a telescope, another break dancing, a third at turntables. And the allegedly racist one.

“Thanks for perfectly illustrating what ‘passive racism’ looks like in mainstream media. #DiversiryFail She is NOT your arm rest,” wrote one user.

“Someone needs to get fired. It was ignorant in the first place to have 1 token black girl, then you make her the arm rest?” complained another.

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The clothing line promoted with the ad was has been spear-headed by Ellen DeGeneres.

Gap was quick to issue an apology after the ad offended so many people online. Gap spokesperson Debbie Felix issued a statement on the matter to the New York Daily News.

“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.”

They decided to replace the offending ad with one featuring the same quartet but without the racist pose that plagued the original. Felix said the new image will still encourage kids to “be themselves and feel pride in what makes them unique.”

Despite the apology, the ad hasn’t been deleted from Gap’s Twitter page.

Felix noted that the GapKids ad campaign is part of an initiative to empower girls and features them doing “cool things.” The ad campaign was launched last year and featured girls as drummers, skateboarders, entrepreneurs, and inventors. Gap doesn’t intend to abandon the campaign in light of the controversy.

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Gap’s ad and its quick apology is just the latest example of how social media has become a minefield for retailers, Fortune noted. Ad campaigns, products, and tweets can be torn down by angry users in mere hours, and brands usually issue an apology without delay and remove whatever it is that offended the masses.

Land’s End recently fell victim to this trend, when its feature on feminist Gloria Steinem and a fairly benign conversation about equal rights was featured in its spring catalog. Customers accused Land’s End of taking a political and religious stance, and they were forced to issue an apology to placate the rage.

Not everyone is convinced Gap did everything wrong, however. Some tweeters offered a calming comment among the torrent of criticism, saying “people become offended way too easily” and, “Don’t make race an issue and it won’t be.”

What do you think? Was this Gap ad racist? Was an apology necessary?

[Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images]