The Gap Kids Ad

gapkids

The photo above was part of a recent ad campaign for Gap Kids. The campaign, which launched last week, is in collaboration with Ellen DeGeneres’ lifestyle brand ED. Gap is donating $250,000 to the charity Girls Inc. to support its economic literacy program.

Criticism erupted on social media and elsewhere that the ad gave a message of “passive racism.”

Nathalie Yves Gaulthier, founder of Le Petit Cirque, the youth performance group whose members are seen in the ad, tried to explain, saying in part:

“The child in the ad is not an ‘armrest,’ she’s the other girl’s little sister. They are a very close family. The child is a very young (junior) member with Le Petit Cirque, a humanitarian cirque company, and therefore a wee shyer than the more seasoned older outgoing girls. Our company is deeply saddened by some people misconstruing this as racist, and are keeping the children out if this at the moment to protect their beautiful feelings , but we are extremely supportive of dialogue in our country to move past any racial barriers…”

Gap decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and replaced the image in the campaign. It apologized to critics last week, saying:

“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.”

It’s a non-apology apology, of course, a clear #8 on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale:

“A forced apology for a rightful or legitimate act, in capitulation to bullying, fear, threats, desperation or other coercion.”

Corporations are more or less forced to capitulate to “gotcha!” accusations like this, because there is no up-side in fighting them, and the companies’ job is to make money while alienating as few people as possible. If Social Justice Warriors and aggressive race-baiters are determined to claim that an ad intentionally denigrates a black child as subordinate to white children, then that message will overwhelm the ad no matter what is said or seen. Continue reading