U.S. clothing retailer Gap was forced to apologize for an advertisement for its new Gap Kids children’s clothing line after some people deemed it racist.
On Saturday, Gap Kids tweeted “meet the kids who are proving that girls can do anything,” along with four promotional photos from its Ellen DeGeneres’ clothing line. However, it’s one photo that sparked backlash when some people deemed it racist.
The photo in question features four young girls from the travelling acrobats group Le Petit Cirque. The photo shows one of the girls in a handstand, another in a complex pose, while a taller Caucasian girl rests her elbow on top of a younger, shorter African-American child.
Many on social media were quick criticize the ad, claiming the black child was being used as a prop.
“@GapKids The white girls can do anything but the black girl is an arm rest? Congratulations on the passive racism, #gap,” on Twitter user said.
“@GapKids proving girls can do anything… unless she’s Black. Then all she can do is bear the weight of White girls. #EpicFail,” Fatima La’Juan Muse tweeted.
The ad also caught the attention of Kirsten Savali, a senior writer for The Root, who referred to the ad as something that “happens when black faces appear but no black voices are at the table.”
“While all of the girls are adorable, and indeed, all of them should grow up to be and do anything, it becomes problematic when the black child is positioned to be a white child’s prop,” Savali wrote.
Gap issued a statement on Tuesday following the criticism and said it will remove the photo in question.
“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,” said Gap spokeswoman Debbie Felix in a statement to Fortune.
Filmmaker and former NFL player Matthew A. Cherry, weighed in on the topic of “racism” in the Gap ad by tweeting an image from at 2015 campaign that features an African-American girl resting her arm on a smaller Caucasian girl.
In a lengthy piece, Huffington Post culture writer Zeba Blay said the “racist” Gap ad is “complicated” and “tricky.”
“It is, perhaps, far too simplistic to simply call this ad racist. Upon seeing the ad and the reaction to it, I raised an eyebrow at how worked up people were over it,” Blay wrote. “My initial reaction was not “this is racist!” but that it was certainly a bad PR move.”
“I found the pose to be pretty harmless. And yet, it’s unfair to say that the people who do take issue with the photo are simply overreacting. Because it’s not the pose itself that is the problem, but the context in which it is delivered,” she wrote.
So is the ad “racist?” Not so much, according to the mother of the children in the photo.
Actress Brooke Smith tweeted to The Root, saying the two girls at the centre of the controversy are, in fact, sisters.
@TheRoot girl with arm resting on her shoulder is her sister She didn’t talk in video because she was 2 shy. Everyone needs to calm down,” she tweeted.
The actress even reached out to Cherry.
“They are sisters!” the former Grey’s Anatomy star said.
In 2008, Smith and her husband, Russian cinematographer Steve Lubensky, adopted Lucy Dinknesh from Ethiopia, an adoption that took over a year to complete, according to People magazine. The pair had Fanny Grace Lubensky in 2003.