Who is Liam Mango? Parents of Young Black Model Who Wore H&M 'Monkey' Hoodie Don't Think Image Was Racist

The parents of the young black model who posed in a H&M hoodie with the word “monkey” on it say they don’t believe the photograph was intended to be racist.

The image of five-year-old Liam Mango, a Swedish child model, wearing a green hoodie that reads “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” went viral last week and caused outrage, with the likes of The Weeknd, Diddy and LeBron James criticizing H&M for the seemingly tone-deaf campaign and social media users deeming it racist. H&M has since apologized for using the photograph.

On Monday, Liam’s parents, Terry Mango and Frank Odhiambo, addressed the controversy on the U.K.’s This Morning program on ITV.

“I wouldn’t see such a connection to anything other than my son modeling a shirt,” said Mrs. Mango, speaking about the racial connotations of the advertisement. “With the furore going on, you look back and wonder, if you had noticed it, what would be my initial response to it?”

Mango went on to say that she doesn’t feel the controversy is an overreaction, however, and supported people speaking out about racism—though she doesn’t necessarily share the same opinion in this instance.

“Everybody should act differently based on their opinions of what racism is,” said the boy’s mother. “I know what racism is—I’ve had racist remarks directed to me. I’ve been called ‘monkey’ on a cruise ship and my reaction is the same as the world is reacting right now.”

But, said Mango, “To put the T-shirt and the word ‘monkey’ with racism, maybe that is not my way of looking at it. I’m just looking at Liam, a black, young boy, modeling a T-shirt that has ‘monkey’ on it. I think everyone should respect different opinions on racism.”

Young Liam’s parents say their son loves modeling and was contracted to the H&M campaign through a modeling agency in Stockholm. Mango or Odhiambo usually accompany Liam to his shoots and told the program they did not recall Liam posing in the hoodie in question until the image surfaced online and caused uproar last week.

Odhiambo said he worried about his family’s safety after the story received worldwide press attention. “It’s very important that people should understand we have a son, we have other children in the home, and we have an obligation to protect our children,” said the boy’s father.

The boy’s mother said young Liam isn’t aware of the racism controversy surrounding the image but understood that he had gained some infamy. “He’s aware he’s a superstar. He’s seen images online. He believes people love him for his modeling job, and he’s cool, and [for] his confidence in his job,” said Mango.