AS a wean, my daughter was a law unto herself. She put the fear in feral; she was a stranger to sense, a rejecter of reason. This wild child, with her haphazard hair and intense, bold brown eyes, had something of the simian about her. She would pick food up with her feet, swing from table to chair and sofa. I would refer to her as the missing link between humans and chimpanzees. She was the cheekiest of monkeys. So I called her monkey.

The thought never crossed my mind that anyone would think it inappropriate for a father to call his daughter a monkey. My parents called us monkeys. It’s a term of endearment. Except when you are H&M.

On Monday the high street clothing behemoth launched a new children’s range. The most engaging image is that of an unbelievably cute five-year-old. In his well-fitting bottle-green hoodie, he strikes a pose. He has a disarming confidence, a serene stillness that belies his youth as he stares at the camera. His hoodie carries a message: coolest monkey in the jungle. So far, so good. Until I tell you that the boy in question is of African heritage.

Cue a cacophony of correctness and offence. Social media hit warp speed: “Racist”, “unacceptable”, “surely someone at H&M should’ve realised this may offend someone, somewhere?” “What universe do you live in that makes it okay to flaunt your racist ways in such an epic portion.”

Chart-topping musician The Weeknd – aka Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, a Canadian singer/songwriter/producer of Ethiopian heritage – tweeted that he had been “shocked”, “embarrassed” and “deeply offended” by the photo, and cancelled his partnership with H&M. He was joined by others. So whipped up was the febrility and frenzy, there were calls to boycott the shop altogether.

H&M responded: “We agree with all the criticism that this has generated – we have got this wrong and we agree that, even if unintentional, passive or casual racism needs to be eradicated wherever it exists.”

Putting this furore to one side for a moment, who’s going to explain to this wean that he is the centre of a controversy of which he probably has no concept? His mother, Terry Mango, a Kenyan national living in Sweden, expressed outrage on Twitter. “Stop crying Wolf all the time, unnecessary issue here ... Get over it. I really don’t understand … because it’s not my way of thinking, sorry.” She has since deleted the tweet.

What a mess. I grew up having to deal with racism often on a daily basis. As a 12-year-old, I was once delivered a kicking on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street. Throughout my career I have witnessed institutional racism, a racism that is alive and well today, albeit more muted and somewhat diminished.

Throughout history, African Caribbeans have endured the most pernicious treatment. They’ve been regarded as sub-human and bartered like cattle. Images of black folk being likened to primates has appeared in fine art, popular TV and in October last year, monkey chants were directed at black players by the fans of the Roma and Spartak Moscow.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr Day, marking the birthday of the American civil rights campaigner who was assassinated 50 years ago. We still have much to do to repair the ravages of racism. And while we are waiting for dreams to come true, I don’t think H&M is the best target for our collective ire.

Were they insensitive? Maybe. I am sure not one single person involved even considered the monkey allusion. Maybe a room full of people saw an angelic boy who takes a cracking photo. But could this farrago represent progress? While I may not fully sign up to the across the board public reaction, we must acknowledge that the world is changing. Issues of race and racism are no longer solely the concern of people of colour. And perversely, H&M’s unawareness of these base sentiments could be construed as some indication that they are less pervasive than they once were. There will come a point, soon I hope, when the shackles drop and we feel the cool wind in our faces as we walk towards a braver new world. And in that world all our children can be monkeys; cool and uncool.