Up until Monday afternoon, Gap Inc. was selling a controversial men’s t-shirt with the words "Manifest Destiny" sprawled across the chest. The shirt went on sale close to a month ago but it wasn’t until a UCLA student started a Change.org petition urging the Gap to stop selling the shirt that the news went viral.
"This article of clothing promotes a belief that has resulted in the mass genocide of indigenous people, and it serves to normalize oppression," explains the Change.org petition. "This shirt is marketed to teens and young adults, and it gives no context for the racism and inequality that persists in our society, to this day, as a result of this doctrine."
The shirt was created by Mark McNairy, a designer chosen by GQ magazine as one of America’s Best New Designers, and the shirt is part of a collection branded "GQ x Gap." The ‘limited edition’ shirts went on sale on September 19, 2012, according to GQ.
When McNairy heard his work was promoting "a belief that has resulted in mass genocide" he took to Twitter to stir up even more controversy.
"MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST!" McNairy tweeted on Saturday. The tweet was deleted shortly afterwards.
Days later, McNairy tweeted an apology for his response to the criticism.
I AM SORRY FOR MY SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST COMMENT. IT HURT ME DEEPLY TO BE CALLED A RACIST AS THAT IS NOT ME. I REACTED WITHOUT THINKING.
— mark mcnairy (@mmcnairy) October 15, 2012
The American Indian Movement Southern California said they’re not interested in his apology. Their statement:
"The want to be designer for the GAP "Manifest Destiny" T-Shirt has APOLOGIZED AFTER HE responded to criticisms of his Genocide Fashion statement. From his Twitter page: MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST!" (that is a pretty sick statement people- lets him put through some of the HISTORICAL TRAUMA we have been through as NATIVE PEOPLE- teach the little insensitive freak a lesson)— NO! YOU NEED A NEED DAY JOB…..YOUR APOLOGY NOT ACCEPTED- What you did, and HOW GAP endorsed it is not ACCEPTABLE….MAKE A SHIRT THAT says: FREE LEONARD PELTIER and all Indigenous Political PRISONERS!- PROCEEDS of Merchandise to go to LEGAL DEFENSE and the FAMILIES of OUR HEROS YOUR ENEMIES!
The blog "The Belle Jar" helped the petition go viral. The post deconstructs how Manifest Destiny can still be felt today.
Manifest Destiny and the philosophy behind it are responsible for a whole bunch of really terrible things. It was used to justify the Mexican-American War, the War of 1812, and, most appallingly, the Indian Removal Act. Manifest Destiny was used to vindicate the myriad abuses suffered by people of colour at the hands of white North Americans. It’s the philosophy that lead to our continent-wide reservation system , not to mention the residential schools created for the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.
The effects of Manifest Destiny can still be felt, in the poverty and degradation suffered by American and Canadian people of colour, and in the deplorable conditions found on many reserves, both here and south of the border. The ideas behind manifest destiny still exist in our white western consciousness, as much as we might be loathe to admit it; they come up every time our (largely white) government asserts that it knows best when it comes to First Nations issues, or every time someone complains about how much freaking money has already been spent on Attawapiskat only to have their community still be in a state of crisis. Manifest Destiny is apparent every time someone chooses to be bigoted and wilfully ignorant about non-white immigrants, or tries to deny the far-reaching effects of racism; it’s apparent in the mindset of all the people who never take a moment to wonder why or how so many white people ended up owning so much fucking land.
At the time this story was published the shirt was no longer available on Gap.com. But according to American Indian Movement Southern California, several of their members have seen the t-shirt available in stores.
Gap hasn’t issued a statement yet but a few creatives have taken it upon themselves to respond. Take a look at some of the responses below: