Because Genocide's Not Trendy: The Gap's 'Manifest Destiny' T-Shirt Sparks Outrage Because Genocide's Not Trendy: The Gap's 'Manifest Destiny' T-Shirt Sparks Outrage
Social Innovation

Because Genocide's Not Trendy: The Gap's 'Manifest Destiny' T-Shirt Sparks Outrage

by Liz Dwyer

October 19, 2012

Back in 1845, newspaper editor John O'Sullivan coined the term "Manifest Destiny" to describe the popular 19th century belief that white Americans had a divinely inspired duty to expand the nation west to the Pacific Ocean. Of course, the belief that Native Americans were culturally and racially inferior savages was at the heart of Manifest Destiny, and it resulted in their mass relocation, enslavement, and genocide. Fast-forward 167 years and that horrible history has become a fashion trend. Retailer The Gap has decided that selling a $30 black t-shirt with the word's "MANIFEST DESTINY" blazoned across the chest is cool.

He wrote on his Facebook page that the phrase "'my struggle' sounds innocuous enough, right?" but translated into German it becomes "Mein Kampf". "Throw that onto a t-shirt, GAP," Paquette wrote, before adding "(I'm joking, please don't!)"

Thanks to their voices, hundreds of complaints poured into The Gap's social media channels, and a Change.org petition demands that The Gap stop selling the t-shirts. On Monday afternoon, in response to a comment about the shirts, the retailer posted on their Facebook page that "Based on customer feedback, we will no longer offer the t-shirt in our stores or online." The shirt has indeed been pulled from both The Gap and McNairy's website.

For his part, McNairy took offense to charges of racism, tweeting in all caps, "Survival of the Fittest." After significant backlash he deleted the tweet and on Monday tweeted that he was sorry for the comment but, "it hurt me deeply to be called a racist as that is not me. I reacted without thinking."

We've noted before that this is not the first time a company's created a racist ad campaign or product and then been shocked that people aren't thrilled about it. As of this writing, no formal apology has been issued from The Gap, but it'll be interesting to see if the retailer gives a response similar to McNairy's or chooses to acknowledge that the shirt is indeed racist—even if they didn't set out to be. After all, if we're going to ever truly heal from our racist past, acknowledging the problem is a good first step.

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Because Genocide's Not Trendy: The Gap's 'Manifest Destiny' T-Shirt Sparks Outrage