Did GAP Jeans Unwittingly Promote White Supremacy?

GAP recently added a $30 t-shirt with the words “Manifest Destiny” [designed by Mark McNairy] to their clothing line. A  senior editor over at Yahoo! Shine posted an article about the public backlash that ensued. I found it to be a good read so I am sharing it. I am also taking the time to respond to the author who posted a question at the end of the article. Here goes:

“It’s possible that the shirt is more about ignorance than arrogance, but if that’s the case, it goes all the way to the top.”

-Lylah M. Alphonse

The first time that I remember hearing the phrase “manifest destiny” was in 2008 while listening to the radio. The Touch 106.1 morning show was doing an on air book discussion [they were reading one of Obama’s books]. I remember being curious about “manifest destiny” and making a mental note to look further into it. I never did get around to it and now [I am ashamed to say] I actually should have [suggested by Lylah  Alphonse, Senior editor at Yahoo! Shine] learned the real meaning behind the phrase in middle school. Here are some highlights from the article:

McNair’s Apology

“Unfortunately, the meaning of my ‘Manifest Destiny’ T shirt has been misconstrued and the sentiment behind it grossly misunderstood,” McNairy posted on Twitter on Tuesday, blatantly disregarding his “survival of the fittest” quip. “I first learned of Manifest Destiny in American History in Junior High School. To me it has always meant that one could set goals, work hard, and achieve their dreams. Having the opportunity to design for the Gap was the realization of one of my dreams. This phrase and they way I used it was in no way meant to be offensive or hurtful, and I apologize to those who might have interpreted it in that manner.”

Some history behind the phrase “manifest destiny”

The term was coined in 1845 by John O’Sullivan, a newspaper editor at the Democratic Review, who wrote that the United states should annex Texas and claim the Oregon Country because “that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” It also was used to justify the idea that people with darker skin were “heathen,” “backwards,” and otherwise less than human.

The Result

More than 4,700 people have signed a petition at Change.org calling on Gap to discontinue the shirt and issue a formal apology, and there are Facebook protests aplenty. While the $30 shirt is no longer available on gap.com it is still available in some stores

Gap released an official statement and apology. “We’re sincerely sorry for the offense that the ‘Manifest Destiny’ t-shirt may have caused,” read the statement, which was posted on their Facebook page. “This shirt was part of the partnership between Gap and GQ featuring new designers and was never meant to be insensitive. Because of your feedback, we made the decision to no longer sell the t-shirt as soon as it was brought to our attention. The t-shirt has been removed from Gap.com and we are in the process of removing it from our stores. We are also focusing on how we select product designs for these types of partnerships in the future. Thank you for your continued feedback; we’re always listening.”

Alphonse points out that McNair’s original twitter post which reflected his attitude toward the backlash was “MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST” but was subsequently deleted.

In defense of McNair:

I was generally regarded as a well read and attentive student in school. I don’t remember being taught a thing about “manifest destiny”. But even if I had, my sixth grade homeroom teacher was no intellectual. I doubt she would have even grasped the historical significance or moral implications of the phrase [I’m being completely honest]. I do remember her screaming that Saddam Hussein was a mad man during Operation Desert Storm. That was about the extent of any enlightening thought provoking instruction that I would get from any of the subjects she covered [I’m serious]. So if McNair says that he didn’t understand all of the implications behind the words, I believe him. His teacher probably didn’t know better either.

In Criticism of McNair

Though I admit that I myself am ignorant [but quickly learning] of much of the history behind the term “manifest destiny” I have to express some dismay at McNair’s decision to respond to the public’s criticism without checking whether or not it had merit.

To Lylah M. Alphonse

In response to Lylah Alphonse who ended the article asking “What do you think? Arrogant, ignorant, or much ado about nothing?” I say that this misunderstanding is less about the ignorance and/or arrogance over there at GAP and more of an indication of how largely we as a society are out of touch with history and each other.

You can read the Yahoo! article here.

Gap Pulls “Manifest Destiny” T-Shirt, Gets History Lesson from Outraged Consumers

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