Monday, October 15, 2012

Gap is in social media hell for not knowing what "Manifest Destiny" is

So, apparently Gap has been selling this shirt with the words "Manifest Destiny" written on it.

As a Canadian, the first thing it made me think of was the rhetoric behind post-1812 border skirmishes with our southern neighbours. But that's just the way I learned it in history class.

FB friend Audra (a social media specialist in the not-for-profit world) made me aware of just how much shit it's causing with the real victims of the policy when she shared this post on The Belle Jar:

The term Manifest Destiny was coined by journalist John L. O’Sullivan in 1845 as part of his campaign to encourage the annexation of Texas and Oregon County. His first use of the phrase, in the 1845 July-August issue of the Democratic Review, didn’t draw much attention, but the second time he used it, in a column published in the New York Morning News on December 27th, 1845, became extremely influential: 
“And 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.” 
Manifest Destiny became the smart, fancy-sounding name for a belief that had already been around for quite some time: namely, that white folks of European descent were destined to rule the entirety of North America. These people truly believed that it was God’s will that they colonize the new world and systematically destroy any civilizations that might already be occupying the lands they wanted.
To make things worse, here's what the shirt designer had to say about it:

Via Ida Hammer
There's now a petition on that states:
GAP is selling a black shirt with the words "MANIFEST DESTINY" written on it. This article of clothing promotes a belief that has resulted in the mass genocide of indigenous people, and it serves to normalize oppression. 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. We are asking that this shirt be discontinued, and that an apology be issued.
The designer, Mark Mcnairy, is very very sorry:

Like ALL CAPS sorry.

Meanwhile, Gap have lost all control over their Facebook wall. 

Here are some choice posts.:

Seriously. Is nobody minding the store?


  1. Dumb, but the case against them is being a bit overstated (and the Wikipedia quotation is being misused). As the Wikipedia quotation mentions, it didn't catch on until it was used for the Oregon boundary dispute with Britain, and the meaning there wasn't that white people had pre-ordained rights over non-whites, but that European powers like Britain should have no role in North America. It was a white-vs-white thing, not a white-vs-native thing, FWIW.

  2. They'll do a Final Solution range next...

  3. I agree with David. At least based on what I read on wikipedia. Where is this thing about whites vs natives (only) coming from? Regardless, the phrase manifest destiny comes across as very pretentious. Even if it didn't have a historical meaning, I would never wear it on a shirt.

  4. Manifest Destiny is understood by Native Americans. Also by the Klu Klux Klan. Hitler knew what it meant. McNairy seems to know what it really means in his "survival of the fittest" comment. To argue that most people are stupid and don't know what words and phrases mean does not excuse if they offend. The Native Americans are, quite rightly, deeply offended. If you are not offended you are ignorant, uneducated, or racist. Once you know what it means and are not offended you are simply racist. McNairy is racist, the question is, was Gap? What did they know or understand of Manifest Destiny? They were selling it around the world so they must have been curious what it meant, surely? All Native Americans need an apology from Gap & all of us deserve an explanation. McNairy? Let him rot. This racist idiot should become a pariah as jean apu Gaultier has. "Survival of the fittest" Mcnairy? You are unfit you fool. Goodbye!