Gap's Totally Not-Racist "Manifest Destiny" T-Shirt


About a month ago, Gap released a special series of GQxGap crossover designs by Mark Mcnairy, who GQ dubbed one of America's "Best New Designers." While it's concerning that a man who writes white letters on t-shirts can be consider a "best new" anything, we're not here to talk about design. We're here to talk about manifest destiny.

The charitable view suggests that Mr. McNairy does not know what the term means. Let's let the originator, one John L. O'Sullivan in 1845, explain his phrase:

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.

So what did this mean? The Belle Jar explains what this means better than I could (I would just sing a tune of GENOCIDE! GENOCIDE!):

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.

Unfortunately, social media proves that he's very much aware of the phrase's significance. After one student created a petition against the shirt, Mcnairy replied with a tastefully crafted tweet (now deleted, of course):


Yes, survival of the melanin-deficient folks with the big sticks that go boom.

Gap (and McNairy) probably aren't trying to start a race war; they probably think that "ooh! this is a phrase that someone cool once said, maybe even the sort of hipster who wears black t-shirts with white lettering!" Or even more charitably, "let's reclaim the phrase for capitalism! We're promoting the destiny of lawbooks!"

But Gap is one of the guiltiest parties in subverting human rights by using sweatshops overseas. Even in markets with rigid anti-sweatshop laws, like South India, the conditions are appalling - open sewage streaming out into unpaved streets in remote factories, 12 hour days even when the monsoon floods the workroom floor.

This is manifest destiny today. That it's ok for the "not-we" to suffer so Americans can have cheap clothes.

The lingering effects of manifest destiny, well, they linger.

Mark McNairy has issued an official apology. Gap has removed the shirts from the website, but they're still available in stores. Make of that what you will.

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