For those in need of a history refresher, the phrase was used in 19th century America as both an ideology and slogan for the genocide of thousands of the country's First Nations people. It basically flat-out stated that it was the destiny of North America to be colonized by the Europeans, at the expense of Native lives.
And so it would seem to make no sense whatsoever for that slogan to appear -- unexplained -- on a T-shirt in the GAP's special new line produced in partnership with GQ by designer Mark McNairy. And yet there it was!
The complaints started rolling in pretty much immediately, reports Indian Country Today Media Network.
"We are asking GAP to realize that by selling this shirt, it indicates that the company is either racist, and/or ignorant, and/or insensitive to the true meaning of the phrase."
That petition currently has more than 4,000 signatures.
For others, no amount of apologizing can make up for the shirt.
"Maybe a friend of mine is right," writes William S. Yellowrobe, a native poet and playwright, in a comment published by Indian Country Today Media Network. "GAP should come out with a 'Final Solution' T-shirt, or a 'Got Slaves,' T-shirt. Because this issue involves Native people specifically, maybe GAP hopes there will be no one to call them on it…"
Artist and filmmaker Steven Paul Judd also had some stern words.
"See, what they see as a clever little shirt on 'how the west was won' or maybe a 'YOLO, make your own destiny' type of shirt — Is not what I see. I'm sadden [sic] to think about what my ancestors went through because of the 'manifest destiny' mindset, and even more sadden [sic] to know that the effects of it can still be felt today."
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So how did this come about?
Salon reports that the designer of the T-shirt, Mark McNairy, initially responded to the complaints with the following insanely offensive Tweet.
"Manifest Destiny! Survival of the Fittest!"
That tweet has since been deleted, and he followed it up with the following apology.
"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."
The GAP has pulled the shirts from stores and online, but has yet to issue an explanation or apology. It did respond to Salon's coverage of the issue with the following statement.
"Saw your story and wanted to let you know that the 'Manifest Destiny' T-shirt by Mark McNairy, offered through the GQ partnership, will no longer be sold in Gap stores or online. We value all customer feedback, and wish to emphasize that our intention was not to offend anyone."
Whether GAP will publicly apologize remains to be seen.
Check out the video below about a t-shirt that plugs into your iPhone and displays your texts and Tweets.