Tag Archives: The Gap

Tumblr Q&A: Manifest Destiny and The Holocaust

Q: i’d appreciate it if you could keep this ask private, as i don’t want to derail any discussion, but i’m somewhat uncomfortable with the holocaust mentions in your post about the gaps “manifest destiny” shirts. jews weren’t considered white at the time of the holocaust (as the many anti-semitic references to “the jewish race” will attest) and even today jewish racial identity is very complex, especially with anti-semitism on the rise in europe again. that said, the rest of that post is excellent.

A: I hope you won’t mind too much that I published this ask. Although I could be wrong since I say this from a position of white privilege, I think it adds to the larger discussion of race, genocide, and remembrance around this issue (as opposed to derailing it) and I think it provides an important opportunity to engage this discussion by clarifying some of the points that were made in the post.

First, I’m grateful you brought this critical feedback to the blog and I appreciate all the points you have made. I agree with you completely about the complexity of past and present Jewish racial identity and, to be honest, I was concerned that someone might see this comparison being drawn. No, the Nazis were not exterminating the white race during the Holocaust, they were exterminating the “Jewish race” as you said—a flawed, problematic, and inaccurate concept to say the least. It’s crucial to see this specific difference in these historical perspectives, especially when folks argue the Holocaust was proof of the intentional mass genocide of white people, which was not the case. I personally think this distinction needs to be made, and this is a big reason why I chose to publish your ask.

In the Gap post I wanted to make a point about the hypocritical moral outrage that would ensue if holocaust terms and ideas were on t-shirts in megastores, while most consumers see this Manifest Destiny shirt and they’re like “uhhh…what’s the big deal I don’t even know what that means.” I wanted to communicate two different ideas: one about white folks not knowing what the experience of fun with violent words/events at our expense is like, and one that involves making one act of genocide more important and better known than another. However, these ideas were only separated by some punctuation and the word “also,” which is definitely my mistake and my error in judgment. Although I will say the post was not about the Holocaust, it was about the popular celebration of the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the US, and I think these issues need different spaces.

Hopefully this clarifies and thanks again.

—DD

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Genocide on Trend: white Violence, Ignorance, and Fashion

“Apparel manufacturer The Gap is currently selling a black t-shirt bearing — with no explanation — the words “MANIFEST DESTINY.” Manifest Destiny is a polite term for the popular 19th-century belief that the United States — a white, European nation — was destined to expand westward across the continent, by any means necessary. In Indian country, the term Manifest Destiny calls to mind the suffering of previous generations of Natives through forced relocation and genocide.”

—from Indian Country Today Media Network (full article here)

On the left is an altered ad campaign image for The Gap’s new pro-genocide statement t shirt, bearing the words “Manifest Destiny.” On the right is a response from the Settler Colonial facebook page. The designer, Mark McNairy, issued a non-apology on twitter—something along the lines of “I’m sorry you thought I was racist”—after he tweeted “MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.” Sure, these are both racist white ideas, but they mean very different things. Manifest Destiny is more so “survival of the whitest.” The philosophy behind it also involved European colonialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples being sanctioned by “God,” which doesn’t quite work with a scientific theory of evolution. If white folks don’t know the meaning of Manifest Destiny, we don’t get to create a new one that we imagine is completely separate from its specific historical and social context.

For whites to wear the Gap original, it would be continuing our long legacy of racist disregard for Indigenous peoples, our appropriation of violent ideas (or violent appropriation as an act in and of itself) to make a fashion statement, and our privilege of never knowing the harm of racist ideas and language. Folks with white skin are repeat offenders when it comes to cultural theft, and it may seem acceptable, innocuous, or even meaningless because we have absolutely no idea what that experience is like. There are no t shirts printed with statements signifying the genocide, removal, displacement, colonization, and mass killing of white folks. There are also no corporate megastores selling shirts that say “Auschwitz” or “Sieg Heil.” It’s only because of our positions on the safe and privileged (therefore ignorant) side of Manifest Destiny that we can have fun with the term and turn it into a consumer product. The good news is that The Gap has apparently agreed to stop selling the shirt. The bad news is that racism doesn’t go out of style with it.

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