“Manifest destiny” was first mentioned by journalist John O. Sullivan in an 1845 piece exhorting the U.S. government to 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.”
The phrase eventually caught on with politicians who used it to justify the Mexican-American War and the destruction and/or assimilation of many native tribes.
But this was all lost on the shirt’s designer, who made things worse when he Tweeted “MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST!”
Since learning about the real history of the phrase, he now understands why people might be mad, though it seems like he’s still sort of blaming people for not getting his intention:
Unfortunately, the meaning of my ‘Manifest Destiny’ T shirt has been misconstrued and the sentiment behind it grossly misunderstood.. 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.
Whatever his goal in slapping those two words on a shirt, it sure did succeed in making people mad.
“It is with great sadness that I notify you I will not be shopping at your store until you remove the ‘Manifest Destiny’ t-shirts available at your stores,” activist Renee Roman Nose wrote to the retailer. “Manifest Destiny was the catch phrase which led to the genocide of millions of my people, millions of Indigenous people throughout this country.”
Yesterday, Gap announced that it had pulled the shirts from its online store, though we’ve seen reports that some of them might still be available in stores.
Wrote the company:
We’re sincerely sorry for the offense that the ‘Manifest Destiny’ t-shirt may have caused… 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.