The Gap's Manifest Destiny T-Shirt Debacle: An Interview With Corine Fairbanks of AIM-Southern California
As we reported yesterday, a t-shirt sold by The Gap proudly proclaiming "Manifest Destiny" struck a nerve with Native people and inspired a campaign to get the retailer to cease selling it. Late yesterday, the news came through that The Gap would do just that, and the product has indeed disappeared from the retailer's online store. The group leading the charge has been the American Indian Movement (AIM)-Southern California Chapter. Director Corine Fairbanks spoke with ICTMN about the episode. Mainstream Americans, she said, "are always surprised when we can unite quickly over something like this."
ICTMN: How and when did you find out about the t-shirt?
Fairbanks: A supporter told me about it last Friday and I was in shock, but within three days we had communicated by Facebook and in other ways with about 10,000 people and nearly all of them were really angry that a major clothing chain would do this.
For those who don’t understand the outrage, how would you explain it to them?
The designer of the t-shirt is not understanding how sick Manifest Destiny is, especially considering how our communities are still struggling with historical trauma and the ways it still affects us today. The dominant society doesn’t allow Indian people to be other than invisible, so they’re always surprised when something like this happens.
What was the reaction from your Facebook followers?
Overwhelming and supportive. There was an immediate response, and when the designer [Mark McNairy] tweeted what he called an apologetic statement—“Manifest Destiny—Survival of the Fittest”—there was more anger. Then he made another apology: “I am sorry for the survival of the fittest comment. It hurt me deeply to be called a racist as that is not me. I reacted without thinking.”
What interaction have you had with Gap?
None. They’ve been ignoring us, though we know they’re following our page. It seems like we’re not worth their time or effort—they definitely don’t want to deal with us.
Has Gap taken any action?
I understand they’ve taken them off the online store.
What are your next steps?
We feel that their apology is not enough. We want him fired [McNairy] and other shirts taken out. We understood there are some with “Exploring from East to West” and others like that. And we want a formal apology—not just Facebook. What you [the designer] did and how Gap endorsed it is not acceptable. Why not make a shirt that says “Free Leonard Peltier” with the proceeds from sales to go to his family?