Mark McNairy, I Can’t Even

15 Oct

Mark McNairy, the man who designed the Manifest Destiny shirt for The Gap, tweeted the following on Saturday evening:

(He has since deleted the tweet, but fortunately a few people were able to get screen grabs)

When I saw this, I turned to Matt and said, He must not know what Manifest Destiny means.

I mean, he can’t know, right? There is no way that I can live in a world where a white American dude just posted publicly on the internet that the systematic oppression, destruction and abuse of North American Aboriginal peoples happened because white people are the FITTEST. I can’t possibly live in that world.

See, this is where my own wilful ignorance kicks in. When writing about issues like this, I try really, really hard to be fair and objective. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and do my best to offer an unbiased, balanced perspective on issues that trigger big emotions in me. I tend to assume that everyone has good intentions, but they just get bogged down by misuse of language, or lack of information. When someone says something as glaringly racist and offensive as the above, my brain just can’t process the fact that they might be serious.

What does he even mean by fittest, anyway? Is he referring to the Aboriginal peoples’ lack of immunity to diseases such as smallpox that were endemic in most European populations? Does he mean the fact that said members of the European population had guns when they arrived in North America while the indigenous peoples didn’t? Does he think that by swaggering onto this continent and declaring everything they saw as theirs, our colonial ancestors are somehow more fit? Does he think that the North American Aboriginal peoples are where they are today because they just haven’t worked hard enough?

If that last one is the case, I would like to paraphrase the first sentence of this article: If wealth and being  was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, the members of the First Nations populations would be millionaires.

What I want to do right now is call this McNairy fellow up and ask him if he’s aware of what he’s saying, and if he’s thought about what the fallout from his careless remarks might be. I want to point out that he owns his own (eponymous) business, and, as an ambassador for this brand, he needs to be aware that everything he says will have an impact on his business’ success. I want to reach through the phone, grab him by the shoulders and yell, What the hell were you thinking?

Of course, the questions that I really want to ask are the ones whose answers I’m not sure I can handle

What I need to know the most is whether Mark McNairy cares about how hurtful his remarks were. I need to know if he’s thought about what it would be like to grow up in the grinding poverty and inhumane living conditions of many of the First Nations’ reserves, only to be told by a white man that you are there, on that reserve, because of survival of the fittest. I need to know if he’s thought about what it would be like to see the name of the philosophy that led to the attempted genocide of your people splashed across a t-shirt, and then see the man responsible for that  shirt taking to Twitter to defend it. I need to know if he’s ever thought about anything outside of his existence as a privileged white man.

I am afraid to know what McNairy’s responses would be to these questions. Afraid, yes, but still brave enough to hear them. Because I will never be able to overcome my own wilful ignorance, my smiling, apologetic naïveté until I am forced to look at the naked truth.

I can’t possibly live in a world where people say things like this, except that I do.

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3 Responses to “Mark McNairy, I Can’t Even”

  1. artgeeky October 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    Agreed! I do hope they take it down soon.

    The number of people who had to approve this is what really scares me. How many layers of Gap folks did this go past? And no one saw a problem?

  2. torontonanny October 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Wow, holy shit. Yeah, I’ll be talking about this tomorrow. Survival of the fittest? Oh, Mark. You don’t know what just hit you. This Native woman is pissed the fuck off.

  3. Leon Donnelly October 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    McNairy knew what it meant. The other T-Shirts in the range that AIM have objected to all collectively are connected with Manifest Destiny. Survival of the fittest shows he knew. So he’s a liar as well as a racist. He just didn’t think ‘Indians’ counted or could complain. Wrong! So, survival of the fittest? Will Mcnairy’s career survive? Not fit! Gap, what did they believe Manifest Destiny meant? Explain please! And an open apology directed towards the Native American people, fulsome in apology rather than business speak. A total disgrace! Gap have created a t-shirt that unites all racists. Way to go you fool! Boycott!

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