Meanwhile, On TumblR: Wuthering Heights Reimagined And The Gap’s Anti-First Nations T-Shirt

By Andrea Plaid

Reblogged this excerpt of an In These Times post from thesmithian:

…the reimagining of Heathcliff, that “dark-skinned” “gipsy”…as a black man…Brontë’s Heathcliff was repeatedly evoked as “dark,” and culled from the slums of Liverpool (a port fraught with immigrants). But in movies and theater, he has always manifested as white, from Laurence Olivier to Tom Hardy. Brontë may not have intended Heathcliff to have been a full-on African—which in the 1700s meant being a slave—but Arnold’s coup turns the old story around, from a wicked love-lost tragedy into a crisis of a society suffering the guilt and ghosts of slavery.

Tumblizen purple01_prose added this commentary:

Here’s the thing. Christopher Haywood, in his annotated edition of Wuthering Heights, examines the race of Heathcliff at length. Given all of the coding of Heathcliff as ‘dark,’ Haywood explained some of the racial terms of the time, and some of the beliefs of a time, like in how many generations someone with African ancestry with dark skin could have a descendant with white skin. (at least 6, with a white partner for every generation). There were names for each generation.

He believes that Heathcliff was a mustafino, or someone whom in the next generation with a white partner would have a white child (supported by canon; Isabella’s son Linton is never described as dark). Heathcliff has always been racially ambiguous.

So, someone treating this as new? No, it’s not.

When I saw the trailer for this film, I thought that finally, they weren’t white-washing Heathcliff. Why does this guy think that Arnold should be given cookies for this? (I mean, okay, I think that this has the potential to be amazing, because hey! Woman screenwriter! Woman director!) When placed in context, whitewashing Heathcliff is another example of people reading a character as white, even when told flatly no, that character is not white. Bronte even uses some racial slurs to describe him (black-a-moor, gypsy, etc).

So, I’m kind of excited for this (on a meta level; I really hate Wuthering Heights), the point is this: Arnold is going back to the characterization in the books, whereas other versions have whitewashed Heathcliff. Yay, Arnold’s going to more literary consistency. Should she be given cookies for this? Or should it have been the natural response to casting an actor of color to play a character of color?

Hm, I wonder.

This is not a reimagining. This is actual canon.

(For full disclosure, the author of the piece that is linked above is white.)

Then, the Gap thought it a good idea to display their own ignorance of history in selling t-shirt that said, “Manifest Destiny.”

Via Indian Country Today Media Network.

Complete with hipstery young-dude photo layout:

Via Huffington Post.

And indigenous artists and activists called them out on it. From Indian Country Today Media Network:

William S. Yellowrobe, a Native poet and playwright, has posted this response to the t-shirt:

Let me get this straight? The Gap wants to sell T-shirts that read; “Manifest Destiny”? “The Only Good Indian is a Dead Indian” was taken? “Kill the Indian save the Man” is going to be used in their back to school designs for next year? I know this sounds blunt and harsh, but we have to remember. People, thousands of people, Native people, who were not even considered human beings, died during this arrogant and pompous proclamation. This is another episode of American history where an idea, or arrogant statement, lead to the demise of Native people. This isn’t racism, this is a part of the racism that lead to genocide. Maybe a friend of mine is right. GAP should come out with a “Final Solution” T-shirt, or a “Got Slaves,” t-shirt. Because this issue involves Native people specifically maybe the GAP hopes there will be no one to call them on it…Just one of those Indin Thinkin’ thoughts by me…

Thanks in no small part to the online pushback, the Gap removed the item and apologized, complete with the fauxpology spin of “We’re so hurt you called us racist.” From the Huffington Post:

On Tuesday, Gap finally released a statement (a hilariously staid one, in our opinion): “Thank you for your feedback regarding the “Manifest Destiny” t-shirt. Based on customer feedback, we will no longer offer the t-shirt in our stores or online.” McNairy [the t-shirt’s designer] also issued an apology tweet yesterday, saying that “IT HURT ME DEEPLY TO BE CALLED A RACIST.” (He apparently remains, however, a staunch fan of caps lock.)

And lo and behold, the link to the tee on Gap’s website now displays a “product not found” error.

See what and who else have Tumblizens talking on the R’s Tumblr!




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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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  • D

    My guess is that they took it from Wayne Dyer, a motivational speaker who has a book called Manifest Your Destiny. Still doesn’t make it right.

  • D

    My guess is that they took it from Wayne Dyer, a motivational speaker who has a book called Manifest Your Destiny. Still doesn’t make it right.

  • Wong Chia Chi

    Heath cliff being of color works for me. I have a lot of problems with Wuthering Heights. But the film was good. The best adaptation I’ve seen. It just works on a number of levels. And I like Arnold’s work.

    Bit offtopic but…Weren’t Cathy and Heathcliff, half siblings? It doesn’t state that, explicitly, but I always thought it was implied that Heathcliff was Earnshaw’s child. I can’t imagine why else he would randomly pick up a child from the streets to raise unless he felt obligated to take care of him. Class and color issues aside.

  • D

    Actually, the book describes him as possibly “Lascar”, an old term for Indian sailors…

    • Eccaba

      Indeed. The book also describes Heathcliff as a “gypsy”. The Romani are descended from India. However, there’s no indication in the story that this is related to the history of African slavery. I think there is a lot of racial tension in the original but more so in relation to fear of immigrants and the problems of colonialism. That said, I think that this film is a fine idea and could be very interesting. However, it’s still a re-imagining of the story and its certainly not cannon.

    • Eccaba

      To be clear I think the biggest problem with calling it “cannon” is treating all POC as interchangeable. Although I think that even if the film was supposed to be true to the book (which I don’t think it sets out to do) I suppose its still a better option than changing Heathcliff to white.