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A new anti-racism T-shirt is gaining popularity with a message that some African-Americans feel is disrespectful to those who fought on the front lines of the civil rights movement under Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s method of non-violent resistance.

The shirt, from a company called Thrift Element, reads: “Dear Racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, these hands.”

While the message takes Malcolm X’s “By any means necessary” approach to fighting racial injustice, some view it is unfairly dismissing those in our “grandparents’” generation, and their decision to practice non-violence.

The debate has spilled onto the Internet and social media, with African-Americans voicing both support and disdain for the t-shirt.

“Overall, the shirt reflects flaws in the way black people are taught about themselves,” wrote Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., a professor at Howard University and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Negro Education. He says of the more than 135 comments on his Facebook post against the shirt’s message, his favorite was from Rafiah Muhammad who stated:

“Without your grandparents fighting, defending and dying you wouldn’t be here or have any rights. How about ‘Dear Racism, my grandparents were badass, so you really don’t want this.’”

“In other words, whoever made this shirt, and whoever wears this shirt, should stop dishonoring our grandparents, and use ‘these hands’ to pick up a book,” Toldson continued in an op-ed for “Fight ignorance, instead of fighting ignorantly.”

Damon Young, editor-in-chief of and columnist for GQ and Ebony magazines, shared his thoughts in a piece posted today for VSB:

“Those “I’m Not My Grandparents” shirts (and the sentiment behind them) are so fucking disrespectful. And not only disrespectful, but wrong as fuck too.

Now, I do get why they exist. America just elected a man who seems intent on doing exactly what he said he was going to do during his campaign. To quote Charles Blow, “it would be hard to send a clearer message to women and minorities that this administration will be hostile to their interests than the cabinet he is assembling.” And this has apparently given quite a few closet racists and basement bigots the confidence to be themselves. The message the shirt is attempting to convey is “you better not try that shit with me.”

But this message can be communicated without disparaging the legacies of those who fought like a motherfucker — with words and protests and faith and actual fists — in an America that was much, much, much more hostile towards them than the one we currently exist in.

To paraphrase Dr. Regina N. Bradley, a better and more appropriate shirt would say “These are my grandparents’ hands. Catch ’em if you want to.”

Read Young’s entire post here.


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Your Grandparents Did More Than You Ever Could Have To Fight Racism  was originally published on