Those “I’m Not My Grandparents; You Can Catch These Hands” Shirts Are Disrespectful As Fuck (And Wrong) » VSB

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Those “I’m Not My Grandparents; You Can Catch These Hands” Shirts Are Disrespectful As Fuck (And Wrong)

Damon Young via Facebook


I was invited to New York City Friday evening for an advance screening of the screen adaptation of Fences — August Wilson’s iconic play. Afterwards, the cast — including Denzel Washington (who also produced and directed the film) and Viola Davis — took part in a panel discussion about the story the film told, August Wilson’s genius, Pittsburgh (where each of Wilson’s plays took place), and the importance of bringing these characters and their specific truths to light.

Fences, of course, is set in the 1950s and revolves around Troy Maxson, a 53-year-old man whose entire existence is a struggle and whose every moment is a fight. There are frequent moments of levity in Troy’s life, but even those are clouded by, engulfed with, and sometimes a direct response to racial and societal adversity. He is the pipe and America is the pressure. Left to pick up his pieces are his wife (Rose), his two sons, his brother, and his best friend while each of them are also fighting against and existing within the same forces he is.

Fences is about one family in the Hill District. Well, one man in particular and how his actions affect the people closest to him. But Wilson’s work continues to resonate because his plays are snapshots into the lives of our parents and grandparents and great aunts and uncles. Troy Maxson isn’t every man, but the world that shaped him — hardening and tempering him — is the same world our ancestors existed in. And our existence today is proof of their perseverance. That their struggles weren’t for naught.

This took a level of strength and endurance and pugnacity that few of us today have had to possess. When Kendrick Lamar starts “Alright” with “All my life I’ve had to fight” there’s a bit of accepted creative hyperbole there. With Troy (and Rose) Maxson, however, that proclamation is literal. And its with this context that 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.”

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • Ari

    Thanks for this. I saw a shirt similar to this one on IG Friday but couldn’t find out where I could purchase one. I swear on my life I need like five – three extra for when the other two are in the wash.

  • RaeNBow


    & Not for nothing, racism is still very much here to be experienced by folk in the millennial generation and even younger, but what we deal with pales in comparison to what our ancestors dealt with. And HOW they dealt with it got us to where we are today.

    Those shirts seem like they were crafted by someone who maybe once heard a story about a racist incident but doesn’t experience it in their daily life. But for anyone who has experienced deep and enduring systemic racism, they know that the fight takes many forms. not just “these hands”.

    • Ari

      I keep (pre-) playing the scenarios in my head for that time when I will have to defend myself and/or family from some openly racist act. My husband and I have started taking bi-weekly trips to the gun range. edit: and I’m one of the most mild-mannered people I know.

      • I don’t worry about how to handle those types of situation. But I’m terrified of my wife experiencing it when I’m not around.

        • Ari

          Yeah I can’t say I know what I will really do until it actually happens, but I’ve been keeping up this mental fight to prepare and prevent myself from backing down when I am challenged and there’s no one there (husband, brothers or father) to protect me.

          • I want my wife to carry pepper spray and her camera at all times. Documentation is going to be so important, even if it’s just to preserve our sanity- to have a record that this crap actually happened.


            • kingpinenut

              It amazing watching this mess happen…

            • please consider the gel instead of the spray…. the gel hits it’s intended target where the spray can get blown around..

            • grownandsexy2

              Get her some mace (which is part pepper spray and part tear gas) and tell her to aim for the eyes.

          • grownandsexy2

            And staying on high alert can’t be good for your health. None of us knows what we will do in any given situation. We can speculate but that is all. My granddaughter accepted a job at one of the Walmart super centers in one of the counties here. But she decided not to take it before she really got started. She said during a tour, they were warned that the “N” word is thrown around quite a bit and she said the racism was in your face. They asked her to come in twice with no training and she got a taste of what that county and its people are like. Plus, they’re unwilling to work around her classes. That county was racist as hayle before Trump, so you can imagine what it’s like now. And I know how my daughter rolls and how I feel about my granddaughter. I’m trying to stay off the news. Be safe out here.

      • miss t-lee

        Protect yourself and your family.
        I dig it.

  • I doubt anyone who would buy that shirt has ever thrown hands on any occasion in their life. The idea that Black people of THIS generation are less likely to take guff from white people is hilarious because we are probably the most integrationalist generation of Black people ever. The largest percentages of “is that really racist” yet.

    • Ari

      I want to believe we’re more ’bout it than previous generations, but you’re right. However when it comes to our children and loved ones I’m not so sure most of us would be able to hold back.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      You’re completely right. But that’s because we’ve had subliminal messages all of our lives instead of the upfront version previous generations faced.

      However, it’s no longer subliminal. They took it all the way to the White House with a giant FUCK YOU. So I’m not really sure that despite us being a very pacified generation, if we can literally say we won’t do anything.

      We really don’t have a choice anymore. We have been given the world on a silver platter. Now we have to fight to keep it because honestly, we never really earned it to begin with.

      • Vanity in Peril

        A lot of us are like, “I created awareness on social media. I signed the petition. Job well done”

        Too many of us are complacent (me included). If we were asked to donate a dollar at the Target register to end white supremacy half of us would opt out.

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          Indeed, I fully agree. I really am complacent and I’m fighting to get myself out of this box. I have struggled, I have dealt with hardship, I have fought for my life. But I never fully dealt with racism before because I have been indoctrinated to believe most slights I’ve experienced weren’t that big of a deal.

          So that’s why I’m all but sure that now that this election is over with, I don’t have the luxury of being comfortable anymore.

        • Scorpiogoddess??

          I need to know exactly how donating would end it. When it’s systematic. I need details. Not just going to donate just cause.

          • Question

            It’s an example of how supportive people actually are with our issues when it involves more than retweeting and likes and not be taken literally.

            • Scorpiogoddess??

              True that. But I need to be assured that my donations will not be misappropriated and will go towards EXACTLY that. I gotchu doe.

              • Gilbert Young

                There is no way you can ever be “assured” a donation is going anywhere…Those folk supporting the “Wounded Warrior” project found that out!! lol . What Vanity in Peril was saying is true. We do the least and expect the most. It’s gonna take more than that to defeat the evil rampant in this country today.

                • Blueberry01

                  “There is no way you can ever be “assured” a donation is going anywhere…”


                  D*MN you, Red Cross for not rebuilding Haiti with the billions that we donated.

          • Vanity in Peril

            Dude, it’d be a dollar like at Petco for the Sara Mclaughlin puppies. It wouldn’t be going far.

            I was just making a point about our apathy.

            • Scorpiogoddess??

              I’m not a dude. Dudedess, is more like it.

              Okay oo.

              • Vanity in Peril

                There was no gender assigned to my, “dude” but noted.

                • Scorpiogoddess??

                  awww, honey just giving you a hard time. Carry on. Dude is fine.

                • BrownBearBear

                  As a Californian, I’m here to say dude knows no gender. My cat is dude, that glass I just broke is dude, that lady who just cut me off in line at the Whole Foods is dude. It’s an equal opportunity word round these parts.

        • Scorpiogoddess??

          Miss thang! I’ve been trying to get you to gimme the recipe for the oxtails but you been friend zoning that request, fah-evah.

          • Awwww shyt… you want the Cuban version or the AA version?

            • Scorpiogoddess??


    • miss t-lee

      “I doubt anyone who would buy that shirt has ever thrown hands on any occasion in their life.”

      You know they haven’t.

    • Val

      This is a sad assessment. Everybody is always dumping on Black folks and talking ish about us and this feel like that. This generation has been in the streets for the last several years. They’ve marched and rioted. They’ve made the issue of police violence not just a national conversation but a worldwide one. And, they’ve effected some change as we see, though not nearly enough, some police being arrested and going to trial.

      • LMNOP

        Also, there is a limit to what a fist fight can accomplish. Taking things to social media can actually be an effective tactic, it’s not just “oh, kids these days don’t like to get their hands dirty.”

      • Scorpiogoddess??


      • Rioting is almost always counterintuitive. I’m not saying our generation hasn’t done anything. I’m saying there is a massive disconnect between what is the normative feelings in regards to race and racism for Black people of this generation.

        • Val

          This generation is trying to figure it out just like the previous generations had to figure it out. These things shouldn’t be seen, IMO, as the final step but a first step. So can we just relax a bit and see where something like this goes?

          It may lead to something completely unexpected and positive.

          • TD

            Some people forget that previous generations went through some things until they figured it out.

        • Betty’s Babygirl

          There’s probably some truth in that and I blame the people who raised them. And by blame I mean they allowed their Resilient chirren to buy into a system that could care less whether they succeed. It is incumbent that parents provide their children the tools they need to live/thrive in this world. Their children skipped off to school (public, private, charter) everyday being taught by people who subscribed consciously or unconsciously to their inferiority.

          • All of this!!

          • Mary

            They did the best they could, though. They didn’t know that integration would make us soft and really believed those days were mostly behind.
            I wish they had shared more too, but understand why they didn’t. You never understand the present times effects on your children until it is too late.

            • Betty’s Babygirl

              I agree parents do the best they can when applied to certain things. However, preparing your child for a world that is going to judge them first solely on their outward appearance is imop neglectful. That’s a luxury we cannot afford.

              • Mary

                You know., it’s kind of funny except that it ain’t ; there has always been that understanding of not being considered quite human or good enoughand yet those in integrated neighborhoods thought if you worked hard, etc. etc. and even assimilated that it wouldn’t matter. Then you had the Uncle who viewed every encounter with white folks as a racist one. We loon poohed him off, but turns out he was closer to the truth.

                • Betty’s Babygirl

                  I am a 1st gen northerner raised in a predominately wypipo town. My segregated south born & raised parents prepared us well. I love myself and my people, warts and all. My parents were proud, successful people who imbued in us the love of all things Resilient. I was/am blessed. I’ve done the same for my children. Never was I told I had to be twice as good as anybody nor were they. Who and what they are is spectacular is what they were told. That’s how they carry themselves. Not as if they’re better than anyone else but with authority.

            • Epsilonicus

              I don’t think we black folk ever actually integrated. Thats a convo for another day.

            • Yahmo Bethere

              We’re not as soft as you think.

          • Blueberry01

            “…everyday being taught by people who subscribed consciously or unconsciously to their inferiority.”

            Oh, it’s VERY conscious. Trust.

        • Betty’s Babygirl

          That word offends me when used in the context of Resilients. I agree it is not in our best interest. However, I don’t know who said this, “Rioting is the language of the disenfranchised”.

          • MLK

            • Betty’s Babygirl

              Thank you DBS!

          • Vitianagary

            Rioting… the effect depends on where you are. Here in Cincinnati in 2001 riots broke out when a white officer was acquitted of killing an unarmed black teen. When the city erupted in riots, those riots happened in our whyte downtown… and they weren’t having it. Because the riots were strategically placed, it forced the city to listen… and make changes. Granted, we’ve had so many racial issues were all numb, it still caused change. Riot in the hood… that scream falls on deaf ears every time!
            documents the monetary costs of the riots… they don’t count money when it’s the hood’s money!

            • Betty’s Babygirl

              I’m not debating the results. I’m questioning the application of the word in referring to Resilients. When wypipo college students, sports fans or any group of wypipo turn over police cars, have a literal shoot-out w/the police a euphemism is used to describe their behavior. Instead of riot, it’s a brawl, altercation, an overzealous response to a team’s win/loss conducted by fans. I don’t and will not internalize the mainstream’s description of my people’s response as a riot.

              • Mary

                That’s so true.Goes back to their questioning of our humanity. We’re considered animals, so we don’t protest, we riot.Some of talk and laugh loud, so we’re violent.

                • Betty’s Babygirl

                  I don’t care what wypipo think of Resilients. I concentrate on how we treat, think, and care for each other. I have no need to convince them of our humanity.

          • Mary Burrell

            I think it was MLK

            • Betty’s Babygirl

              Correct according to Google. Dr. MLK said “A Riot Is The Language Of The Unheard”

        • Blueberry01

          There was room for both Malcolm and Martin.

      • Betty’s Babygirl

        FACTS!!!; If it came down to a physical confrontation with wypipo not only am I taking my millennial chirren, their friends and the ones on the corner. They’re the ones out here in the streets risking their lives by peacefully marching. They’ve got a whole lot of aggression built up and rightfully so. As a matter of fact so do I. If the people in my town knew my true thoughts I’d be kicked off many a council/committee. I’m the infiltrator.

      • Yeah. Our young has put in work this generation. No one should accuse them of being apathetic in the face of oppression.

        • Mary

          True.Every generation fights differently and according to region and times. It is sad that the originator doesn’t understand that.
          I was born in the south a few years before the civil rights bill passed and when we were still called ‘negroes’.
          My parents and grandparents never talked about living under Jim Crow, and shielded me from it but even as children we knew encounters could lead to death and disaster and overheard stories. The atmosphere felt different then, but that danger has of run ins with ‘the Law’ never completely went away.

          Our elders in the south, could not fight their way out; whole communities would have been burned, lynched and raped out of existence. Remember we are a minority, not a majoritylime Blacks in the Carribean of Africa. That’s a whole ‘mother mentality.
          Dr.King used a non-violent approach because that is the what would work in the south.
          Malcolm wouldn’t have lived long enough to meet Betty Shabazz had he been in the south, but my parents’ generation , who were young then and nothing to lose, we’re ready ready to go there had Dr. King’s strategy not worked. The generations were split on whether to fight or be patient. To be fair to the older generations, they were grandchildren of slaves and knew and saw more horrors than the young had.
          Thanks to them, these are different times and probably because we have not gone through what they did, fighting back is our first reaction. *steps down from soapbox*

      • Question

        I don’t see what you and Ricky are saying as being mutually exclusive or in conflict. I agree that this generation has taken to the streets and brought national attention to issues gone ignored for decades. I also agree that this generation wearing a t-shirt talking about putting hands on people is silly.

        Its a faux show of bravado and what does it accomplish?

        • Val

          Is it a false show of bravado? Maybe or maybe not. That’s yet to be seen. That’s my point.

          • Question

            What are we waiting “to be seen”? Said differently, do the shirt have some other meaning (or is that what we’re waiting to find out)?

      • Kevin Dudie Bond

        To what change are you reffering?

      • THIS!

    • Diego Duarte

      Not to mention murder rates by police are at a 40 year high and White Supremacists have infiltrated law enforcement in the past years:

      Things are actually getting worse, not better. So I’m not entirely sure how the “I’m not my grandparents” argument works in their benefit.

    • pls

      The amount of times I hear black students allowing their white and hispanic friends to refer to them as n-words is…how come you ain’t throwin hands for that?! they not #boutthatlife

      • Vanity in Peril

        That’s our fault for teaching them they could assimilate and play the get along gang to shield themselves from racism.

        We should have prepared them better.

        • I was talking to it with my friend Jay a while ago and the continued use of the n word has been more detrimental than any attempts at reclaiming it.

          • Vanity in Peril

            I think had we taught the next generation that the use of nucka by us for us could not be used as a bargaining chip with outsiders against racism…

        • Yahmo Bethere

          WE should have clamped down on hoodboogers infecting our music with that. I’ve had to explain to people – while abroad – that that word is offensive.

    • Ricky, YES SIR to this!

      For the ones we do see in these streets, there are dozens more who are not. And they are the main perpetrators of this.. Bravado is great.. I guess.. but literally-shyt is REAL in these streets and other than type their ayuses off and whine about how they’re misunderstood… THEY AIN’T POPPIN OFF.


  • White people always hold up MLK as an example and protest his protests as non-violent, which leads some black peoples of today to see our ancestors as docile. That was not the case. They fought long and hard for theirs and we should emulate their grit, rather than deny its existence.

    Thanks, Damon, for the reminder.

  • cdj

    Like you, I understand the sentiment behind the t-shirt, but they definitely need to respect that parents and grandparents sacrificed a lot to create a space where people are comfortable and empowered enough to print and sell this merchandise.

    My mom is Miss. born, raised in Memphis. When I was in middle school, I asked her if she agreed more w Malcolm X or MLK (I was raised in NY state). She said, “MLK. Anybody even talking about taking up arms against white folks at that time, better had some weapons and be ready to use them.” Segregation was thorough (their world was All Black Everything) and could be brutal.

    • Malcolm didn’t have to hang out in Atlanta and the south like MLK did. Your battle tactics are dictated by geography.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Might be disrespectful if the t-shirt was worn in irony.

    But I do feel like it is an interesting way to draw a line in the sand. We cannot compare what we have been dealing with for the last 20 years to the same struggles that came before, it’s not even close in how upfront and ruthless those times were.

    However, lest we forget, we have more proof now than ever before that half the nation WANTS THAT TIME TO COME BACK. I’m not really sure what our offensive should look like, but it can’t be the watered down, corporate sponsored, 300 Tweets about social justice version we currently have. We are going to need a different approach in order to stand our grand.

    So maybe the message on the shirts are disrespectful. I don’t know. But I do know my grandfather taught me what kind of fight is worth my fists for a reason, so I don’t plan on sullying that legacy.

  • Vanity in Peril

    Thank you for writing this. I’ll admit, when I first saw those shirts popping up on the Facebook I initially chuckled.

    “Yuuup, im not like my grandma Lue who pursued a college degree in a world that hated her. I’m also not like my great grandmother who migrated alone from N carolina to philly creating a successful hat business (with loyal customers in nat king cole) all by herself in a city that refused to even entertain the concept of giving her a SBloan. I’m also nothing like my great great grandfather who toiled away in share cropper labour with duplicitous deplorables who tried to take the plot of land he purchased (a plot of land which will be handed down to me) from him simply bc he was a black man. Yeah, I’m nothing like them. They were better.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      That’s some rich history right there. Love it.

    • BrownKitty289

      True, but you can STILL KICKASS!!!!!

    • Yahmo Bethere

      My 2nd great-grandfather fled his master and joined the Union. These shirt makers aren’t my people.

  • kingpinenut

    Some kinfolk didn’t tolerate the actions of white folks….so either t-shirt may not be applicable.


    • miss t-lee

      “I never was much for a white muhf*ckers talkin’ crazy to me either, so I understand.”–
      My 86 yo grandmother

    • Betty’s Babygirl

      It depends on your frame of reference. Personally, I’m thankful they’re expressing any type of position. What’s the difference from them wearing “Make America Great Again” paraphernalia? Isn’t that disrespectful to their grandparents, great aunts/uncles? Aren’t they saying to them you didn’t do your job by keeping Resilients, POC, Muslims, immigrants, homosexuals, women in their place or out of America? Are the aforementioned supposed to be held to a different, higher standard? If so, why?

      I”m on the the fence. I’m only the THIRD generation out of slavery on my late mother’s side. Marinate on that. Only the 3rd generation. My grandfather was the 1st gen out of slavery and unbowed. He accumulated wealth by having a wypipo man purchase large quantities of land for him. My people used wypipo to get what they needed and once they got it stood strong. My north migrated parents raised daughters to hold their own against wypipo of the ’60’s and ’70’s with both our intellect and if necessary weapons.

      I’ve had cans thrown at me from cars on my way home from school, been called ninja to my face. I’ve physically had to defend myself from wypipo. My older sister’s denied the right to purchase homes in the same town we were born and raised in. Lawsuits followed and were won. (They chose to purchase homes elsewhere). All these things happened in the NYC area. Granted you don’t know what you’ll do until you’re confronted with the situation. However, when you are afraid or feel cornered your survival instincts will kick in. If it comes down to either them or you I pray it’s you. I already know it’s going to be ME.

      • kingpinenut

        Dang I wish I had logged in earlier to read this!

        I know who it’s going to be when the rubber hits the road.

        I don’t talk I do

        Bless your folks!

        • Betty’s Babygirl

          I miss them everyday! They were special. They loved and respected all things Resilient. My sisters and I were the beneficiaries. My father fled the south to save his life and my mother came following her older siblings. They were no joke. I knew the countries in Africa and ‘murica. We were told about the Middle Passage, Nat Turner. Read books and poems by Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen and the like. We’d go to Strivers Row in Harlem. My childhood was rich with Resiliency.

  • TeeChantel

    This sentiment also troubles me. It is like spitting on the face of those who fought for the freedoms we have today. But I don’t think the respect is there, Damon.
    I had to get on my nephew last year about saying almost the same thing. He stated the slaves must have liked being slaves to the WM otherwise they would have fought a little harder to be free. He also called them weak and submissive. He stated had he been in that situation he would have revolted and killed all of the white folks. I understood his sentiments and I had to tread lightly with my response. But I had to let him know not to disrespect the people who have fought with their own blood, sweat and tears just to get us where we are today.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      I think we all may have shared your cousin’s sentiments growing up and learning about American history. Because we read about history. We never lived it. We have been in a safe position, most of us, for all of our lives without truly knowing conflict in the manner of which countless African, Middle Eastern, Asian & South American countries have.

      Only difference for us today is despite us never having been fully challenged before on our true beliefs, we are NOW. And we don’t have the luxury of looking away anymore. Everything affects us now. He will learn that very shortly. But he needs to experience the moment first.

      • TeeChantel

        I just hope he doesn’t experience the moment the hard way.

    • miss t-lee

      Everybody an armchair quarterback.

      • It’s like looking at twitter on Sunday’s during the fall.

        • miss t-lee

          You already know…lol

    • grownandsexy2

      I remember a boyfriend saying something similar. That slaves were weak and what he would have done. Yeah, right and he would have been right alongside of Emmitt Till.

  • theministerswife

    My initial reaction was to laugh when I saw the t-shirt, yes- it’s disrespectful but I have a hard time being too tough on this one because I get the frustration that would birth a statement like this.

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