When you’re wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Das Racist’ on it, you’re making a statement. The people who see you wearing it have something to say about the thing you have to say. This Pardon My Hindi-designed t-shirt for the band is incendiary.
Here are three stories of wearing the t-shirt out and about.
One. London, publishing event
They bring round the canapes and the refills of champagne and you feel like a fraud. People are sartorial here. You’re rain-sodden and wishing you could go home. Everyone around you is in a button-down shirt. They look at your t-shirt and try to decipher the coded capital letters. Eventually your host for the evening, the editor of a newly-released book, an old man in tweed, hands in his pockets, approaches you. ‘Nice t-shirt,’ he says. You thank him. ‘What does it mean though?’ You laugh and tell him it’s the name of a band. ‘Are they German?’ he asks. You shake my head. He points to behind him. ‘Someone over there,’ he says, conspiratorially. ‘Said it was the most offensive t-shirt they’d ever seen and I had to come and take a look for myself. It’s quite breath-taking. I love it.’ You thank him and he goes to leave, before stopping and turning, almost absent-mindedly using you as a sounding board for an idea. ‘I must remember to put dress codes on these blasted email invitations.’ He salutes you with a drink.
Two. Bristol, high street
He’s crossing the road. He hears loud shouts and calls from a white van stopped at the traffic lights. He ignores the men in the van, knowing that whatever they’re shouting, historically, is not what he wants to hear. One of the men runs out of the white van and grabs him by the shoulder, shaking him from his Radio 4 podcast he’s listening to. The white van man stares at his t-shirt. ‘What does that say?’ The white van man asks. ‘Das Racist,’ he replies, tired of people unfamiliar with fonts. ‘What’s racist? You calling me a racist?’ The white van man asks. ‘No. It’s the name of a band,’ comes the even wearier reply. ‘Seriously, mate, walking around with a t-shirt like that… you’re lucky you don’t get lynched…’ ‘But that’s racist,’ you reply. ‘Hey, it’s your t-shirt, not mine. Goodbye racist.’ The white van man runs back to his white van and drives off, flicking a V sign to the cars behind him beeping notification of the green light. You walk home in silence.
Three. Paris, airport
I hate going through border patrol. They eye me up. They make me feel like I’m hiding something. They treat my things with disrespect, my passport with contempt. I always walk through with a screwface, hoping someone challenges me, leading us into the confrontation I’m destined to have.
This time, though, something feels different. I go through the motions of removing my laptop, shoes and belt before asked and walking through with my hands up like someone’s pointing a gun, my passport in my left. As I pass the guy scanning my bag he signals to his colleague and they both turn to me. In French accents they bellow, ‘Michael Jackson… a million dollars… you feel me?’ and I reply, ‘Holla’. We’re all grinning. They tell me they love the band and saw them in concert. I tell them I’m a fan too. They say they love my t-shirt and I smile and go through the gates, unmolested.