PREFACE: In this 2002 excerpt from ego trip’s Big Book of Racism! we tackled the topic of classic race-based rumors – urban legends that were the products of gossip, hearsay and idle chatter . This was, of course, before social media put rumors on steroids, accelerating the news cycle and shortening attention spans at a crazy rate. As Spike Lee can attest, misinformation just ain’t what it used to be. In the mood to reminisce about a more innocent era of race-based lies? Join us in a trip down the dark side of memory lane, and revisit these 10 classic racial rumors… after the jump…
Black Lung Disease
The packaging of Marlboro cigareetes warned that you’d not only get cancer from smoking ‘em (if you got ‘em), but a healthy dose of hate as well. During the mid-80s, paranoid watchdogs claimed that when the box was turned sideways, the brand of smokes’ distinctive red chevron resembled a “K” that repeated itself three times – the front, back, ad one side – indicating Klan ownership or sympathy . Close scrutiny of the Philip Morris crest also revealed that the negative space between the horses’ legs looked like little hooded Grand Dragons holding the slogan, “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I got carcinoma”).
Mid-’80s LL Cool J-endorsed clothing label TROOP was not only the original FUBU (Friggin’ Ugly, Butt Ugly!), but it was also rumored to be owned by – guess who? – the Klan! By the end of the decade, hip-hoppers everywhere believed that the once-popular name brand was an acronym for Total Reign Over Oppressed Peoples (prompting MC Shan to exhort, “Puma’s the brand ‘cause the Klan makes TROOP” on his classic rap composition, “I Pioneered This”). The company, however, was actually owned by the KJJ – a Korean and two Jews.
Not-So-Thin Lizzy Causes a Tizzy
A 1992 tale had it that designer Liz Clairborne was kicked off Oprah when she declared that she didn’t design for Black women because their hips were too big . This, despite the fact that she never appeared on the show. The clothing line suffered through the bad pub and wound up facing boycotts for years. Oprah, on the other hand, remains bigger than ever.
Hearsay circa 1991 had it that Tropical Fantasy, the discount-priced, ghetto-centric, fructose-laden concoction from the great borough of Brooklyn, made The Black Man sterile. (Hence, TBM’s – not to be confused with #TBM – continued preference for that cool, refreshing, and sperm-count-friendly drink, malt liquor.) You’d think any excuse to throw away those Trojans would be embraced. (“C’mon, baby, I’m shootin’ blanks.”) However, the scuttlebutt was unfounded, leaving only one thing certain: N*ggaz in the ‘hood still be havin’ too many seeds. Slow down, baby.
“Made From the Best Stuff on Earth – Black Sweat”
The early ‘90s packaging of the successful Snapple ice tea (which goes great with an all-white meat bucket o’ Church’s Fried Chicken) satisfied those with a thirst for racial rumors. Conspiracists misconstrued the label’s large, illustrated ship to be a slave vessel, with minute depictions of chained Africans and Klansmen(?!) in the background. The image was actually of the Boston Tea Party. Fueling the brewhaha was the presence of a small, conspicuous “K” off to the side. The chugaluggin’ goyim among us thought it pointed to a Klan connection. And that ain’t kosher.
That (Racist) Thing
According to a Caucasian caller to the Howard Stern Show in 1996, Lauryn Hill – fresh off the success of the Fugees – had made statements on MTV to the effect of, “I’d rather have my children starve than have White people buy my music.” No evidence ever surfaced to confirm that she’s said anything of the sort. She may be miseducated, but she ain’t misbehavin’. (Unless you count that Rohan shit.)
Coat Check Pt. 2
Evidently, the paranoia grapevine loves them some Oprah. In 1996, all-American sportswear owner Tommy Hilfiger was targeted when he supposedly remarked on Ms. Winfrey’s TV talkathon, “If I knew that Blacks and Asians were going to wear my clothes, I would never have designed them.” Uncle Tommy never actually said it. Go ahead, ask Kidada Jones’ Blackbird side. (No disrespect, Q.)
A 1997-ish rumor swore that the name of Omaha, Nebraska ska-rock group 311 was really an encrypted reference to – who else? – the Ku Klux Klan. (The eleventh letter of the alphabet is K, so 3 x K = KKK.) The lightweight rockers’ name actually originates from the police code for indecent exposure . Or was it noise pollution?
A 1999 hoax, discharged by the misinformation super-highway, claimed that people of color could be identified if an even number appeared as their social security number’s fifth digit. Thus, your nonwhiteness was advertised to prospective employees, lenders, and loan sharks. Not true: You better work – bitch.
You’ve Got Hate Mail
Circa 2000, a mass forwarded email told recipients to type the follwing sentence into Word for Windows: “I’d like all niggers to die.” You were then instructed to highlight the sentence and choose the thesaurus. The program returned a responded suggestion of “I’ll drink to that.” All this leads one to believe the pale (and pale yellow) programmers at Microsoft were not only unscrupulous, but big-time bigots as well. Compu-geeks chalked it up to a bad programming glitch. (“I’ll drink to that” showed up as the response to any sentence that began with “I’d like…”) Of course, the bigger question is what in tarnation would compel anyone to type in the phrase in the first place? That’s not very PC – hahaha!