cover image I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture

I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture

Patricia A. Turner. University of California Press, $40 (260pp) ISBN 978-0-520-08185-7

In an intriguing exploration of black folklore, Turner examines contemporary legends--like Ku Klux Klan ownership of a now defunct clothing firm--common in the black community. The author, who teaches African-American and African Studies at UC Davis, finds the roots of folk notions about racial difference in the contact between European explorers and black Africans, and in white attempts to control black bodies from slavery days through 20th-century riots. She offers close analysis of several persistent conspiracy rumors: black belief that white-owned firms directed at black customers, e.g., Church's Fried Chicken, are run by the KKK; that sneaker-maker Reebok is owned by South Africa; that AIDS and crack are part of a white plot to suppress blacks. Turner insightfully observes that ``products or places having strong symbolic potency for African-Americans''--some soul food is an example--can inspire folk speculation. She argues that most rumors are based on ``readings or misreadings'' of real oppression of blacks, and that combatting such rumors requires first addressing racial intolerance and inequality. However, Turner downplays the responsibility of the black community to support accurate reporting and education efforts. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Sept.)