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Deportation in the Americas: Histories of Exclusion and Resistance. These cases of rumors precipitating violence suggest that conspiracy theories have provided a way of giving shape and specificity to free-floating racial anxieties within local communities. However, these rumors also contributed to conspiracy theory becoming a larger theme in African American political discourse. As Turner points out in her work, even blacks who did not have any specific knowledge of the riots in St.
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Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Harlem, or other similar events still were familiar with the themes expressed in the rumors that emerged from them: that the lives and bodies of blacks were not valued by whites and that violence by whites against blacks was seen as acceptable by society. From early in the twentieth century, various African American leaders and groups have used conspiracy theories to explain the larger subjection of blacks in U.
Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad , Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan , among many others, have suggested that the social, political, and economic struggles facing blacks were the result of concerted efforts by the white majority to keep them from their rightful place in society. Such theories became accepted tenets of more militant groups such as the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party. In the s and s, a series of conspiracy theories emerged from the African American community that suggested specific ways in which the racism of U.
One genre of theory involved supposed ties between companies that catered to the black community and racist organizations, particularly the Ku Klux Klan. One conspiracy theory suggested that the Troop Sport clothing company, a manufacturer of sportswear that was popular in urban areas, was owned and run by the KKK. Versions of this theory suggested that tags or messages hidden on or in the clothing contained racist threats and slurs. The shoe manufacturer Reebok was also alleged to have racist ties.
It was suggested that the producer of popular athletic shoes was owned or financially tied to the white government of South Africa and supporters of apartheid. She was alleged to have suggested that she did not make clothes for black women because they could not wear the same sizes as white women and that she simply did not like the idea of making clothes for blacks. A nearly identical theory surfaced a few years later, replacing Liz Claiborne with Tommy Hilfiger. A second genre of conspiracy theory also suggested links between businesses catering to the black community and racists, but added the assertion that these companies were not simply exploiting African Americans economically but also were causing them physical harm.
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These included the longstanding urban legend that Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants served rat meat to some customers. It was suggested that the company whose franchises were located primarily in urban areas and had a sizable black customer base was owned by racist whites who added an ingredient to the chicken that would cause black men to become sterile. A parallel theory held that the makers of Tropical Fantasy, a low-cost soft drink marketed principally in largely black urban areas, was owned by the KKK and added an ingredient to its product that would sterilize or cause impotence in black men.
Yet another rumor suggested that Kool cigarettes contained an additive that caused sterility in black men.
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Although no evidence emerged to confirm these rumors, they remained popular beliefs among many African Americans. Many cited the Tuskegee experiments on black men as evidence that attacks on African American males, particularly in ways that directly affected their reproductive capacity, were a way in which whites attempted to limit or destroy the African American population. The Government as Enemy While the conspiracy theories involving private companies suggested ties between them and overtly racist organizations such as the KKK, other theories asserted that the U.
Contemporary visions of the government as the enemy of African Americans include the theory that the murders of several African American boys and young men in Atlanta from to were not the work of Wayne Williams, the black man accused and eventually convicted of the murders. Other government-centered conspiracy legends include the allegations that poor black women who visit healthcare centers are routinely sterilized or given long-term birth-control implants without their knowledge, as a means of controlling the black population.
A more popular belief is that the AIDS virus is part of a government plan to target the inner cities with a deadly disease to limit their populations. The most widely circulated of such theories is the charge that drugs crack cocaine in particular were purposely introduced to inner-city communities by government agencies as a means to destroy the black community. Variations of each of these conspiracy theories suggest a wide range of government culpability.
Those suggesting a weak link between the federal government and conspiracies against African Americans suggest that the government, while not actually creating the problem e. As long as these phenomena are primarily affecting black Americans, the reasoning goes, the government is content to practice a type of malevolent neglect. Versions of these theories that suggest the strongest possible connection between the government and attacks against African Americans hold that not only are such acts a willful attempt at genocide, but that government agencies are actually demonic forces of supernatural evil.
Since each of his three names contains six letters i. Another genre of conspiracy theory involving oppression of African Americans by the government suggests that the government often attacks the black community indirectly through discrediting highprofile leaders or groups.
Again, such theories have historical precedents. Such historical realities lend credence to suggestions that highly visible African Americans are subjected to disinformation campaigns conducted by largely white government agencies. When Washington, D. Similar allegations surrounded the conviction of boxer Mike Tyson for rape. During the riots in Los Angeles that followed the acquittal of the police officers charged with the beating of Rodney King, a widely circulated rumor suggested that the Los Angeles police were allowing the riots to continue in order to make the black community look bad.
Perhaps the best-known example of this genre of conspiracy theory is that of the arrest and trial of O.
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Simpson for the murder of his exwife. Polls showed that many blacks believed the former football star had been framed by racist members of the Los Angeles Police Department. A recurring theme in African American conspiracy theories is the physicality of the attacks they describe.
The black body itself is portrayed as the site of struggle. The attack may involve the clothes that cover the body e. The physical attacks range from indirect attempts at limiting the black population as with the theories involving sterilization to overt murder and genocide as in the explanation for the Atlanta child murders and some versions of the AIDS-as-biological-weapon theory. The theories involving crack cocaine and other drugs in some ways combine these various motifs. The drug trade economically exploits poor blacks.
It also leads to their death in many cases through overdoses, drug-related crime, etc. Finally, it provides an excuse for institutional control of the black body, such as the incarceration of large numbers of African Americans mostly young males and mandatory drug tests for inner-city mothers as a prerequisite for prenatal care.