I heard it through the grapevine : rumor in African-American culture /

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Main Author: Turner, Patricia A. 1955-
Format: Book
Published:Berkeley : University of California Press, c1993.
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Review by Choice Review

In the 1960s when Gladys Knight and the Pips and Marvin Gaye recorded I Heard It Through the Grapevine, they had no idea that the title of this megahit would grace a book that critically examines the role of rumor in African American culture. The study is critical in the sense that it puts the phenomenon of rumor in its proper context, serving as a conduit through which many notions about race relations are transmitted. Indeed, in examining the rumors, legends, and folk ideas Turner covers in this book, it is apparent that the underlying principle is racial in nature. From the beginning--Cannibalism: "They do eat each other alive"--to the ending chapter--Crack: "See, they want us to take all of those drugs"--the author details the role of race in generating rumors. Asserting that "rumors and contemporary legends often function as tools of resistance for many of the folk who share them," Turner, with this work, has made a significant contribution to race relations literature in general and folklore literature in particular. All levels. R. Stewart; SUNY College at Buffalo

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Fried chicken will make you sterile; the FBI killed Martin Luther King, Jr.; the ``powers that be'' facilitated the crack epidemic, the AIDS epidemic, and the murders of black children in Atlanta: Here, folklore scholar Turner (African-American and African Studies/UC Davis) offers an illuminating examination of why rumors like these persist in the African-American community. Turner explores why these rumors, and not others, took root in black culture across the US; how they got started; and what they represent to even well-educated, well-informed African-Americans. Like ancient myths warning about the powers of nature, she says, rumors that the Ku Klux Klan owns a popular fried-chicken chain and has inserted an ingredient that will sterilize black men remind African-Americans that they live in a white society still hostile to blacks. The author traces the idea that whites are bent on physically destroying blacks back to Africa and the slave trade, during which many Africans believed they were being transported across the ocean in order to be eaten. The brutality of slave life, then of white supremacist oppression, and, today, of incidents like the Rodney King beating stir those early fears, handed down in family stories and fanned by rumor. Why domestic fried chicken and not some vague international conspiracy? Because, says Turner, an individual can take action against danger by boycotting a fried- chicken chain, but a nebulous conspiracy is beyond personal control. The author tracks down and dismisses many rumors dealing with corporations--the KKK does not appear to own fried-chicken chains, fruit-drink manufacturers, or sneaker companies--but she finds CIA and FBI intrigues more difficult to refute. An epilogue introduces the most recent rumors in the black community, including that the contraceptive Norplant is being used as a tool of genocide. Highly repetitious in detail and argument--but, still, an intriguing and thorough analysis. (Five b&w illustrations--not seen)

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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