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Urban myths

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Signing on to my e-mail recently, I found a message in my inbox with a subject line that screamed: "BUSH SIGNED 'NO BLACKS' AGREEMENT."

Now this message, from the listserv of an African-American poet and activist, alleged that presidential candidate George W. Bush once affixed his John Hancock to real estate documents pledging, if he were to put his Texas house on the market, he would not sell his home to blacks.

In this age of modems, newsgroups and high-tech activism, it's hard to be black and miss the widespread rumors of every type telling exactly why you should avoid this store, that bank, this resort and so on. It's a pain to be a black consumer--online and off; you get followed around in the stores, pointed to sale racks, or asked to show your driver's license when the white woman in front of you, who also wrote a check, was never asked for identification.

Perhaps you've heard some of the most famous black urban legends circulating on the World Wide Web. First category: fashion designers who go on television (inevitably Oprah) and reveal shocking, racist thoughts. Liz Claiborne was on Oprah (or was it in a magazine interview), and said that she didn't make clothes for black women. (Read: I don't design pants for people with hips and a behind.) Then there's everybody's favorite: Tommy Hilfiger, who "said" that he didn't make clothes for blacks and Asians.

Second category: companies that sell food products. Church's Fried Chicken makes a special batter that renders black men sterile and therefore contributes to genocide of the race. Snapple is affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan; see the "K" on the cap. And Domino's blacklists (refuses to deliver to) predominantly black neighborhoods. Laughable? Maybe, maybe not. Domino's has, in fact, been taken to court for its discriminatory delivery practices.

And now the guy who may be our next president is accused of agreeing to housing discrimination. I'm not sure whether it's true, but I am certain I don't want to cast my vote for someone who couldn't abide me living next door.

There will always be rumors about politicians, but why are there so few resources available for checking the facts?

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