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Urban Legend: Tommy Hilfiger Is a Racist

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HSN Fashion Week Lounge At The Empire Hotel
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Anecdotal reports claim that fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger made racist statements on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Description: Urban legend / Email rumor
Circulating since: 1996
Status: FALSE (see details below)

Example #1:
Email text contributed by a reader in Dec. 1998:

Subject: FWD: Tommy Hilfiger hates us...

Did you see the recent Oprah Winfrey show on which Tommy Hilfiger was a guest? Oprah asked Hilfiger if his alleged statements about people of color were true - he's been accused of saying things such as "If I had known that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice," and "I wish those people would not buy my clothes - they were made for upper-class whites." What did he say when Oprah asked him if he said these things? He said "Yes." Oprah immediately asked Hilfiger to leave her show.

Now, let's give Hilfiger what he's asked for - let's not buy his clothes. Boycott! Please - pass this message along.

Example #2 (warning: offensive language):
Email text contributed by a reader in Dec. 1998:

Subject: Did you see this show - Nov. 28th.

For those who missed the Oprah Winfrey show where she interviewed the fashion designer, he made a VERY RACIST remark regarding the people that purchase his clothing line... Summed up, he basically said that if he had known that so many chinamen and niggers were going to buy his clothes, he never would have made it so nice....... After which, Oprah kindly asked him to leave. Now that we all know that he is a BIG TIME RACIST, my suggestion is that we and all of our friends should boycott the TOMMY HILFIGER line. I don't see any point in supporting someone who has such a narrow mind...

What a jerk this guy is! Yeah, if it weren't for us CHINAMEN and NIGGERS, does he think he can be where he is today?????

Please forward this to everyone you know, he really does not deserve anyone's support at all.

Analysis: Ladies and gentlemen, the topic of this week's sermon is the Ninth Commandment of Moses: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

Allow me to cast the first stone.

A whole lot of nice, earnest folks who surely don't consider themselves liars are using the Internet to spread a false and libelous rumor about fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger. It comes to them in the form of a forwarded email or a shared social media post. They read it, they either believe it to be true or don't care if it's true, and they pass it on to friends, associates and people they hardly even know with the click of a mouse button.

Knowingly or not, each one of these people becomes a link in a growing chain of lies. Scurrilous, hurtful lies. We know they are lies because the parties involved have issued repeated denials.

Oprah Winfrey addressed the rumor personally during a show broadcast in 1999, summarized on her website as follows:

For the record, the rumored event that has circulated on the Internet and by word-of-mouth never happened. Mr. Hilfiger has never appeared on the show. In fact, Oprah has never even met him.
Winfrey's exact words were quoted on Tommy Hilfiger's Website:
So I want to just set the record straight once and for all. The rumor claims that clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger came on this show and made racist remarks, and that I then kicked him out. I just want to say that is not true because it just never happened. Tommy Hilfiger has never appeared on this show. READ MY LIPS, Tommy Hilfiger HAS NEVER APPEARED ON THIS SHOW. And all of [the] people who claim that they saw it, they heard it — it never happened. I've never even met Tommy Hilfiger.
Hilfiger, also quoted on his own website, stated the following:
I am deeply upset that a malicious and completely false rumor continues to circulate about me. I create my clothing for all different types of people regardless of their race, religious or cultural background. I want you to know the facts so that you are not the victim of a classic 'urban myth' that perpetuates untruths and has no basis in reality.
Further putting the lie to this misbegotten rumor are the results of an independent investigation conducted in 2001 by the Anti-Defamation League, which summarized its findings in a letter to Tommy Hilfiger:
Dear Mr. Hilfiger:

The Anti-Defamation League has received recurring inquiries regarding a number of defamatory rumors that have been spread on the Internet and by word-of-mouth in recent years about you and your company. Based upon our investigation, it is apparent to us that you never made the statements that attribute racist remarks to you. In some cases, the rumor alleges that you appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and made racist remarks, causing a supposedly irate Oprah to ask you to leave. We have concluded that these rumors are completely false, and it is apparent that you never made the statements attributed to you, nor did you appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Friends, all of this information is readily available on the Internet. There is no excuse for perpetuating this false rumor, no excuse for bearing false witness against a neighbor, when the truth is just a few clicks away.

Repent! Check the facts before you share!

Update: On May 2, 2007 Tommy Hilfiger appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show — for the first and only time, mind you — to put an end to this scurrilous rumor. View the video...

Poll: Did you believe this rumor about Tommy Hilfiger when you first heard it?
1) Yes. 2) No. 3) I wasn't sure.

Last updated: 05/13/14

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