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Tommy Hilfiger Racist Comments to Oprah Winfrey Hoax

Summary:
Email claims that fashion guru Tommy Hilfiger openly admitted to making racist comments while being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey (Full commentary below).



Status:
False

Update: May, 2007
Tommy appears on The Oprah Winfrey Show to set the record straight (details below)

Example:(Submitted via email, 2003)
Oprah's interview and Tommy Hilfiger Good for Oprah!!!! I'm sure many of you watched the recent taping of The Oprah Winfrey show where her guest was Tommy Hilfiger. On the show, she asked him if the statements about race he was accused of saying were true.

Statements like"... if I'd known African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice. I wish these people would NOT buy my clothes, as they are made for upper class white people."

His answer to Oprah was a simple, "YES". Where after she immediately asked him to leave her show.

My suggestion? Don't buy your next shirt or Perfume from Tommy Hilfiger. Let's give him what he asked for. Let's not buy his clothes.

Let's put him in a financial state where he himself will not be able to afford the ridiculous prices he puts on his clothes.

BOYCOTT PLEASE, & SEND THIS MESSAGE TO ANYONE YOU KNOW !!!!!




Commentary:
There are few subjects more likely to invoke outrage then apparent acts of racism, especially when the alleged racist is a high-profile member of the community. Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that a "protest" email claiming that fashion guru, Tommy Hilfiger made racist comments on the Oprah Winfrey show continues to circulate years after its inception.

According to this long-running email rumour, Tommy Hilfiger publicly admitted to Oprah that he wished African-Americans, Hispanics, Jewish people and Asians would not buy his clothes because "they are made for upper class white people". Supposedly, Oprah then asked Hilfiger to leave her show. The message urges recipients to fight against racism by boycotting Tommy Hilfiger products and passing the message on to as many people as possible.

However, there is not even a grain of truth to this malicious rumour and both Tommy Hilfiger and Oprah Winfrey have vehemently denied it. Hilfiger has published information on his website debunking the allegations. The website includes the following statements along with other information refuting the rumour:

Corporate Statement:
Since you still may be the recipient of false information, we wanted to set the record straight and to update you on important information. Tommy creates his clothing for all different types of people regardless of their race, religious or cultural background.

Unfortunately, for several years now, an ugly rumor has been circulating that Tommy made inappropriate racial comments on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The facts remain simple and cannot be disputed. Tommy Hilfiger did not make the alleged comments, he has never appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and, in fact, Ms. Winfrey herself, on her January 11, 1999 program, stated Tommy Hilfiger has never been on her show nor has she ever met him.

You also should know that similar rumors have circulated about comments supposedly made by Tommy Hilfiger on other television shows. All of them are completely false. Whether these rumors are part of a misunderstanding or a deliberate act of malice, they have absolutely no basis in fact.

This rumor, in its various forms, has achieved the status of a classic "urban myth." The urban myth phenomenon has been written about by many journalists, and there are now many websites on the Internet dedicated to the subject of urban legends and folklore.

Most importantly, Tommy Hilfiger wants his clothing to be enjoyed by people of all backgrounds and his collections are put together with the broadest cross-section of individuals in mind. To reinforce this, he features models of all ethnic backgrounds in his fashion shows and advertisements.

Oprah's Statement:
I've Never Even Met Tommy Hilfiger

"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."

Taped live on "The Oprah Winfrey Show"
January 11, 1999
Moreover, the Anti-Defamation League investigated the rumour and concluded that the allegations were unfounded. In an open letter to Hilfiger, the ADL states:
According to our information, these allegations about you and your company, Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, began circulating through the Internet via e-mail in the United States in 1997, and have since continued to circulate by means of chat rooms, bulletin boards, faxes, e-mails, and word-of-mouth in the United States and elsewhere.

ADL has investigated the matter in response to the requests of constituents and other community members. We have concluded after careful investigation that the malicious rumors circulating about you and your company are without merit and lack any basis in fact.

Thus, this message unfairly maligns a person who is clearly not a racist at all and did not make the racist remarks attributed to him. After ten years of continuous circulation, it is high time that this scurrilous nonsense was finally laid to rest. If you receive this message, please inform the sender that the claims are untrue and do not pass on the rumour to others.

We should reserve our contempt and revulsion, and any related protest actions, for those heinous individuals that really are racists. Misdirecting our anti-racist outrage against people who are simply the victims of false rumours is entirely counter-productive.

Update:
In early May 2007, Tommy Hilfiger was set to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The following press release provides details of the appearance. Hopefully, his appearance will finally put an end to this absurd and damaging rumour:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
TUESDAY, MAY 1, 2007

TOP DESIGNER TOMMY HILFIGER APPEARS ON WEDNESDAY’S “OPRAH” FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT

CHICAGO, IL – For more than a decade, one of the biggest Internet rumors in the history of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is that Oprah Winfrey threw top fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger off her program for making racist remarks. After hearing that the rumor was circulating again, Oprah invited Tommy Hilfiger for his first-ever appearance on her show.

During the interview, Tommy Hilfiger talks about how he enlisted the help of the FBI and investigators to trace the rumor back to its source. As for the impact of this rumor on his life over the years, Hilfiger said, "It hurt my integrity because at the end of the day, that's all you have."

Watch Oprah and Tommy Hilfiger address the vicious rumor and have the final word to those who continue to propagate it on the Wednesday, May 2, 2007 episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (check local listings). "The Oprah Winfrey Show" has remained the number one talk show for 20 consecutive seasons, winning every sweep since its debut in 1986.* It is produced in Chicago by Harpo Productions, Inc. and syndicated to 215 domestic markets by CBS Television Distribution Group and to 132 countries by CBS Paramount International Television.

Source:
*Nielsen Cassandra Ranking Report - Nov'86 to July '99 and Wrap Sweeps, Nov '99 to July '06. Primary Telecasts Only.
Details of Tommy's appearance on the Oprah show are available on the Oprah Winfrey Show website.

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References:
Tommy Hilfiger: Rumor
ADL Letter to Tommy Hilfiger
Oprah.com
Oprah and Tommy Hilfiger Set the Record Straight

Last updated: 23rd November 2009
First published: 2003

Write-up by Brett M.Christensen