Did Maya Angelou Compose a Poem About Racist Companies?

Debunking the Writing

A poem purportedly written by Maya Angelou criticizes African Americans for buying clothing manufactured by "racist" companies. This hoax has been circulated online since March 1999.

Maya Angelou's Poem Debunked

A notice posted on Maya Angelou's website in 2004 read as follows:

Please be aware that Dr. Maya Angelou has absolutely no affiliation with the "poem" entitled Clothes that is circulating the Internet.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, a representative of Maya Angelou's speakers' agency said: "It is not her work. She is aware of it, and is very disappointed." Indeed, it's hard to believe that anyone could possibly mistake the horrendous examples below for Maya Angelou's work.

Moreover, the content of the text is false and slanderous. Unfounded charges to the effect that apparel designers Tommy Hilfiger and Liz Claiborne are guilty of making racist statements on television have circulated for many years, despite repeated debunkings. The Timberland Company, founded by Nathan Swartz in 1973, is still almost completely family-owned, with Swartz's son and grandson controlling 98 percent of the company's stock. The Swartz family, members of whom have spoken publicly of being observant Jews, obviously has no association with the anti-Semitic Ku Klux Klan.

Sample Emails With Clothes' by Maya Angelou

Here's an email contributed by A. Jackson on March 15, 2001:

FW: Check out What Maya Angelou has to Say!!!

WHERE'S MY AFRO PICK?

You are in love with TOMMY
Because his last name is HILFIGER
But behind closed doors, TOMMY
Is calling you a n.....

But you could care less
Because you have been taught to dress to impress.
If I asked you about your true history
You would have to look on the back of your jeans and GUESS!

You come up in the club wearing VERSACE
Clothes made by a homosexual male
So even when you say you are straight
It is very hard to tell.

And for footwear you wear TIMBERLANDS,
Even under the sun
That same tree that is the symbol for them
Could have been the same one your ancestors were hung from.

Can not forget your NAUTICA
When the last memory you have of ships
Is coming to North America in shackles,
Being beat over the back with whips.

And to my beautiful black queens
Whose creative womb has become barren?
I am confused, because your face says Nefertiti,
But your sweater reads DONNA KARAN.

When was the last time you saw LIZ CLAIBORNE
Conversing with black women,
But as soon as her name is printed on a purse
To Macy's you quickly go running.

RALPH LAUREN doesn't even look at black men
Unless they are driving him around town
But as soon as that slave master appears on the back of the horse
You put whatever you have picked up down.

My people reclaim your status in this world and
"ALWAYS HOPE FOR THE BEST
AND PREPARE FOR THE WORST,
YOU MAY NOT GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR,
BUT YOU'LL SURELY PAY FOR WHAT YOU GET!!!"

---- Maya Angelou


Email contributed by D. McNeal on June 22, 2004:

CLOTHES by Maya Angelou

You are in love with Tommy,
Because his last name is Hilfiger,
But behind closed doors, Tommy,
Is calling you a nigger.

But you could care less,
Because you have been taught to dress to impress,
If I ask you about your true history,
You would have to look on the back of your jeans and Guess.

You come up in the club wearing Versace,
Clothes made by a homosexual male,
So even when you say you are straight,
It is very hard to tell.

And for footwear, you wear Timberlands,
Even under the sun,
That same tree that's the symbol for them,
Could have been the same one your ancestors were hung from.

I cannot forget Nautica,
When was the last memory you have of ships,
Coming to North America in shackles,
Being beaten over the back with whips.

And to my beautiful black queens,
Whose creative womb has become barren,
I am confused because your face says Nefertiti,
But your sweater reads Donna Karan.

When was the last time you saw Liz Claiborne,
Conversing with black women,
But as soon as her name is printed on a purse,
To Macy's you quickly go, running.

Ralph Lauren doesn't even look at black men,
Unless they are driving him around town,
But as soon as that slave master appears on the back of a horse,
You put whatever you have picked up down.

My people reclaim your status in this world and in your life,
F.U.B.U. in case you didn't know, stands for (For Us By Us),
Buying black will someday suffice,
Do you know who owns Timberland fashion?

Well, Timberland is owned by the president of the KKK,
Surprised? Do not be.
Read more books black people,
Always hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

You may not get what you pay for,
But you'll surely pay for what you get.

~ Maya Angelou

Sources and further reading:

Web Postings Turn Writers into Anonymous
Detroit Free Press, July 3, 2001

Tommy Hilfiger Racist Rumor Is Fashionable Again
Netlore Archive