Blogosphere goes bananas over ‘black power’ sundaes

Posted July 20, 2010, at 10:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Black Power Ice Cream?

Linda Parker never contemplated this name for her business, opting instead for the less provocative “Mount Desert Island Ice Cream” when she started making her cold confections in 2005.

The company boasts “fearless flavor” as its motto, but with varieties such as Mexican chocolate, blueberry basil and stout, her customers are more likely to encounter a Fig Newton at her business than they are Huey Newton.

Never mind that the former Black Panther leader died more than 20 years ago. The reason all this has come up is that Parker’s customers this past weekend included President Barack Obama and his family, who stopped in for some cones one afternoon during a whirlwind two-day family vacation on MDI. Photos of the impromptu visit were taken and posted online, where several bloggers noticed that the shop’s logo of an upright black fist clenching a spoon resembles the clenched black fist that was adopted as a black power symbol in the 1960s.

In a claim that many people think could have been lifted from the satirical news outlets The Onion or “The Daily Show,” several right-leaning bloggers have suggested that the decision by Obama, the nation’s first black president, to patronize a shop with what one site called “such a politically-sensitive logo” has hidden, intentional meaning.

Several of the blog posts have referred to the shop as “black power ice cream” despite the fact that it is owned by a white woman and that Maine’s population in 2008 was estimated to be 95 percent white and only 1 percent African-American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A few of the bloggers actually have connected the ice cream shop visit to a decision by the U.S. Justice Department to drop a voter intimidation case that was brought against the New Black Panther Party.

“Some suggest that his handlers, or Obama himself, decided on the press shoot to send a subtle message to his core radical base,” one blog states.

The White House did not respond Tuesday afternoon to an e-mail request for comment on the symbolism of the ice cream shop logo.

To many residents, the thought that Parker might secretly share any radical black power sympathies with anyone, much less the president, makes their faces pucker more than the fresh lemons she uses in some of her frozen concoctions. Links to the blog postings have spread quickly among Parker’s friends, customers and beyond through e-mail and social networking sites.

“When I first [met] Linda I thought ‘this girl obviously is hell bent on destroying the white race,’” one friend jokingly wrote on Parker’s Facebook page. “And then I ordered chocolate wasabi.”

Parker said Tuesday that she went with the spoon-in-fist symbol to differentiate her company from other larger ice cream makers, which often use more sugary and softer images of stylized cows or ice cream cones. Variations on the fist symbol have been around for a long time, she said, representing everything from the kind of gonzo-style journalism championed by Hunter S. Thompson to disc jockey Howard Stern’s radio show.

“Is that the new black power comedy show?” Parker asked rhetorically, referring to Stern’s program.

“It’s just ice cream,” she added.

Parker said she and her husband first saw the blog posts on Saturday, the day after Obama’s visit to her shop. She said the notion that the president, who ordered coconut ice cream, used her small-town ice cream shop to demonstrate allegiance to the black power movement is absurd.

“It just seemed really hilarious to us,” Parker said. “All I’m doing is getting up, making ice cream, and going to bed. That’s all I do all summer. No time for radical insurgency.”

Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine, expressed skepticism Tuesday that a small town in Maine, among the whitest states in the country, could effectively serve as the backdrop for any kind of black power statement.

“It’s very silly,” Fried said. “The Internet is full of all kinds of conspiracy theories and bizarre claims.”

Fried said that though the bloggers might be quite serious about their assertions, the thing that stood out to her about the Obamas’ visit was how often ordinary people were able to make brief connections with the Obamas when they came across them in public. She said that in media reports she saw about the ice cream shop visit, she was struck by how pleased people seemed to be just to say hello to Obama and to shake his hand.

“It’s a sweet story, in more ways than one,” Fried said.

So far there are no conspiracy theories on right-wing blogs about the Obamas dining the next night at a restaurant named Havana.

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