The Completely True Story of the Fraudulent Ethiopian Princess: Racial Stereotypes and Journalistic Conventions in the Framing of a Media Hoax

Fred Carroll, Kennesaw State University


Princess Rassari Heshla Tamanya of Ethiopia predicted race war when she met with white reporters in New York in 1935, as Italy prepared to invade her homeland. The princess, though, was a fraud. She was a Harlem singer. This article examines the creation and coverage of a short-lived media hoax to illustrate how the widespread acceptance of racial stereotypes in the mid-twentieth-century United States informed reporters’ understanding of the professional practices of objectivity and sensationalism, which mirrored the racist assumptions that saturated popular culture, especially in mediums influenced by blackface minstrelsy and human zoos. The hoax succeeded because the princess satisfied the expectations of readers and reporters, regardless of race. The article also examines the unmasking and remembrance of the fraud. A Pan-Africanist scholar exposed it because it jeopardized his understanding of the world. It became a historical footnote only after it was stripped of its political and social implications.