Jordan told me that, in the fall of 2010, a handful of stories began circulating around his hometown of Champaign, IL. The stories were different each time, but the main theme was the same: a group of young African-American males attacked an overweight white person in public. Because the victims of these attacks were all supposedly overweight, the act was dubbed Polar Bear Hunting. It was said that the attack was part of a local gang initiation ritual.
A few incidents of attacks on overweight white people did actually occur, but they were never confirmed to be a part of a specific gang initiation. Still, the story became somewhat of a media sensation throughout October-December 2010. There were several newspaper articles about the topic, and the thought that these attacks could occur definitely scared people from walking around town alone late at night. Different legends about the attacks spread rapidly throughout the town.
Jordan said that he learned of this legend from his friend, who happened to be an overweight white male. His friend said that he felt slightly threatened walking around the University of Illinois campus late at night because of the threat of Polar Bear Hunting. Jordan informed me that, as an African-American male, he did not feel threatened… but he thought the legend was somewhat racist and could have caused people to look at him differently.
Jordan also said that he thinks polar bear hunting is little more than a sensational news story. Even though most people are not aware of a particular occurrence, most inhabitants of the town know about the attacks and/or believe that they exist. Also, despite the serious nature of the supposed attacks, the title polar bear hunting is somewhat humorous.
For the most part, I agree with Jordan. Because Champaign, IL is a fairly small town, its easy for a story like this to spread quickly throughout its citizens. Also, the story is not as popular as it was a few months ago, demonstrating that it was likely a product of the media. Even if these attacks are still occurring, people arent hearing or talking about them as much.
Furthermore, I think the concept of polar bear hunting has something to do with white citizens general fear of black citizens in the town. Champaign, IL has a large white population and a large black population and problems (usually minor) surrounding this topic occasionally arise. Although racism is no longer outwardly present in the community, legends like this prove that at least some form of racism or fear of the other (even if unconscious and/or perpetuated by the media) still exists.
More information on the Polar Bear Hunting stories can be found in the following news articles: