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A Nigger and an Uncle Tom

By October 10, 2017 No Comments

Uncle Tom

Black people call me “Uncle Tom” far more than White people call me “nigger”. It’s not White people who use racial slurs against me, it’s Black people. They grumble about me because I am Black but think differently than they do. They say I am a traitor. They say I am a slave to White evangelicals. They give me just as many dirty looks as some White people do when I hold a White woman’s hand. They have made me think less of myself as a Black man than white people ever have.

The term Uncle Tom comes from a mid-nineteenth century novel titled, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The novel is about a heroic, long-suffering, Christian slave named Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling book in the nineteenth century and played a key role in the abolitionist movement. In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass wrote:

Nothing could have better suited the moral and humane requirements of the hour. [Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s] effect was amazing, instantaneous, and universal. No book on the subject of slavery had so generally and favorably touched the American heart.

Today however, the term Uncle Tom is a racial slur for Black men perceived as submissive to White people—Black men like me. I am perceived as submissive to White people because I do not submit to Black people. Group-think and identity politics have become such an integral part of Black communities today that what makes a person Black and proud isn’t their level of and love for melanin, but their positions on Black Lives Matter. For that reason, my opposition to Black Lives Matter makes me a traitor and an Uncle Tom.

In the nineteenth century, Black men like Frederick Douglass were called Uncle Tom as a compliment when their struggle for freedom was marked by perseverance and patience, courage and kindness, long-suffering and love. In other words, they believed the gospel is the truth that sets Black people free.

But in the twentieth century, Black nationalists like Marcus Garvey and later, Malcolm X gained a massive following. They believed that the gospel could not free Black people from Jim Crow. They believed that light cannot drive out darkness; only darkness can do that. They believed that love cannot drive out hate; only hate can do that. So they characterized Uncle Tom as a traitor and a villain, not a hero.

For that reason, Malcolm X routinely slandered one of his rivals in the civil rights movement. He called him a traitor. He called him a slave to White people. He called him Uncle Tom. We call that man Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X said:

Just as Uncle Tom back during slavery used to keep the Negroes from resisting the bloodhound or resisting the Ku Klux Klan by teaching them to love their enemy or pray for those who use them spitefully, today Martin Luther King is just a 20th century or modern Uncle Tom, or a religious Uncle Tom, who is doing the same thing today to keep Negroes defenseless in the face of an attack.”

For this, Black nationalists like Malcolm X are guilty of much of the same things White supremacists are guilty of. For White supremacists, Martin Luther King Jr. was a nigger because he had a different skin colour than they did. For Black nationalists, Martin Luther King Jr. was an Uncle Tom because he had different views on racial justice than they did.

If you hate me because of my positions on racial justice, what makes you different from someone who hates me because of the colour of my skin? If you call me Uncle Tom, what makes you different from White people who call me nigger?

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This post first appeared on Samuels’ blog, Slow to Write

Samuel Sey

Author Samuel Sey

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