Saturday, May 3, 2014

Uncle Tom, And The Black Conservative.

"Uncle Tom" is the worst thing that one African-American can call another. It is akin to calling someone Benedict Arnold. A traitor, a turn coat, or a sell out.

Nobody wants to be called an Uncle Tom, but 150 years ago, it was a compliment. In Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Uncle Tom is a martyr, not a sell-out. His devotion to his fellow slaves is so unshakable that he sacrifices a chance for freedom and, ultimately, his life to help them. 

How did a term of such high praise become the ultimate black-on-black insult? Scholars believe that "Uncle Tom" was first used as an epithet in 1919 by Rev. George Alexander McGuire, a supporter of the radical black nationalist Marcus Garvey. 

Addressing the first convention of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, McGuire declared, "the Uncle Tom nigger has got to go, and his place must be taken by the new leader of the Negro race, not a black man with a white heart, but a black man with a black heart." In the event's opening parade, marchers held protest signs that hopefully proclaimed, "Uncle Tom's dead and buried."

So the name Uncle Tom was turned into a negative almost a hundred years ago in a speech and it's connotation reverberates to this day. But it is only applied to those who's opinions are in direct conflict with the collective. The collective, in this case, being the Black community. In addition to being opinionated these so called "Uncle Toms" often support measures designed to deny African-American's and other minorities many of the same opportunities that were afforded them, siting personal responsibility as the virtue that will light the path way to achievement. Often times they are influencial people like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, or world renown neuro-surgeon Dr. Ben Carson. Both men are prominent public figures, and both men have opinions and views that are undoubtedly conservative despite having come from humble beginnings.

But while their views and opinions are somewhat controversial they are hardly alone. The truth is, many African-American's have conservative views whether they realize it or acknowledge it. The majority of us are tough on crime, and determined to achieve success as a result of our hard work. We resent those of us who want something for nothing, and blame everyone but themselves for underachieving. But the difference between "the average African-American" and the proninant African-American conservative is empathy. Those of us who's influence is not as far reaching, and are not as isolated from other segments of our race have not been allowed to forget where we came from. Simply because the reminders are next door, around the corner, and down the block from us. Some of our co-workers neighbors, and friends are still engaged in a struggle for every day survival, and while we're doing better than they are, the rapidly closing gap between the poor and the middle class has allowed us to identify with each other. The difference is often no more than a pay check or two.

Where as the gap between the rich and proninant is wide enough so that there is no association with any other socio-economic group. Their race becomes secondary and their wealth becomes primary. So much so that even those who have come from humble beginnings and have had a mode come of success feel quite comfortable in criticizing those who have not done the same. Their assertion is that they've pulled themselves up by their own "boot straps", and seem quite puzzled when others cannot do the same. They forget about their struggles, and act as if they have always been triumphant. As if they've stood alone and conquered each and every obstacle by their own whit. But EVERYONE who has ever been successful in the history of the planet earth has had help. Whether it was guidance, kind words, or someone sewing a seed into their spirit giving them the strength to press on. Everybody has been helped and needs help. And while the "Uncle Toms" among us are entitled to their opinions, criticism without offering an adequit solution or a helping hand, is little more than mean-spirited pontificating.

"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime"


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