Uncle Tom and Race

While reviewing a few chapters to add to my supplemental reading pack in both AP European History and AP United States History for the next academic year, I found myself reading a few chapters in Dinesh D’ Souza’s book The End of Racism. According to the book’s cover,

D’Souza challenges deeply held orthodoxies about race and racism in America. Was slavery a racist institution? Is America a racist society? Is Eurocentrism a racist concept? Can African Americans be racist? D’Souza argues that the liberal crusade against racism is detrimental to both blacks and whites, and that our next step must be to eliminate race as the basis for identity and public policy.

D’Souza, from what little I have read of this book, argues against not only affirmative action, but social and economic reforms that have been used to help poor minorities. In chapter 12 of the book, he discusses what is often termed the Uncle Tom dilemma. If you were to ask any black person about the term Uncle Tom, he or she depending on education is likely to say that an Uncle Tom is a black person who acts white. Furthermore, this person might claim to evidence that a black person who speaks well is only doing so because he/she has a desire to be just like white folks. It has been a long time since I have been called an Uncle Tom. I grew up in a rough black neighborhood for a while, but was given an opportunity to attend a private school with practically an all white demographic. Often I played the language card so that I would not lose any of my friends; it was easy to use poor grammar when speaking due to my audience outside of my all white private school confines. However, I did not fool people. It was clear that I did not fit in at home or at times on campus. I think this is why smart black students pretend to be dumb. They do it out of fear of being rejected by their black peers.

It is very odd if not unheard of to hear a white person call a black person an Uncle Tom. The last time I was called this term, I politely asked that person if he had ever read the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After he said no, I went on to give him a brief lecture on the work I read back in middle school: Essentially, a white woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe took it upon herself to research the treatment and condition of southern blacks. While doing so, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed; it required northerners to return all runaway slaves to their masters. Keep in mind that blacks were nothing more than property, though the Constitution did not define blacks in this category until the 1857 Dread Scott case.

In her work, she wrote about a slave named Tom who was so trusted by his master, that he was often sent on long independent trips to conduct business. Modern day black folks became very critical of Stowe’s character Tom. Why would a black man who was nothing more than a slave be so loyal to his white master? Some speculate that Tom desired to transform himself into a better place; a white place where he was like those who abused other blacks. By 1960 the term Uncle Tom had a place among the vanguard of black intellectuals. By this point, with the civil rights movement underway, and a number of blacks graduating from historically black colleges, there was no longer a need to be like white people. Blacks proved that they were far superior. Thus, it is here that we see the heightened sense of black on black racism. As is the case today, black folks are expected to serve their own communities. People such as myself are often questioned for working in a place that does not serve the needs of the black community. Black people who prefer white lawyers, white bankers, white dentists are seen as Uncle Toms. Dating back to the days of Booker T. Washington, he argued that if black people do not visit and help black professionals, who will.

With the black bourgeoisie emerging from the status of proletarian, you find more and more black people crossing the racial divide. This does not mean the end of racism is here. D’Souza is actually promulgating racism by claiming that we can move toward a color blind society. I find such a statement to be racist.


13 thoughts on “Uncle Tom and Race

  1. Trying to get people to look beyond race is racist. I’m confused.

    I’ve always thought that racism was stupid because there are so many good reasons to hate people on an individual level. Racists are lazy. The don’t want to choose the people they hate carefully enough so they just lump a group together and choose to hate them.

  2. Matt Lee,

    I think I understand what Carson is saying here. To pretend that a person is not Asian, black, or white is pretending that elements of race in society do not exist. I teach my children to love and respect the differences of the world. I do not teach them to ignore the fact that we are black and our great neighbors are white. There are socio-economic issues tied into race. To ignore such is to pretend that all is fair. I have read D’DSouza’s book. It is trash. It reminds me of the 1992 book the “Bell Curve” that argued for the intellectual differences among races and how society can remove unfair racial treatment by eliminating affirmative action.

    I am with you Matt, the concept of racism is bad, but it has been around for a long time. It is taught at home.

  3. I am not sure I understand your point. First of all I agree that D’Souza is, whether intentionally or not, promulgating racism with that book. Books like his lend creedence to the idea that it is okay to generalize about people and this it is okay to think that poor black people are all lazy and dumb. While his intent may or may not have been racist his effect certainly is.

    I am not so sure that he is promulgating racism by claiming that we can move toward a color blind society. First off, I am not so sure that is what he is claiming. Second of all, the society that can one day treat each others as equal despite their skin tone would seem to indeed be the end of racism. D’Souza’s ideas just wont get us there.

  4. I think he is pushing the problem of race. I read the book review linked to this article. To call a person a racist is strong. He is pushing it with this garbage.
    I love the last part of the book review.
    “We as a nation do need, especially in the wake of the Simpson trial, a more honest and constructive dialogue about race. We shall not get it, of course. Books like The End of Racism are one of the reasons. Its history is shoddy, its sociology suspect, its economics oversimplified and its political philosophy — a mix of vague natural law theory, crude utilitarianism’ and unsubstantiated epistemological claim — simply jejune. But The End of Racism is useful. It is very much au courant. One suspects that it will sell very well indeed.”

  5. It seems that D’Souza views the problem of race as one brought about by black folks and the federal government. Since court ordered busing in the 1960s, whites have become angry and resentful towards blacks. The Bakke case of the 1970s in which the court ruled that affirmative action was okay in trying to promote diversity made matters worse (I do support affirmative action — as any true liberal would).

    Furthermore, with the advent of affirmative action, blacks became divided — there were the upper class black population that went to college and got a job on affirmative action, and you had those black folks who were still treated as second class citizens by both white folks and blacks.

    Black dependence on the federal governement created a resource problem that only feeds racism. By eliminating this matter, racism will vanish. Why do I feel as of I am reading the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. He too made a silly comment about social equality and the vanishing of the government.

  6. Even if by some magical means we banish racism, societies will still stay the same. Racism is just one of the many tools of hate used. If racism is not present, something else will find its way into the equation to cause conflicts. If everyone accepts each other’s ethnicity, the human race will find a way to discriminate someone else. As long as people place themselves in groups, whether it be by race, religion, culture, or social status, people will hate on each other’s different groups.

    The word “racism” has been molded into a term used by activist to alarm people for their own gain.

    We should stop trying to discontinue the use of words and learn to fight bigger battles such as the root of hate instead of trying to mold the after effects.

  7. The root starts at home. It is the little things parents say that influence their kids. Not saying a word about being open mined to all types of people is just as bad. I also agree with the book review. This book does not solve a thing. Carson I hope you did not spend too much money on this thing.

  8. I think we tend to forget that the issue of race is not just black – white; it is black – black; Mexicans v. Americans; Asian – white/black. When I lived in Little Rock, people defined race too often as that of whites and blacks. I suspect it has a lot to do with America’s racial history.

  9. I think racism may run much deeper than being an outlet for hatred, as some have said. Hatred is easily expressed in racism, but it is somehow a human trait to want to subdivide into groups, cliques, whatever you want to call them, and this desire gives rise to racism. It is deep in our psyche, and I think intractible. Much of the root of this behavior lies in fear, and the desire to be in situations where one is more comfortable with his surroundings. It is the same basis that gives rise to nationalism and wars between ethnic groups, and to the existence of the ethnic groups in the first place. No one, even those in the groups which appear to be oppressed (maybe especially in those groups) is immune to this.

    How to best end the evils of this trait? I don’t know. I think, at the very least, Affirmative Action is a good faith attempt. I also think we have to make some attempt, and this is the best thing on the table presently. It is not without its abuses and inequalities, but neither is the alternative (doing nothing). That has already been proven, and is an unacceptable option.

  10. Edward,
    I wrote about something similar to this not long ago.

    I agree with your criticism of D’Souza; there are differences between races, plain and simple. Trying to act like there are no differences doesn’t help solve the problem of race.

    The important thing is that no matter what our differences are, they don’t matter in terms of value. No one is any more or less valuable or important than anyone else due to their race.

  11. That has a lot to do with the fact that people in Little Rock tend to be far more stupid than people in lots of other places. Aside from my growing amazement at the sheer stupidity of some of the people here, you have to bear in mind, that for much of the older generation of citizens in Little Rock, race is just that: black and white. Most of the Hispanics in the state are in Northwest Arkansas, and a good portion of the Asians here tend to be well educated and respected, so the problem isn’t nearly as great in those areas as it is black on white or white on black, however is the PC way to put it.

  12. You touched on LR very well Kristi. It does not have a heavy Hispanic population, but that might have something to do with the slow job growth market. I could be wrong here. I wonder what would happen if a number of Muslims moved to LR; we have plenty here in Houston. I wonder….Hmmmm.

    Dutro – I really meant to address fear in this piece. You got it right. People are not racist unless there is a threat — to their family, job, community, etc. And although the threat is not always real — though there is some truth here, people have nothing else but to fall back on their perception of groups. I once saw a political add that showed a white male sitting at the table telling his family that he still could not find work. Afterwards a voice stated if you vote for ____ you are voting for affirmative action. The point was that a white politician was losing to a black politician in an all white district. The white politician used fear to win.

    Luke – You work with teens a lot. Is this a big issue?

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