Uncle Tom

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A young Uncle Tom (right) from the 1st edition of the book
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There’s nothing the rightwing loves more than a black person willing to say black people are the real racists or a queer person willing to say queer people are the real threat. If you're queer or a person of color and you're telegenic and articulate and willing to sell the rancid cum rag that passes for your soul, you'll never have to do an honest day's work again in your life.
Dan Savage[1]

The term Uncle Tom (also House Negro in African American circles or Internalized Misogynist in feminist circles) is a commonly-used term in social justice circles to refer to members of oppressed groups who devote their time and energy to justifying why their oppression is either benign, preferable or justified. They're oftentimes commonly used as political ammo by reactionaries to claim that their beliefs are right and that they aren't bigots. It's the ultimate form of internalized oppression or internalized discrimination.

Origin and function[edit]

The term Uncle Tom is derived from the character of Uncle TomWikipedia from the eponymously named novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin.Wikipedia[2] In the novel, African American slave Tom is beaten to death for refusing to betray the whereabouts of two other slaves.[3] While he was a hero in the book, the play adaptation portrays him as a cringing lackey of his master.

Malcolm X famously used the term "house negro" (in opposition to the term "field negro") to refer to a slave who had been given certain privileges by their master and therefore felt it necessary to apologize for said system. He famously said that if the master's house was on fire, the house negro would work harder than the master to put the fire out, rather than simply flee when they had the time.[4][5] Malcolm X's speech was not so much historically accurate, as an insult ("signifying" in African American parlance) against the mainstream civil rights leaders of the day, including Martin Luther King.[6] Though there probably were subservient slaves like Uncle Tom, it was actually quite common for slave masters to live in fear of being poisoned by their house slaves, and for good reason.[6]

In order for reactionaries to convince a large enough number of people who aren't as bigoted as they are that the current system of oppression is justified, they need to create the impression that a significant proportion of the oppressed population enjoy their lot. This is used to create the belief that the current system is just and right.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Uncle RuckusWikipedia in the comic strip and TV series Boondocks
  • The character Stephen in the movie Django Unchained[7]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Savage, Dan. Milo Yiannopoulos: Girls Are In Danger When Adult Trans Women Use Public Toilets But 13-Year-Old Boys Can Benefit From Giving Head To Adult Males. The Stranger, February 20, 2017.
  2. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, edited by Elizabeth Ammons (2010). W. W. Norton & Company, 2nd ed. (Norton Critical Editions). ISBN 0393933997.
  3. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Cliffs Notes.
  4. Malcolm describes the difference between the "house Negro" and the "field Negro." Speech transcript from Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. 23 January 1963 (The Malcolm X Project at Columbia University).
  5. The difference between the House Negro and the Field Negro by Malcolm X (YouTube).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Were There Slaves Like Stephen in 'Django'? by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (4/29/13 12:10am) The Root.
  7. Django Unchained (2012) IMDb.