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.

Origin and function[edit]

The term Uncle Tom is derived from the character of Uncle TomWikipedia's W.svg from the eponymously named novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin.Wikipedia's W.svg[2] In the novel, African American slave Tom is beaten to death for refusing to betray the whereabouts of two other slaves.[3] Thus he was a heroic character originally, the negative portrayal only coming in the later play, where Tom is 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 his or her 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 he 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 numbers 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.

Examples[edit]

  • Women against feminism and female rape apologists. Most salient examples include Phyllis Schlafly, Rebecca Hargraves, Karen Straughan, Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia. In its extreme forms, it can result in what Margaret Atwood described as "aunts" in her book The Handmaid's Tale, namely women willing to actively and knowingly claw down other women for profit. Of the five examples mentioned above, Sommers is the most resembling of this. It's very clear from most of her work that she knows what she's doing and is deliberately lying. She's been called out multiple times for her lazy interpretation of statistics as well as her complete and utter misrepresentation of feminist concepts.[citation needed] It it is implausible for a Ph.D. of philosophy and self-proclaimed former feminist to engage in such sloppy reasoning without being paid somehow. Even more extreme is Wendy McElroy, the self-proclaimed rape victim and "individualist feminist" who's the libertarian right's go-to rape apologist due to her status as a victim of rape (this, interestingly enough, creates a Catch-22 for feminists: they can't call into question her experience as a rape victim, but her status of rape victim lends credence to her arguments, at least in the eyes of rape apologists).[citation needed]
  • People of color who justify the current system of racial oppression based on either sloppy racialist science or appeals to cultural inferiority. Notable examples might include Thomas Sowell and Candace Owens (who both argue that blacks are enslaved by the very things keeping them above water and not in slave-like conditions, namely the welfare state), Sheriff David Clarke (the black police officer who justifies police brutality against people of color) and, in its most extreme form, Tara McCarthy (a British white supremacist of Indian descent who's willing to self-deport in the eventuality of the creation of a white ethnostate). In the wake of the European migrant crisis (2015-), immigrant and Jewish members of nativist, anti-semitic and racist parties (like Kent Ekeroth, a Jew inside the Sweden Democrats, an organization founded by Neo-Nazis and still widely populated by them) could be included as well.[citation needed]
  • More insidious and far more common is the cloth coat Republican, namely a non-upper-class person who argues for neoliberal capitalist policies designed to benefit the upper class at the expense of everyone else. Every right-wing libertarian who's not a plutocrat (which is 99.9% of them) fits this mold. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the working-class base of Trump's campaign could also be included.[citation needed]
  • LGBT+ folk who pander to homophobes and transphobes. For transgender people, Blaire White is the absolute perfect example of this, namely a transgender woman who argues that she's "imitating femininity" and justifies misgendering trans folk. To a lesser extent, truscum[7] could be included in this as well, as they use their status as trans folk to dismiss the identity of genderqueer folk, appealing to the same kind of people that deny their gender identity as well as gobble up their neurosexist nonsense about gendered brains to justify female oppression. Another example on the LGBT+ front is gay homophobe Milo Yiannopoulos.
  • Self-proclaimed former-fat people who justify sizeism. Al Sharpton is reportedly an example of this behavior.[8]
  • Disabled people who justify ableism. The best example of this is autistic people who align themselves with the "cure autism" crowd. Jonathan Mitchell and Sue Rubin are prime examples.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Uncle RuckusWikipedia's W.svg in the comic strip and TV series Boondocks
  • The character Stephen in the movie Django Unchained[9]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[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. Truscum by Fiver5 (May 18, 2014) Urban Dictionary.
  8. Al Sharpton Is A Bigot… Against Fat People: The trim activist loves to mock the overweight August 26, 2014. The Smoking Gun.
  9. Django Unchained (2012) IMDb.