March 15, 2011 admin

Parsing Uncle Tom…

Jalen Rose sure got the world heated with this whole “Uncle Tom” thing. You may have read Jason Reid’s column in the Washington Post on it, which is really about Jason Reid, but worth a read.
I’m torn about blogging on this for two reasons.
1. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with acknowledging the error of your 18 year-old ways. The harping on this has been pathetic and indicative of things that have nothing to do with Jalen Rose.
2. There are so many things to say that I’m not sure I’m going to pick the right one.
I’ll start with a disclaimer: I think calling someone an “Uncle Tom” means it’s probably time to fight. That, however, doesn’t mean that Uncle Toms don’t exist. This isn’t a slur. It’s a very, very harsh classification that, on occasion fits. It just so happen it didn’t necessarily fit the guys Jalen Rose was talking about. I got that from no less an authority than Jalen Rose.
However, I’m absolutely amazed at how many people were up in arms about this, particularly white people. This is an entirely black thing. Nothing about a discussion of Uncle Tom’s involves white people any more than tangentially. Usually, that means white people tune out. Like most did to the video below. Click play and watch Oscar Grant die.

I personally think I’d be more offended to watch a dude catch a hot one in his back while cuffed. Got ignored. I watched the news out of California that day, and the anchors sounded like they were covering something on National Geographic. The scene and issues were that foreign to them. But this black thing, with “Uncle Tom” in neon lights? Suddenly people care?
I say that to say this: if this is your one time to jump into the fray of a discussion on race, I’d like it greatly if you sat all the way down. But you won’t, so I guess I’ll keep going.
I tried to go into super-intellectual mode and figure out why it is that “Uncle Tom” brings out the social crusader in the majority. And then it dawned on me…
When someone is called an Uncle Tom, dollars to donuts says it’s about a black man white people like a lot.
Ever think of that one? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we’re talking about a real-live, as-found-in-the-wild Uncle Tom. When white people hear you talk about him, chances are they hear you talking about one of their friends. I mean, if an Uncle Tom doesn’t have any white friends, what does he have, really?
Now, we can relax that assumption a tad and say someone, right or wrong, is observed as an Uncle Tom. No one could call a black dude an Uncle Tom in a vacuum. There must be some interaction with white people in order for the term to even come up, right? Well, if a bunch of white people dislike a black dude — and do so outwardly — kinda hard for someone to call him an Uncle Tom.
Seems simple, but I think it says a lot about how we wind up having days and days and days of conversations about what Jalen Rose thought when he was 18 years old. He talked bad about some people’s friends, whether he realized it or not. And if the black guys say your black friend isn’t really black? Well, I imagine that flips things up in a few minds.
The fun part in this is two-fold. First, I don’t think most white people possess the sophisticated understanding of race necessary to grasp why “Uncle Tom” carries the weight that it does, or even why being an Uncle Tom is such a problem (kills me that calling someone an Uncle Tom is deemed more problematic than being one). Yet somehow, many seemed personally hurt by this. Confusing.
The second part, however, is where we really need to start thinking. Reid knocked Rose for what he deemed the denigration of educated blacks, that Rose wrongly assigned himself as the arbiter of blackness and put the learned on the wrong side. Never mind the fact that isn’t what Rose said, for a second.
You could argue that, if I were a basketball player, I’d be the kid Duke would want. My grades were good, my parents educated, my speech and presentation polished. I’m a Cosby kid, assuming Bill were half the man my father is.
I’ve been told many times that I’m not really black. That I’m not like the rest of the black kids. All of that. And every — and i do mean every — time I heard that, it was from someone white. It never failed. One of my very good friends, someone I worked with, told me that very thing. I didn’t even get mad. I’m that used to hearing such things from white people.
So, if we acknowledge a general societal tendency to deem some black people as “different,” why be so mad at “Uncle Tom?” The key difference: when white people question one’s blackness as such, they think it’s a compliment.
You’ll have to forgive me if I find the widespread outrage toward what Rose said to be disingenuous. For one, it ignores the unique racial position of Duke basketball in sports and the media (too big a topic for now). But further, it’s another example of the masses immersing themselves in a racial matter that doesn’t matter even a little bit.
What it appears we have here is folks mad because someone said something bad about their friends. This isn’t about anyone’s social conscience or sensibilities. Hell, we’re so far removed from Stowe that folks don’t even know what “Uncle Tom” really means. But with all this racism out there, this is what folks held on to. Hilarious.
Just another example of how messed up, as a society, we are on race. Give this to Jalen: at least he admitted as much.
The rest of you?

Share Your Thoughts:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *