Saturday, February 25, 2006

Uncle Tom

We normally think of columnist Clarence Page as "usually interesting, sometimes right," but we may have to upgrade his rating a notch or two. He writes about his interview with James Henson, Sr., a descendent of the real man whose story inspired the fictional Harriet Beecher Stowe character. It's an interesting story, which Page interleaves well with parts of the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin. What really caught our eye, however, was the passage below (empahsis added):
"It's ironic that Uncle Tom is a derogatory term today, yet he was such a powerful character in bringing about the abolition of slavery," Henson Sr. said. "The way he was depicted as almost Christlike caused a lot of Christian people to say, if the institution of slavery could kill someone as kind, gentle and noble as Tom, we have got to put an end to this institution."

But Tom's image became a victim of the book's success. Its popularity spawned countless stage productions called "Tom shows" that often were little more than minstrel shows turning noble Tom into a gross buffoon. A new stereotype was born and later thrown back by black-pride activists at anyone who wandered off the reservation of mainstream black political thought.
Wow. A shot right at the political straightjacket Black America has wrapped itself up in. We might have said "plantation" in place of "reservation," but we admire him for this nonetheless. He goes on to specificly mention Harry Belafonte's racist remarks directed at Colin Powell and Condi Rice:
Most recently, we have seen Harry Belafonte put a new and pernicious spin on the Uncle Tom smear by calling Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice "house slaves" for supporting President Bush's policies. Conservatives, especially black conservatives, were quick to counter that Belafonte was a house slave of the Democratic Party and an Uncle Tom to the liberal establishment. Two can play that nasty name-calling game, for what it's worth.
Well said, Mr. Page. Although we do think this suggests more symmetry to this kind of attack than really exists. Obviously, the "reservation of mainstream black political thought" is relentlessly liberal, and conservative blacks are the main targets of these nasty labels.

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