Did "Uncle Tom" Miss His
Own Funeral?

A New Visions Commentary paper published August 1996 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected]

Whatever justification there may have been for calling successful Black Americans "Uncle Tom" because they catered to whites in order to succeed is dead. It should also be buried and forgotten. Uncle Tom belongs to the culture of dependency; he belongs to the welfare state thinking which elevated criminal street gangs to the level of folk heroes.

In fact, if anyone deserves the title of Uncle Tom -- and no one does -- members of street gangs deserve it. These criminal groups loiter or stay out of sight, commit crime or don't commit it (often on other blacks), participate in programs or ignore them, give help or withhold it, according to their own agenda for gaining power and control. Often this means catering to a liberal white elite establishment, yet no one calls these members of street gangs Uncle Toms.

No one should.

Uncle Tom is dead. He is a ghost revived to suit the purposes and agendas of certain individuals and interests; the time for Uncle Tom to attend his own funeral is overdue. Afterward, he should remain in the graveyard and rest in peace. Black Americans have important work to do. The leadership for the next century must be identified and developed; schools must be made to function; issues must be understood and debated; small businesses must be expanded and created; the opportunities in technology and research must be explored; ineffective policies must be replaced by effective rather than reactive ones; in short, there is a future to build. That construction will take much time, energy, and commitment. There is no time to conjure up ghosts like "Uncle Tom."

Uncle Tom thinking has caused too many funerals, even as he missed his own. The funerals he caused have too often been for the young and the innocent, the dreamers and achievers, the poets and the businessmen of the future.

Uncle Tom belongs to the past. The present belongs to us, and the future belongs to our children.

The ghost of Uncle Tom must not be allowed to haunt that future. Welfare dependency and the criminal culture of street gangs must not control that future by waltzing with a ghost.

"Uncle Tom" must be exorcised, buried, and forgotten. Our children count on it.

by Camille Harper, a national Advisory Council member of the African-American leadership group Project 21, and editor of the Chicago-based newsletter The Strobe. Project 21 New Visions Commentaries are the opinion of their author and not necessarily that of Project 21. ###


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