The most important fight going on in the black community today is not between Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, or even the Bloods and the Crips.
No, the future of the black community will be determined by the intensifying conflict between the “Uncle Toms” and the “Sambos.”
This may seem like a strange declaration for the start of Black History Month, but the prospects are grim for any community in which men who advocate for personal responsibility are derided and women who promote loose sexual morals are extolled.
The term “Uncle Tom” has long been used as an insult against black people who are seen as subservient, passive participants in the oppression of black people. In practice, the epithet has basically become synonymous with black conservatives in general and other black people who are insufficiently critical of systemic racism and white supremacy.
The term comes from the titular character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, "Uncle Tom’s Cabin." Stowe drew inspiration for Uncle Tom from the life of an author, abolitionist, and minister named Josiah Henson. In the book, Tom is a man whose faith in God sustains him through enslavement to multiple masters. He is eventually sold to Simon Legree, a cruel man who uses two black overseers – Sambo and Quimbo – to keep the slaves in line.
Legree is the antithesis of Tom. He is willing to use human beings to advance his own interests – whether picking cotton or his sexual desires – and has abandoned the faith his mother tried to impart to him.
Tom is a Christian who refuses to let the condition of his physical body destroy his soul. He refuses to whip a fellow slave he helps in the cotton field, even though it means he receives a brutal beating from the overseers. His final act of sacrifice is accepting death at the hands of Sambo and Quimbo rather than provide the whereabouts of his friends Cassy and Emmeline.
I don’t typically use slavery metaphors in my writing. I have a healthy respect for history and don’t believe an athlete making $40 million per year is “in chains” because he doesn’t get to engage in political protests on his team’s time and dime. I also understand the power of language and know how to distinguish an inconvenience from an atrocity.
But if the left is going to use “Uncle Tom” as an insult against black conservatives, it is worth exploring whether dynamics between characters in the novel can actually be mapped onto contemporary discourse on race. Larry Elder did something very similar in his documentary "Uncle Tom" that reflects on the history of black conservatism in America.
None of these efforts have cracked the thick layer of ignorance for the people who see themselves as the gatekeepers of black culture.
Florida Rep. Byron Donalds (R) recently received a copy of "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" at his D.C. office, a gesture he believes was meant as an insult because of his conservative views.
He is far from alone.
Former MSNBC host Tiffany Cross called Justice Clarence Thomas “Tom” and “Justice Clayton Bigsby” one month before she was fired. Samuel L. Jackson called Thomas “Uncle Clarence” after the Dobbs ruling that struck down Roe v. Wade. The phrase “Uncle Tim” trended on Twitter after Senator Tim Scott gave a rebuttal to President Biden’s first address to Congress in 2021.
Only someone with an inverted moral compass would suggest that a black man willing to give his life so that others could escape slavery is a sellout. The black progressives who have abandoned the faith of their ancestors fit the bill. Their forebears fought to build and sustain families in the face of discrimination, but “black liberation” activists today claim the nuclear family upholds white supremacy while abortion is freedom.
A black feminist professor called black men considering a vote for Trump in 2020 “traitorous MFers,” but told a white liberal man he wasn’t being “helpful” when he said black women are smarter and more fit to lead than their male counterparts.
This is the life of a Sambo: whip Tom and appease Simon Legree.
Many people would sneer at this suggestion, but the average writer for the Root spends a lot more time focused on the beliefs and behaviors of white people than on the steps black people can take to improve our own communities. These writers claim to be proud of their blackness, but their entire world rests on receiving attention and affirmation from white people. They need white people to read their books, post black squares, and say “black lives matter.”
Like Sambo and Quimbo, the people who have turned race into an industry depend on their “oppressors” for food, shelter, and employment. The creators of Race 2 Dinner and the countless DEI consultants that have popped up in the last few years would go bankrupt if white liberals were ever delivered from the spirit of ethnic guilt brought on by the sins of the Simon Legrees in America’s past.
Uncle Tom, by contrast, had dignity, self-respect, and a set of principles he was willing to die for. The people who use his name as a punch line twerk in front of Planned Parenthood, use sex to get black men to vote, and make millions from murder music. They endorse values that lead to more death and dysfunction in the black community, all on behalf of white liberal masters who profit from the chaos.
Subconsciously, they hate Uncle Tom for the same reason Simon Legree did: His moral standards feel like judgment on their lifestyle. Tom never allowed his circumstances or the behavior of other people to rob him of his dignity or change his character. His willingness to forgive Sambo, Quimbo, and Simon Legree highlights the power of the Christian message. The freest man in any room is the one whose capacity to forgive is grounded in the knowledge that he is forgiven.
Black people see the vicious attacks from black progressives and white liberals aimed at anyone who holds biblical views on sex and marriage, fights for the sanctity of life, opposes self-destructive culture, and wants every child to grow up in a loving, stable two-parent home.
Many approve. The ones who don’t get this message: Don’t get out of line or we’ll whip you publicly too. The vitriol aimed at Clarence Thomas and Tony Dungy is meant to demean them and silence other black people who want to speak up in defense of faith and family.
I have a message for anyone tempted to succumb to that fear: Choose to be an Uncle Tom in a world full of Sambos.