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Ben Carson: Examining The "Uncle Tom" Label

Updated on August 11, 2015

Cover of Book "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

The book that is responsible for the label "Uncle Tom"
The book that is responsible for the label "Uncle Tom" | Source
Ben Carson and Family
Ben Carson and Family

The Cast of Uncle Tom’s shadow

When I was a child, Clarence Thomas was under fire during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings because of the sexual harassment claims made by Anita Hill. I wasn’t old enough to understand what any of this really meant, but what I did know, is that all of the black adults in my family said he was an “Uncle Tom”. I knew that an “Uncle Tom” was a black man who had no reverence for his own heritage and only sought to achieve the acceptance and appeasement of white people. He was the worst thing a black person could be. I accepted that this was the case because that’s what all of the adults were saying. As an adult I have reexamined many ideas I took as gospel in my childhood. Having done some research on Clarence Thomas, I have found that for the most part Clarence Thomas was labeled an “Uncle Tom” because he is a Republican, a conservative one, and he is against affirmative action. The fact that he was one of the earliest members of the Black Student Union and is notable for his work as the Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was irrelevant. He had gained position as a black man in the world and did not do enough to challenge “white privilege”. That really is it in a nutshell. If you are a black person and do not challenge “white privilege” to a certain degree, you are a sellout. This is something that has taken maturity and wisdom in myself to challenge. As a child hearing that Clarence Thomas was an “Uncle Tom” meant that none of his accomplishments meant anything if he wasn’t going to publicly admit that racism was a problem in America. The problem is less about what I was told and more about what I wasn’t. I wasn’t told that I was looking at a black man who was born into dire poverty. I wasn’t told he could barely speak proper English as a child due to the lack of educational standards in his community. I wasn’t told that despite his impoverished childhood he graduated Cum Laude from College and earned a Law degree from Yale. His perseverance, and the respect that he earned in his field was never discussed. It was all irrelevant because he was an “Uncle Tom”.

Separating Achievements and Agreements

Ben Carson is one of the most prominent physicians this country has ever seen. He has a Psychology degree from Yale and a medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School. He has made history with his accomplishments as a neurosurgeon. While most physicians choose one specialty, he has managed to specialize in oncology, pediatrics, and plastic surgery. The respectability he has gained in his career is above reproach. He has managed to avoid the types of scandals that have become commonplace with many successful people. He is still married to his college sweetheart and as far as I know, he hasn’t conducted himself in anyway publicly that is not worthy of respect. Yet, when many black people discuss him, he is referred to as an “Uncle Tom”. This label overshadows all else. The young minds that we are forming absorb this message whether we realize it or not. We are essentially telling our youth, “Gaining preeminent respect in your career is worthless if you agree with white people too often”. We must be able to separate a disagreement on where one stands politically and whether someone is worthy of being a role model. We should be able to tell our children, ”No, I don’t agree with his political position on this, but he is worthy of respect for these reasons”. While addressing inequality in this country is still important, we can’t allow that to be the only thing that matters.

Resisting All or Nothing

When Sarah Palin became a household name I, like most of the people I know, did not believe she was an appropriate choice for Vice President. She was polarizing and the butt of many jokes, and I personally do not agree with most of her political views. What was interesting about the Sarah Palin phenomenon, is that characterizations of her were so exaggerated. Either she was the Devil or she was a Saint yet, something about her always stood out to me. She had become the governor of Alaska and became pregnant during her tenure at 43 years old. She knew her child had Down Syndrome before it was born. She could have quietly and discreetly, gotten an abortion. Most women in her position would have, but she did not. I thought to myself, regardless of our differences in political views, I respect her integrity. She has claimed to be pro-life and clearly this is not just a political talking point for her. Having the courage of your convictions, means you have to abide by them even when it is inconvenient. You must stick by them even when they cost you. That has unfortunately become a rare thing, particularly in the political arena. I don’t have to vote for Sarah Palin to recognize that she is worthy of some respect. Being objective and showing respect to those you do not agree with is an important lesson to bestow upon our young people.

Examining Our Standards

When we call Clarence Thomas or Ben Carson “Uncle Toms”, we are essentially saying that acquiring a degree from Yale is worthy of respect only if you agree with our political ideology. When we decide to admonish Ben Carson yet hold Al Sharpton as a role model, we need to examine ourselves. It isn’t necessary to take an all or nothing approach to any black person that becomes politically active. It isn’t necessary to decide that if someone is not on our “team” we must destroy any semblance of respectability they have achieved. This doesn’t just apply to the “Uncle Tom” label. This applies to more than just politics. Think of the violence that has erupted in every part of the world based on nothing more than intolerance for different belief systems. We are generally too quick to pass judgement on each other based on whether or not someone agrees with us. We need to evolve past this all or nothing approach and hold ourselves to a higher standard of decorum when facing differences of opinion.


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    • profile image

      Bobby Whitman 

      3 years ago

      I read your article and found much that I agreed with, but there was a theme throughout that nagged at me as I read it, the notion that the Black republican (or conservative) must challenge white privilege. I am NOT a republican, but I am conservative. I feel the true cause of angst for the liberal Blacks in the Democratic party is that Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson left the reservation.

      Today's liberals don't challenge anything. They look for faults in their adversaries and then name call...and because the label Uncle Tom is so readily available, the lazy thinker doesn't have to reach very far, or think very much. These so-called "off the reservation" Blacks have gained a certain amount of freedom (at least in their thinking), and that nudges them farther away from a victimhood plantation and toward a more liberating (though far from perfect) existence.

      Blacks voted 96% for Obama in 2008, and 95% in 2012. Wow. One would think after all the information available to them after four years there would have been a drop off of at least 10 points. But lazy thinking seems to permeate our people's thinking processes, to the point that it is easier to find blame in others and not ourselves. There is a mentality that we must think only one way. Liberals seem to want diversity in everything except the way we think.

      While one tenet of Christianity teaches that "two cannot walk together unless they agree...", I don't think that rule necessarily applies to political awareness. My being conservative does not mean that I want to walk with white people. I only want to uphold those tried-and-true virtues of self-reliance and self-responsibility. I would much rather belong to clubs and organizations with people of my own race and family orientation, and have no desire to knock down white establishments, admonishing them to let me in, for if someone doesn't want me around, I prefer to be somewhere else.

      In MLK's "I have a Dream Speech", he dreamed of a day when his four children would " one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character..." So why is it assumed that, in 2015, it is only white privilege that must be challenged, and not the black man who so often confuses content of character with skin color. Am I saying white privilege doesn't exist? No. But since LBJ's Great Society of the sixties there has been a hell of a lot of black privilege too. One of the constantly ignored (and I think, purposely) facts of black life today is that, in 2015, over 70% of black children are born into fatherless homes. One result, undisciplined black men who love the fact that they live in a country where there is a government with a heart big enough to take care of their children for them. But as the bible says: "the heart (meaning all hearts) is 'desperately wicked'". This includes our government's heart too. Politicians just want our votes, and in this case, it's liberal democrats coveting black ones. I have no problem at all with Black women who swooned and voted for Obama twice (albeit, irrationally in my opinion), for the reality of having a Black man (even one with a white mother) in the most powerful position in the world!...Wow! That must be one hell of a tonic for you and your Black sister. Your group has had a lifetime of seeing your men, fathers, brothers, and sons suffer under the scourge of racism, both real or imagined.

      But the Black man is mostly just lazy in this one regard. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with him having racial pride, this whole nation (ship) of ours is sinking. At least, that part of America where parents hand down a better world to their children. So the Black male must do his part too, and quit turning every aspect of his life over to the government to solve. For it is we who have the greatest case for challenging some of Obama's policies. Why? Because it will be our women and children who will suffer the most because of some of them. We need to take care of our own women and children, and quit making excuses. I like Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson, and I don't even want Carson to become president. And if anyone wants to call me an Uncle Tom, even to my face, I don't care. Let those lazy thinkers go right ahead. No way in hell am I going back on that liberal plantation!

    • Crystal McCrory profile imageAUTHOR

      Crystal McCrory 

      3 years ago

      Thank You Nikki. That is my point exactly, the "bandwagon" mindset is toxic

    • Miss Lil' Atlanta profile image

      Miss Lil' Atlanta 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thank you! This is so true! Really that's a great point you made about how we tend to label one another according to whether or not someone agrees or disagrees with our own ideologies... and it's quite sad, petty, and immature really.

    • Nikki D. Felder profile image

      Nikki D. Felder 

      3 years ago from Castle Hayne, N.C.

      Well written hub! My family just watched Figured Hands "yesterday. Was not aware of allegations of Carson being a" sell out". You've done your homework and we all should be so carful before jumping on the bandwagon of the "mainstream" mindset...


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