Uncle Tom has a legacy rich in racism and is a derogatory term applied to blacks who “sellout.” Sambo is also rich in racism and is a derogatory term. Historically, these two have been used interchangeably although they are not the same. These two are so intertwined in modern society and so incorporated into our language I am not sure they can ever be separated. It will be difficult to view them as anything other than names used to describe black people who betray other black people. (Think Tom Dubois on the social and political television comedy Boondocks.)
In this post, I will give some background on the Coon, the Sambo, and the Uncle Tom and reveal the truth on how Tom was not the sellout we have made him out to be.
Let’s start with the Coon caricature. The name is an abbreviation of the word Racoon so that the name alone is dehumanizing. The prototype for the coon caricature was Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, known by his stage name as Stepin Fetchit. His signature was that he was the world’s laziest man. He was always sleepy, his eyes low and his speech slow. He took minutes just to complete simple sentences. A scene of him laying in bed in pajamas taking three whole minutes to answer the phone and then another whole minute to say “hello” is what could be expected of his stage performances. The idea behind the coon was that he acted like a child although he was an adult. Stepin Fetchit also tap danced (hence “step it”) so that “Perry epitomized the mumbling, shuffling, buck-eyed buffoon who acted like he didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.” (BlackThen)
Stepin Fetchit manifested what racists whites thought of blacks and became one of the top paid black entertainers of his time.
The Sambo was portrayed as lazy, easily frightened, and chronically idle, an inarticulate buffoon. While the Coon was considered an adult who acted like a child, the Sambo was not considered an adult but was depicted as a perpetual child incapable of living as an Independent adult. What is important to note about the Sambo and the Coon was that they were born from names applied to the characteristics of real people. This is important to remember when we get to Uncle Tom. A stereotype is created when a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular person or thing applies to an entire group of people. Perry was certainly a buffoon, the real-life version of the coon but to refer to all so-called African Americans as coon is what created the stereotype.
The Sambo caricature was born from enslaved blacks who were so loyal and dedicated to the slave owner they would betray their own people. The characteristics of the Sambo really did (and does) exist. “Stereotypes are “cognitive structures that contain the perceiver’s knowledge, beliefs, and expectations about human groups” (Peffley et al., 1997, p. 31). These cognitive constructs are often created out of a kernel of truth and then distorted beyond reality (Hoffmann, 1986). Racial stereotypes are constructed beliefs that all members of the same race share given characteristics. These attributed characteristics are usually negative (Jewell, 1993).” The Coon and Sambo stereotypes contain kernels of truth. There really were blacks who were happy and willing to betray, and completely aid in the destruction of their own people.
(Notice that “Acting white” is not part of the characteristic of the Sambo or Coon. The thing that made the Sambo and Coon an embarrassment and disgrace to the race was their loyalty to those who oppressed them, their betrayal of their brethren and their willingness to make a fool of both themselves and their people. Being intellectual, prompt, professional, and well spoken are not traits that “belong” to “white” people and certainly had nothing to do with these stereotypes. It’s actually the opposite. Racists at that time did not want blacks to read, write, display characteristics of dignity and esteem and professionalism. They wanted to portray them as ignorant, foolish, and childish.)
While the Sambo and Coon caricatures fit this description, Uncle Tom was not the same and it would take an entirely different post to look into how he became associated with these caricatures. For now, let’s see who he really was.
Again, stereotypes come from kernels of truth. Just as Lincoln Perry was the epitome of the Coon, and sellout blacks were the real-life Sambos, the fictionalized story of the Uncle Tom was inspired by a man named Josiah Henson.
Josiah was an author, abolitionist, minister, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Henson’s father was whipped, got his ear cut off, and was sold south after hitting a white man who tried to rape his wife. Henson never saw his father again, but this gives us insight into Josiah’s character. He became a preacher through memorizing verses although he couldn’t, at the time, read and write. In 1830, Henson ran away with his wife and two youngest children, walking over 600 miles to Canada but he didn’t stop there.
“Henson helped start in 1841 a freeman settlement called the British American Institute, in an area called Dawn, which became known as one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad. Henson repeatedly returned to the U.S. to guide 118 other slaves to freedom. It was a massively dangerous undertaking, but Henson saw a greater purpose than simply living out his life in Ontario, Canada. In addition to his service to the school, Henson ran a farm, started a gristmill, bred horses, and built a sawmill for high-quality black lumber— so good, in fact, that it won him a medal at the first World’s Fair in London ten years later.”
Henson’s life inspired the work of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Tom displayed the following characteristics:
He refused to beat black women
He refused to force other black people to pick cotton
He took the cotton out of his own bag and put it in other’s bags so those slaves wouldn’t get whipped for not having the proper weight (as you know, the enslaved had to pick a certain amount of cotton or they would be punished.)
And he refused to tell where attempted escaping slaves were hiding
Josiah Henson is Uncle Tom. He was not a Coon, and he was not a Sambo. “Uncle Tom,” helped hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children escape North years before the Underground Railroad. He was a good man and a great leader. The truth about Uncle Tom is this:
To refer to blacks who portray characteristics of coons and sell outs as Uncle Toms is a disrespect to Henson’s legacy. To refer to intelligent and well spoken blacks as Uncle Tom’s is actually a compliment.
Henson was no sell out and neither was Tom.
Be sure to check out other Black History Fun Facts on the page here.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, paperback edition
I have a lot to say so this is only part one as there were multiple dynamics to this film.
WARNING: THIS POST HAS SPOILERS. IF YOU DIDN’T SEE THE MOVIE YET, GO SEE IT AND THEN COME BACK TO THIS POST 🙂
What is Blackkklansman about? First, we should know that the story is based off a true story and a memoir. From Rotten Tomatoes:
“From visionary filmmaker Spike Lee comes the incredible true story of an American hero. It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. Produced by the team behind the Academy-Award (R) winning Get Out.”
“Why do you talk like that?”
I was in the backseat of my cousin’s friend’s car. He was dropping me off at a family members house when his question came.
“Talk like what?” I asked, confused.
“Like that. Proper. You say everything right.”
I frowned, “What?”
I start with this experience because stereotypes concerning language is the foundation of this movie. It is the stereotype concerning Blacks and the English language or the “King’s English,” that makes the plot possible. In social psychology, a stereotype is an over-generalized belief. Stereotypes are generalized because one assumes that the stereotype is true with no real basis or evidence of the belief. There’s no such thing as talking black or talking white. How a person communicates is determined by his upbringing, education or environment, not by his or her race or nationality. But some black people who articulate words well have been teased for years for “trying to talk white.” They have been deemed Uncle Tom’s, sell-outs or simply made fun of and mocked.
In Blackkklansman, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) uses this language barrier or stereotype to his advantage. Ron speaks proper, to the extent that (according to general thought), he sounds just like a typical European. Ron pretends to be a white guy on the phone who is interested in joining the Klu Klux Klan and mistakenly uses his real name. The person on the other end of the phone invites him down for a meeting except Ron can’t go, obviously. Ron is not white.
Stallworth can’t show up in person as a Black guy so in comes Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a Jewish man who pretends to be Ron in person. Because of the stereotype surrounding language, Ron can infiltrate a white racist organization with nothing more than a proper English accent.
Language stereotypes have their roots in Scientific Racism. Scientific Racism is the belief there is scientific proof to justify racism. Examples of such thought is Blacks are related to monkeys, their brains are smaller than other races, and they are less intelligent than other races. In the event someone Black is intelligent, surely it is not of his own doing. He is almost always certainly trying to be like someone else.
Nineteenth-Century scientists were convinced the white race was superior to other races and this superiority can be found in Darwinian Theory. Coined by the cousin of Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, Eugenics comes from the Greek word eugenes, meaning “well-born.” It is a racist scientific process set out to prove, through alleged psychological and medical evidence, the inferiority of Blacks. Eugenics was put into practice by eliminating those born without “well born genes” from the population. From 1924 to 1936, thirteen states in the U.S. utilized eugenics programs that ranged from isolating those deemed “feeble-minded” from the general population to forced sterilization.
Because of Scientific Racism even among blacks, there is a common misconception that if you are a black person who speaks intelligently, proper, enunciate words correctly, or have an extensive vocabulary, you are “talking white.” This belief exists because of the stereotype in many circles that only “white” people can speak intelligently.
Does speaking a certain language and the enunciation of words define a person’s allegiance to a certain group of people? Am I a sellout, coon, or Uncle Tom because I like to read and speak a certain way? Because of Scientific Racism and stereotypes concerning language and intelligence, Ron Stallworth joined the Klan without even showing his face.
The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews
The headline I am using, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews is inspired by a book released in 1991 by the Nation of Islam by the same name that asserts Jews dominated the Atlantic slave trade and has been widely criticized for being antisemitic. (Another book to read is The Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koestler as well as Jews Selling Blacks also by The Nation of Islam detailing slave sale advertising by American Jews.) But, Jews involvement in the Slave Trade is not the secret relationship to which I am referring.
In Blackkklansman, Ron is a Black guy, but he cannot show up at KKK meetings as a Black guy. So, he recruits the help of Flip Zimmerman who would pretend to be him in person. As it stands today, 2018, Jews are known and recognized as the chosen people of “God.” Their heritage and identity are said to go back to that of the ancient Israelites and the land of Israel /Jerusalem is known and recognized as their land. But there are several historical occurrences that makes this inaccurate.
According to the biblical table of Nations (Gen. 10), the earth was repopulated after the flood by Noah’s three sons and their wives. Shem (Shemites), Ham (Hamites) Japheth (Japhites). According to the bible, the Israelites lineage goes back to Shem but Ashkenaz is the descendant of Noah’s son Japheth.
Ashkenaz is the first-born son of Gomer, again, descendant of Japheth. History traces the descendants of Japheth back to the European nations.
Ashkenaz in Hebrew means German. This means that Asheknazi Jew literally translates, “German Jew.”
Gomer, the first born of Japheth, has been traced back to the Celtics, Goths, Hungarians, Sloths, the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland.
Javan, fourth son of Japheth, has been traced back to the Greeks and Magog has been traced back to the Russians.
According to the bible, the Israelites will be returned to their land by the messiah. This is not how the Jews entered the land of Israel. The British Empire conquered Jerusalem and had a mandate of the land from the Turkish Empire. They gave it to the Jews after the 2nd World War when the Jews said they needed their own land because of the Holocaust. This was done by way of The Balfour Declaration of 1948.
The parts of the earth inhabited by Shem were the territory of Assyria and Persia east of the Tigris River, the eastern part of Syria and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. All the children of Shem were black.
Abraham, father of the Hebrew-Israelite and Arab nation was black.
The Arab nation is made up of black Hamite / Egyptian mothers and black Shemite fathers. Hagar, the black Egyptian is mother of Abraham’s son Ishmael. Ishmael married black Egyptian women and gave birth to 12 sons who became 12 tribes. They inhabited the region from the Euphrates to the Red Sea in the Arabian Peninsula and they were black.
Joseph was second in command in Egypt when the famine drove the eleven sons of Jacob to Canaan to buy food. Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him. First, he had grown into a man since they last seen him and secondly, they could not distinguish him from the black Egyptians because he was black also.
After Pharaoh commanded that all the Hebrew babies be killed by way of his “Birth Control” mandate, Moses passed as the pharaoh’s black grandson for 40 years. This could not happen if Moses, the Israelite “Jew” was not also black.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the 12 tribes were all black.
Due to the mountain of evidence concerning the identity of the ancient Shemites and Japhethites, it is my belief that the so-called African American, Negro, Black, Colored person, are the original “Jews” and true children of Israel and that the Jews we know today are instead the European nations.
With this understanding, the fact that Zimmerman, a Jew, is pretending to be Ron, a black man, in this movie is revealing and I wonder if Spike Lee and Jordan Peele did this on purpose. After all, it wouldn’t be Spike Lee’s first time doing this.
In his movie Bamboozled, a satire of network television’s pitfalls and prejudices and a humorous look at how race, ratings and the pursuit of power lead to a television writer’s rise and tragic downfall, Pierre Delacroix (played by Damon Wayans) is in a room with the writers for his sitcom and a Jewish man is wearing an Afro. Pierre jokes about blacks always being late or on “CP Time” (“Colored People Time”). He then pauses and looks at the Jew with the Afro and his words are: “And no. That Afro does not qualify you my young Jewish friend.” He meant, that Afro does not make you black. (Lee also uses the language stereotype in this movie. More on this in part 2 when we explore the caricature of the Uncle Tom.) This happens all the time in Hollywood where blacks and Jews are jokingly intertwined with one another.
In Blackkklansman, Zimmerman is not really Ron, a black man, just as the Jews are not really the children of Israel, who are black. The secret relationship between Blacks and Jews is that Blacks are the original “Jews,” and everyone knows it but black people. (That’s why it’s a secret).
The Klan and Police Force Connection
In Blackkklansman, Ron is a Black police officer who sincerely believes that justice can take place from within the system. He befriends a young lady named Patrice, an Angela Davis character, working for the Black Panthers as part of Stokely Carmichael’s team. While their relationship attempts to take a romantic turn, her problem with him is his connection to the force (she eventually discovers he’s an undercover cop). At the end of the movie he confirms that while he has turned in his Klan membership, he is not ready to turn in his allegiance to the police force. Her response: “I can’t sleep with the enemy.”
Why did she consider him an enemy for being a police officer?
During the institution of chattel slavery, controlling the actions and whereabouts of slaves was of vital importance. As nothing more than a commodity, slaves were worth hundreds and thousands of dollars. Big feet, for example, may indicate to a slave owner that his slave may be strong and a stout one day while his “skin and bones” appearance may bring down a hopeful price. “Through care and discipline, slaves’ bodies were physically incorporated with their owners’ standards of measure.” (Walter Johnson, Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market)
If a slave approached the auction block with two fingers cut off, for example, both of which were done in the slave’s desperate attempt to escape chains–choosing rather to go about with eight fingers than to become a slave–the true manner of his disablement would be concealed for the time being. Basically, the fact that this slave cut his own fingers off would be a secret for now. The owner would instead lie about the enslaved man’s attempted escape. Maybe a doctor cut off one of his fingers due to illness and the slave, to comply with the doctor’s orders, cut off the other one.
In such case the slave is seen as so stupid and imitative that he would mutilate himself because it’s what the doctor did. For the auctioneer, this increased his chances of selling this slave. Showing stupidity for obedience was better than showing rebellion, which would decrease the auctioneer’s chances of selling the slave.
These kinds of situations, and the constant running away of slaves, caused for serious security over the slave’s whereabouts and required a policing of them known as Slave Patrols.
Slave patrols were organized groups of white men who monitored and enforced discipline upon black slaves during chattel slavery in the U.S. The slave patrols’ function was to police slaves, especially runaways and defiant slaves. These patrols were formed by county courts and state militias and were the closest enforcers of codes governing slaves throughout the South.
Overseers – On large plantations, the person who directed the daily work of the slaves was the overseer, a white man OR an enslaved black man (driver) promoted to the position by his master. Some plantations had both a white overseer and a black driver, especially in the deep South or on plantations where the master was often absent. The overseer had special privileges. He may get to ride around on a horse instead of pick cotton in the fields. He may live in a brick house instead of a slave cabin, and he may get to sit at the masters’ table on special occasions and eat with him.
Many people assert the word “officer” is a direct relation to “overseer,” which is taken to mean that the overseer of slave plantations have become police officers. I don’t know about the name correlation, but I do know that black cops are often teased and accused of being “overseers” by other blacks who have come to distrust the system of American policing overall. For many, police cars have replaced horses and badges have replaced hoods.
This may be because modern-day police enforce the laws of the land and are the most brutal force toward African Americans and black related crimes in this day as well as back in the day. Patrice considered Ron an enemy because Slave Patrols, Night Watches, and Overseers were designed for managing slaves in the same way that modern day Police Departments manage black related crimes. As David Giacopassi and Margaret Vandiver state in Ignoring the Past: Coverage of Slavery and Slave Patrols in Criminal Justice (2006:186) remark:
“the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”
And the National Humanity Center, Slave Drivers, Overseer, Enslavement:
“How did black drivers relate to their masters, and to their fellow slaves over whom they held authority? How did they adapt to the vulnerable position between master and slave.”
These are questions many blacks have for black police officers. How does a black police officer, aware of the racist practices of his job, relate to the people of his race who are being mistreated and over whom he has authority? How does he balance this allegiance? For women like Patrice and many in the African American community, there is no balance.
I thought the movie was decent. It didn’t wow me. It was just okay. I loved all the connections and messages of the movie and the history. I just thought the movie would do more with those connections. I loved listening to the powerful speech of Kwame Ture or Stokely Carmichael as played by Corey Hawkins, who did an AMAZING job!
Obviously, I did not read the book before seeing this movie so I did not know how it would end. While I don’t believe every officer is evil (just like I don’t believe all blacks are illiterate and ghetto, not all Mexicans are criminals who got to the U.S. illegally, and not all white people are racists), I thought Ron would get more involved with the politics of the Black Panthers and less involved with the police force with all the information he now had. I thought with all the connections, subtle or otherwise, this would lead Ron to leave the force and the movie was going to take a turn similar to Sam Green’s The Spook Who Sat By the Door. This book (so controversial it was removed from shelves) is a fictional account turned movie in the 60s about the first black CIA agent who, after quitting, takes all he has learned from the agency and trains his brothers in the inner-city how to fight. A movie was made of the book in 1973. (There was also a movie released in 1966 called Black Klansman where a light-skinned black man (Richard Gilden) infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan to avenge his daughters murder after she is killed in a church bombing.)
I often get asked, because of my age (22) and the fact that I married at what people may say is “early”, if I work and/or go to school. You should see the looks on these peoples faces when I simply say, “no, I’m a homemaker (aka stay at home wife, I’m not a huge fan of that term, but we will use it for clarity.)” You would think I just disrespected their ancestors, it’s that serious. I mean they’re all like, “why?” “do you have children?” “you have so much potential.” “you should definitely think about it.” and I’m just like think about what?
Why didn’t you ask me if I’m happy and content being a “stay at home wife”? Why do people automatically assume it’s a bad thing to stay at home? Let me be the first to tell you, it’s freakin’ awesome!! I’m a “stay at home wife” that does not mean…
Twenty years ago, a book followed a routine process: You poured your heart and soul into a manuscript and when you finished it, you started calling agents and editors who most likely told you to send them a query letter. Next step was usually a book proposal, and a few sample chapters. Then the waiting game started, usually ending with disappointment. On the other hand, the option to self-publish was there, but it had a certain stigma; a stigma that still exists today: “Your book isn’t really published because you couldn’t get it accepted by a “real publisher”. A real publisher? Excuse me for not laughing my butt off, are we not human beings? Or are Self-Publishers merely robots? Or are Traditional Publishers too foolish to know that the only difference between a Traditional Publisher and a Self-Publisher is that the Self-Publisher does everything themselves? Anyone can be a publisher.
The publisher is basically the one who puts up the money. If you invest in your own printing, you are a self-publisher. If you begin to take in manuscripts, you are a small publisher. If you grow, you become a large publisher. Technology just makes it easy and inexpensive to write, produce, publish and sell books. But Self-Publishing is not easy. We do not log into Create Space and push the publishing button (well, not all of us, I can’t speak for everyone. Yea, some of yall lazy like that). Self-Publishing just means you are in charge of the final direction of your book. Now the popularity and profit of your book is another story. But merely publishing it yourself is no different than having a large publishing company to publish it. It’s still published, you just have the power of a large company behind you when you publish traditionally, which ironically, makes it easier than Self-Publishing. In any event, today many Self-Publishers still wear this “badge of shame” for choosing not to go the traditional route, as if were the scarlet woman or something.
However, times have changed my friends. In today’s world, the boost in technology makes it possible for anyone to publish a book. This does not mean however, that because you’ve chosen to self-publish, that it’s automatically bad. Just because books are self-published, this does not mean they’re among America’s Top Worst Book Publishing List, nor does it suggest they’re among those who put no effort and energy behind their work. Surely there are lazy people out there, but laziness applies to everything that we do. Whether you’re writing a book or shooting a movie, you get out of it what you put in. As long as your book is professionally produced, with an eye-catching cover and compelling content, you can directly compete with any bestselling author if you put the time in to make it happen. Saying a Self-Published book isn’t really a book because it was self-published, is like saying a woman who had a C-Section isn’t really a mother because she didn’t have her baby vaginally.
4 Common Sense reasons it can benefit you to Self-Publish
• Ownership Self-publishing can be the road to your independence. Do you dream of being your own boss? Do you desire more personal freedom? You can turn that dream into a reality. As a self-publisher, you own all rights to your book, whereas a traditional publisher would likely own the rights. If they lose interest in your book, you cannot print additional copies unless you purchase those rights back. Traditional publishers often require you to purchase your book from them to do any promotion you choose to do for your book. As your own publisher you print as many books as you need. Here is a dynamic, proven way to shape your own destiny.
• Timing Traditional publishers work on a long production cycle, they often plan a year to a year and a half—or even longer—to get a book out. As a self-publisher you can do it in a fraction of that time. It’s your material, your career move – you can take control of when you want to publish.
• Increased Income Self-publishing offers the potential for huge profits. Like I said before, publishing a book is one thing, making money from it is another. When you use creativity, persistence, and sound business sense, money is there to be made. Most publishers require their authors to do their own promotion, but if you have to do your own promotion, why not self-publish it anyway and make more money? Even if you don’t make a lot of money, Self-Publishing gives you the opportunity to get back what you put in. If you set a plan and work hard at it, you’ll be making it rain in no time. Or, you can work hard only for some big time publisher to tell you that you’re just not good enough.
• Control Self-publishing gives you the final say on the direction of your book. Your book reflects your vision and not someone else’s. You can personally guide every step, or hire professionals to be on your team. You can choose the cover you like, the typeface, and the title you want. You maintain absolute control over your own book.
Whether you choose to publish Traditionally, or Self-Publish, completing a book is a great accomplishment. As to whether or not you’re making money from it, that’s up to you. So go ahead, finish that masterpiece; self-publish if that’s what you want to do, defy the stereotypes, and live your happily ever after.
Yecheilyah Ysrayl is the YA, Historical Fiction author of The Stella Trilogy. She is currently working on her next book series “The Nora White Story” about a young black woman writer who dreams of taking part in The Harlem Renaissance movement and her parents struggle to accept their traumatic past in the Jim Crow south. “Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One)” is due for release spring, 2017. For updates on this project, sneak peek of chapters and the pending book cover release for this project, be sure to follow this blog and to subscribe to Yecheilyah’s email list HERE.