In Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 movie Django Unchained, there is a scene where Stephen, a loyal House slave belonging to plantation owner Calvin Candie comes into contact with a fellow black man named Django. When his master introduces Django, Stephen objects to his master’s hospitality towards the visitor saying, “Calvin, just who the hell is this nigger you feel the need to entertain.” From the moment Django steps into Calvin’s house, Stephen, who is very protective of his master closely monitors him. Eventually, Calvin is killed and upon seeing the dead body of his master, Stephen wails. Even though Stephen (played by Samuel L Jackson) is a fictional character, he is an archetypal Uncle Tom.
Uncle Tom is a term used within the black community to describe a traitor (male and female) who is willing to throw the black race under the bus in order to win approval from the white race. Uncle Toms are sometimes called Aunty Jemima, Coconuts, Oreo, Handkerchief heads, Uppity Negroes, House Negro and House niggers. They come in different shapes and sizes but very often, they tend to be fairly comfortable relative to the black masses. A number of them are lawyers, doctors, accountants, IT consultants and bankers who live in affluent white neighbourhoods. Their proximity to white people makes them emulate and envy the white’s lifestyle. It also keeps them disconnected from the sufferings of the black populace.
Uncle Tom was initially a fictional character in American abolitionist, Harriet Beecher Stowe iconic novel titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The term was later used to describe subservient black people. According to Dr. Malik Shabazz, an Emeritus Professor at Malcolm X University in Harlem, “To understand the mentality of Uncle Toms, you have to go back in time to the slave plantation in Virginia.” He says, “There were two kinds of slaves namely the House Negro who lived in the house with the slave master and the field Negro who lived in a shack. Unlike the House Negro who loved his master and ate the crumbs that fell from his table, the field Negro hated his master because he was treated like an animal.” During the plantation era, Uncle Toms wore handkerchiefs over their heads and wore bowler hats in the Jim Crow era. Today’s House Negroes wear suits, shirts or pencil skirts and sometimes have a stethoscope, tie or bib collarette around their necks. Traitors in the black community differ from traitors from other races. As Marcus Garvey, the black activist put it, unlike other races where the traitors are confined to the irresponsible individual, the traitors among the black race are generally found among the educated and influential.
Margaret Keys, a New York based psychologist successfully analysed the modern day Uncle Toms in her bestselling book — Inside the Mind of A 21st Century Uncle Tom. In an interview with Alatenumo Times, she said, “The present-day Uncle Tom is a complex character who suffers from a deeply seated inferiority complex.” House Negroes exhibit a lack of faith in their blackness and they see whiteness as the highest form of human existence. “To overcompensate for their inadequacies, they develop an excessive hatred towards people of their own race. We see this exhibited in their support for policies detrimental to people of colour,” she says.
Many House Negroes are plagued with Stockholm Syndrome, a condition that causes them to develop a psychological admiration with their oppressors. Jumoke Adesanya who suffers from the disease says, “Even though I have seen my brother discriminated at work because of his race, seen my cousin killed by a trigger-happy white cop and seen my husband racially profiled, I still maintain a positive attitude towards the white power structure.” Aaron Blake, a psychiatrist at Haddington Laboratories says, “As Uncle Toms engage regularly with their white oppressors, they develop an unhealthy emotional tie with their oppressors.” According to research conducted by the Anti-House Negro League, roughly 60 percent of Uncle Toms show evidence of Stockholm Syndrome.
The Making of an Uncle Tom
House Negroes are made and not born. They usually reside in Western countries where whiteness is the dominant culture. They are exposed to whiteness from an early age coming into contact with white toys like the popular Barbie Doll before they can even walk. At school, they are taught history from a biased white perspective. As they move up the social ladder, they become more alienated from the black experience. The Institute of Chartered House Negroes (ICHN), a Toronto based organisation was set up five years ago with the aim of making House Negroes more professional. The ICHN awards the prestigious CHN designation to House Negroes who are able to pass the gruesome six-hour paper exam and two-hour oral interview. “We expect our members to worship at the altar of whiteness, be immune from the collective plight of the black race. We also expect them to be ashamed of their racial identity and see upward mobility in white spaces as their ultimate purpose in life”, says Tinashe Muzenda, the President of ICHN. Every year, hundreds of prominent House Negroes from around the world converge at Madison Square Garden for the House Negro of the Year Award Ceremony where the winner takes home 30 pieces of silver.
House Negroes can be identified by their creeds and deeds. “Even if I am blind-folded I will still be able to spot a House Negro; all he needs to do is open his mouth,” says Culture Fanon, a racial equality campaigner. A prominent feature of Uncle Toms is their disregard for the black masses. Having maintained a so-called middle-class status in the West, House Negroes have little patience with those left behind in the rat race. Their hatred towards poor blacks makes it difficult to empathise or identify with black struggles. House Negroes are often strong advocates of neoliberalism and they attribute black suffering to laziness and this partly explains their condescending attitude towards the black precariat.
Uncle Toms often act as mouthpieces for white supremacy. “Despite their black skin, house Negroes are strong defenders of White pride, White supremacy, and White privilege,” says, an unemployed graduate who asked not to be named. When white supremacy occurs at the expense of blacks, these Uppity Negroes pitch their tent with the oppressive white system. On some occasions, they use the language of the white power structure and at other times, they use false equivalents to justify the racial status quo. David Odinga, the author of How To Betray Your Race, says, “When the black underclass say Black Lives Matter, the House Negro says White Lives also Matter; when black activists demand reparation, the House Negro says it all happened in the past; when black workers talk about discrimination in the workplace, the House Negro says, stop playing the race card. They even justify colonialism on the grounds that it brought development to the colonies and frown at the renaming of monuments previously named after white supremacist.”
The 21st century House Negro also suffers from an identity crisis. Although they are black on the outside, they are white on the inside. “I don’t see myself as black,” says Tom T Thompson, a barrister who describes himself as a Black Anglo Saxon. “Whenever Serena Williams plays against Maria Sharapova, I support Sharapova because she is white, beautiful, blonde, and blue-eyed.” Some Uncle Toms are now undergoing White Brain Transplants and Brain Whitening treatments. According to Richard Hall, an Atlanta based brain surgeon, “White brain transplant is a $1m medical procedure in which a black person’s brain is completely removed and replaced with a white donor’s brain. In the case of the much cheaper brain whitening, the Negro retains half of her brain, which is then sprayed with white paint. The result is the same — the patient thinks white.”
The identity crisis also affects the way House Negroes speak. When talking about white people, the House Negro speaks in the first person plural, but when talking about blacks, he speaks in the second person. “A couple of days ago, I went to Wembley Stadium with a friend to watch a football match between Ghana and England,” says Kofi Asamoah, Chairman of the London branch of the Black Stars Supporters Club “After England defeated Ghana, this Ghanaian Uncle Tom was so happy and said to me, ‘see we thrashed your team’ even though we were both born and raised in Ghana.”
Like Stephen in the Django movie, today’s House Negroes use white acceptance to validate their manhood. Many believe that getting close to white people would make them more like whites. “The House Negro is obsessed with living in white neighbourhoods, sending their children to white populated schools, hanging out with white friends and jumping in the white man’s bed,” says Abdul Ibrahim, a research fellow at Ebony Roundtable, a Nairobi based think tank.
They also engage in cultural genocide by discarding their own culture. A House Negro has no shame in appropriating the dominant white culture if it would grant him the opportunity to eat the crumbs that fall from Massa’s table. “Shortly after I began my career, I realised that in order to increase my cultural capital I had to kill my African culture and embrace the much superior white culture,” says Jack Whitlock, a private banker, “I changed my name to make it more pronounceable, then I went for wine tasting classes and began watching tennis at Wimbledon even though I hated and still hate all these activities.”
The political class in the West is beginning to take note of the important role House Negroes play in the black community. Even though Uncle Toms are looked at with suspicion and disdain by the black underclass, they make effective pawns for politicians. They help in keeping the black field Negroes in the “dog house” by telling them how to conduct themselves and scolding them when they deviate from acceptable white behaviour. Uncle Toms also make politicians feel good about racial progress. Politicians can point to these token House Negroes and argue that if they can make it, what is stopping the black masses from fulfilling their potential. The Uppity Negro also acts as pacifiers by discouraging black militancy.
House Negroes can help white politicians get elected to office, even if their policies negatively affect blacks. According to Ajibade Cole, the House Negro in Charge of the Theresa May Plantation, the black vote is critical. ”Since blacks are very religious, we update our database with names of Pastors and Imams who might be interested in hosting the Prime Minister during election time,” he says, “It is a win-win relationship — the Pastors and Imams get to brag that they have access to the Prime Minister while we get an opportunity to capture some black votes.” However, some Pastors in a number of black majority churches are pushing back. “When I got the letter from the Prime Minister, I refused to let her into the church. Her policies on immigration, spending cuts and criminal justice have destroyed my people. I am not her House Negro,” says Pastor Solomon, the Senior Minister at Christ Temple Tabernacle Mission.
Some people have been wrongly labeled Uncle Toms because they are successful or intelligent. “A distinction needs to be made between people who are successful and those who are traitors to their race,” says Winston Simpson, a Professor of Black Studies at Dudu University. However, House Negroes like Rachel Sonko, a Wall Street trader remain unapologetic. “If being a House Negro means having no compassion for poor blacks, siding with whites, discouraging black people from demanding racial justice, selling my race for 30 pieces of silver, then I will proudly wear the House Negro t-shirt.”
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA