Monday, July 07, 2008

I Wanna Be An "Uncle Tom"

The epithet "Uncle Tom" is usually used to describe a (black) race traitor, somebody who kowtows to the "massas". It is supposedly a reference to a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. After Professor Bob noted that plenty of people know about Uncle Tom's Cabin but have never read it, it occurred to me that all I knew about it I had either learned in history class or from watching "The King And I," so I decided to read it.

If you've used this epithet, have you actually read Uncle Tom's Cabin? Because Uncle Tom is decidedly not a lickspittle. Yes, at the beginning of the book he goes along with his master's decision to sell him down the river, but it's pretty clearly a choice for him to do so, since he is repeatedly urged to run away and he gives his reasons why he decides not to. Uncle Tom is in fact a principled Christian who stands up to evil even when it means he will come to harm. If you want a character in this book who's willing to sell out his race for his own benefit, you'll have to look at Sambo or Quimbo.

Frankly, I find Uncle Tom quite worthy of emulation.