“Uncle Tom”, the insult of the ignorant

I’d hazard a guess that better than 98% of people using the term “Uncle Tom” as a derogatory slur have no idea who Tom was.That’s too bad.

“Uncle Tom” is a term used exclusively by liberals –whom, if you were to ask them would consider themselves kind, compassionate, inclusive people who would never call a black person a racially-insensitive name– to describe black-Americans with whom they disagree politically.  They use the word as a slur intending it to be synonymous with “sellout”, i.e., a black who’d betray a fellow black. For this reason the use of the name of the fictional character at the heart of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin-Life Among the Lowly” could not possibly be more ill-placed.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a book not unlike the bible in the sense that every time you read it you discover things you hadn’t before.  It’s one of the world’s most brilliant pieces of literary work.  Friend, if you’ve never read it or if you haven’t since it was required reading back when you were in school x number of years ago – I can’t recommend you get a copy and do so highly enough. Its available on Amazon and other locations.

Originally released in 1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been re-published many times.  As much as any single event it can be pointed to as the catalyst for the American Civil War.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the first American novel to sell over a millions copies.  In a nation divided on the issue of slavery it called attention to the issues involved in a  way that few then let alone now had considered.  When President Lincoln met the author he said, “So this is the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war.”  The book is now a over a century & a half old and will still chill the bones of its reader and solicit tears.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is neither a fast nor easy read.  That’s a good thing.  Its written in language contemporary for its day.  Since we no longer speak, hear or read in such language it requires the reader to slow down & concentrate.  At 430+ pages its long’ish and its characters complex.  If you acquire a copy be sure to get one with “[Author’s] Concluding Remarks” as its final chapter.

The book will force you to consider things you no doubt never have. Do you have children?  Imagine for a moment that you and your mate have a child.  You raise him or her to the age of 8 or 9 and then one day s/he is taken from you.  Master sells her to a slave trader who places her onto a boat destined for market, the largest & most boisterous of which being in New Orleans, where she is sold.  Gone.  Forever.  You will never know what became of her – sold into hard labor & daily beaten, stricken with disease at an early age, landed under the heavy hand of a brutal owner?  No idea and you will go to your grave with none.  This happens time & again. You have 4, 6, 9 children. ALL of them meet the same fate.

These are things few have ever considered & understandably so, why would we?  Uncle Tom’s Cabin will bring you face-to-face with these realities of life in America once upon a time.  The emotion of ties that bind us, spouse-to-spouse, parent-to-child, peer-to-peer all come under examination in a brilliantly crafted novel.

But as for the term we are examining – “Uncle Tom.”

Tom was an amazing human being and  most incredible example of a Christian one can imagine. Not some lumbering dolt, Tom was very smart, industrious and supremely trust worthy.

The first mention of Tom in the book is made in chapter one when his owner is explaining to a trader who’d like to buy/sell him. Mr. Shelby explains to the trader (a particularly unpleasant fellow), “Tom’s got the real article if ever a fellow had it. Why, last fall I let him go to Cincinnati alone to do business for me, and bring home five hundred dollars. ‘Tom,’ says I to him, ‘I trust you because I think you’re a Christian-I know you wouldn’t cheat.’ Tom comes back, sure enough; i knew he would. Some low fellows, they say, said to him-‘Tom, why don’t you make tracks for Canada?’ ‘Ah, master trusted me, and I couldn’t.” 

Tom was entrusted the travel to another state(!) and conduct business affairs on behalf of his plantation owner.

In chapter 8 of the book Tom saves the life of Eva, a young child, is bought by her father & the two become fast friends. (Artist’s illustration above.)  Unlike most slaves Tom could read and in a very limited capacity write also.  Tom & Eva spend many days and hours studying and reading the bible together, as depicted above.

Time and again Tom demonstrates his wisdom, character and devotion to Godliness.  But was Tom a “sellout”?  No. In fact he was the exact opposite.  Those who use the term “Uncle Tom” to denigrate a black person as being a sellout are placing onto full display the fact they’ve never read the book & have no earthly idea what they’re talking about. The last thing Tom would do was to betray his fellow slaves.

Despite Mr. Shelby’s best intent Tom does end up sold into hard labor onto a cotton plantation.  In chapter 35 of the book Tom & fellow hands are working the fields picking the year’s cotton harvest.  Each slave has a minimum weight requirement for the amount they are to pick each day.  Failure to meet that weight resulted in a fierce whipping at the hands of their overseers, Quimbo and Sambo, whom were black slaves themselves.  Any slave who helped another (make weight) was cheating and also worthy of a beating.

One somewhat feeble older female slave consistently had difficulty keeping up so, at great risk to himself, Tom would remove cotton from his basket & place it into hers to assure she’s make weight every day.  If Tom were found out he would surely be beaten. He was. He was found out and beaten for his act of charity toward his fellow slave. Does that sound like a sellout?

*SPOILER ALERT* – this is how the book ends.

In the final chapters of the book Tom is owned by Legree (depicted above.) A particularly brutal man who purchases & views his slaves as not only less than human, less than bovine. If you’re averse to the word “nigger” you may want to purchase a more properly abridged edition of the book. Legree takes sick pride in the fact that he buys his niggers, works them hard & if they fall sick or injured get rid of them and replace with others. He boasts of how his fist is hardened like a hammer from “knock’n niggers down” and invites others to examine his club-like appendage.

A pair of slaves plot to escape Legree’s plantation & execute their plan with great efficiency. Tom knows of the scheme.  Legree knows Tom knows.  Once the pair is gone Legree informs Tom he will beat him to death to get the information out of him.  Which Tom allows. Rather than give up the hiding place of his fellow slaves Tom allows himself to be killed in the most brutal of fashions at the hands of Legree, Sambo and Quimbo. And with his dying breaths he prays to the Lord for the forgiveness of his tormentors.

Yet to the ignorant Uncle Tom is a “sellout.”  Were they not so (ignorant) they’d at least have the knowledge to call me/us “Quimbo” or “Sambo”, the true sellouts of the novel, but the haters attempting to cast an insult don’t know who Sambo or Quimbo are because they’ve never picked up the book.  They literally have no idea that calling someone an “Uncle Tom” is the polar opposite of calling him or her a sellout.

Be ye not as ignorant as they, patriot. If you’ve never read it, you should.  It’s a piece of American history that as much as any other played a critical role in the deaths of over 600,000.  As for me, I’m proud to be compared to Uncle Tom, one of the greatest characters in American literature.  It’s a compliment of the highest order. Unfortunately, those using the term intending it as an insult haven’t the slightest clue.

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