What is an Uncle Tom?

February 13, 2019

A San Antonio City’s Airport Employee Reminds us of our Dark History During Black History Month


Once again, Black History month is upon us. As we celebrate the many accomplishments of African Americans, it is important that we reflect on where we’ve been to understand where we are.

I was recently at a meeting with executives for the San Antonio International Airport at the airport. The airport recently lost two of its carriers; Frontier Airlines and Air Canada, and we questioned the lack of outreach towards the African American community as a possibility of the failure of the airport to retain these carriers. Hey black people fly too right. The message we received was that there was no value in reaching out to African Americans. I found that messaging ironic considering they’d just lost two of their carriers without us. It was when a black employee told us she was offended that we could think she was racist just because she was black that it all made sense. From violating their own policy of responding to media within 24-48 hours, to their willful disregard of Martin Luther King Day, to no mention of Black History Month in any context, it all made sense.


It was at that point, with that question I was starkly reminded that although we’ve made significant ground as a people, we still have a long way to go. Some of the factors that kept the likes of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and others entrenched in slavery, are still at play today. Although slavery and racism in America is no longer necessarily an overt action, it’s been replaced by covert slavery and racism. The plantation has been replaced by the corporation. We still have our house negros, who although are treated better by “Massa” are still slaves, and we still have our field negros who are brutalized by said “Massa”. The aforementioned “house” negro looked to always gain the affection of “Massa”, even to the detriment of people in the same situation and worse who looked like them. They became unaffectionately known as Uncle Tom. We know this still occurs today. We should be leery of those who look like us and claim to be of us, yet still look for the acceptance of “Massa”. Instead, we should judge them based on what they do for us and with us. Instead of securing their place in Massa’s household, they would’ve been better served helping to secure their brethren’s place as equals in society. Today, we have African Americans who have attained success in corporate America, government, and within a myriad of professional fields. We should commend these individuals for their accomplishments, as it was not easy for them. At the same time, we should hold them accountable and to a higher standard. It is incumbent on them to assist those who have not reached the levels of success they have. Too often, they are the ones holding us back, similar to old Uncle Tom. Again, just because you look like me, doesn’t mean you are for me.



For historical context, let’s look at the aforementioned Denmark Vesey. Denmark Vesey (1767-1822) was a slave, who for 20 years sailed with his master, Captain Vesey, a planter and slave trader. In 1800, Denmark purchased his freedom, became a free man, and took up carpentry as a trade. As a carpenter and now a free man, Denmark prospered. For all intents and purposes, he had achieved the American dream- FREEDOM. This was not enough for Denmark. Although he was free physically and away from the shackles of slavery, his soul was still in anguish as millions of people who looked like him were still in bondage. He wanted his people to experience what he now had- FREEDOM. As a result, Denmark began organizing what would’ve been the largest slave uprising in American history. I would love to say that Denmark’s story had a happy ending, however as with most slave revolts, his was discovered. As a result Denmark and 35 of his co-liberators (history would call them co-conspirators) were captured, tried in court, and subsequently hung for their actions. A further consequence of the Denmark uprising was that stricter laws were enacted AGAINST African Americans. Denmark Vesey was betrayed by slaves that looked like him. The same people that Denmark felt the urgent need to liberate and improve their lives were the ones who ultimately led to his demise. The sick irony is that by turning on Denmark, the traitors own situation was made considerably worse.

Let us all remember our history. As we commend our accomplishments as a people, let’s not forget our mistakes. Racism is not race dependent. Racism is an idea, through practice and action that anyone can engage in, regardless of race. In this turbulent time of racial division, we should be leery of those who say they are with us only because they look like us. Instead, we should judge them on the merits of their actions and deeds, as they are true indicators of the heart rather than their empty rhetoric and meetings.

I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.

Harriet Tubman


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