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Category Archives: race

Can Blacks “claim” the Confederate Flag like we “claimed” the N-word?

A South Carolina college student has caused a stir by displaying the Confederate Flag in his dorm room.  The student, who is Black, acknowledged that its “kind of weird” because he is Black, but according to the article, he feels the meaning of the flag has been hijacked.

“I’ve been getting a lot of support from people,” Byron Thomas says.  “My generation is interested in freedom of speech.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen such.  Some years back, there was an attempt to use the flag on some hip hop inspired gear.  To my knowledge, the fad didn’t catch on.

But while many other people are freaking out about Thomas’ display of the flag, I had a different reaction.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the difference is between staking a claim on the confederate flag and doing the same to the N-word.

Now, for those of you who are not fans of the word “nigger” (or “nigga,” “nig,” “ninja,” or whatever variant you may have heard), this isn’t for you, as you will say both are hateful, devisive, and have no place in today’s society.  But then there are those of you who, like me, know the history of the word, yet admit to using it in jest among friends on occasion.  I’ve heard people say that we have taken the hateful word and claimed it to take away its negative power and energy.  Or maybe it’s that it’s fun to use and we just don’t care about its origin.  Regardless, it gets used.

But my point is this:  can those of us comfortable with the n-word be mad if today’s generation wants to do the same to the rebel flag?  My first inclination is to continue to treat them differently, but upon reflection, I realize it’s a hypocritical stance.  They both have similar histories.  It’s just that they hit in different ways–one hits the brain visually, the other audibly.  In the end, who am I to say that they are crazy for attempting to change the the status quo regarding one of the most divisive symbols in history.

Not everyone will agree.  But I guess all I can say is, more power to ya, Byron.

Let’s Talk About “Uncle Tom”

In a recent documentary on Michigan’s “Fab Five,” Jalen Rose charges that Duke only recruited black players that were “Uncle Toms.”  Of course this has raised a ruckus all over.  But this is nothing new.  The term “Uncle Tom” has been used by Blacks against Blacks for years.  Often interchangeable with that other favorite term, “sell out,” it’s used to describe someone who, in essence, acts white in the eyes of the person who is throwing out the term.  Of course, if you’re Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, you are called Uncle Tom, sell out, AND depicted on the cover of a black-oriented magazine as a lawn jockey, but I digress.

The Original Uncle Tom was from Harriett Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe, who was anti-slavery, used her novel as an eye-poke to the pro-slavery folks of the day. But many blacks in the day (and after) weren’t happy with the fact that Uncle Tom was a very subservient, “God will save me” character instead of one who fought back against his situation. Fast forward some years. As blacks continued to fight for rights and fight to be treated equally, some managed to do well and begin to assimilate to what at the time were lifestyle activities more akin to whites in the US. Those who went too far were prone to catch the “Uncle Tom” nickname.

So, back to Mr. Rose. He looks at his own background, which wasn’t so easy. He looks at the black players at Duke, including Grant Hill, who many people know came from a 2 parent household, with a former NFL player for a dad and a highly educated mom. And instead of saying “well, we’re just different,” he plays the UT card.

Now, to paraphrase (and agree with) what my friend Hashim Uqdah tweeted just this morning, I doubt he had even read the book to know where the term came from. Then again, MOST folks who say it probably didn’t read the book. They heard it and decided its nice and handy to use. But ultimately, it comes down to one thing: the person using the term has decided that the target of the slur isn’t black enough.

When I heard about Rose and his quote, I wasn’t thinking this, but then that jumped into my head and I realized it was true.  Somewhere, there is a “Black Handbook” that lists all the things a black person should say, do, like, eat, drink, and even think. Violators are treated harshly (look up the movie “DROP Squad”). Now, I’m not condoning those decide to completely forget their life, history, and heritage (example: OJ Simpson seems to be in that category, and made a triumphant return to being black around the time he went on trial for murder). But for the majority, simply doing the activities mentioned earlier was enough. As things have changed in the 2000s, and we see more and more starting to “make it,” the Uncle Tom moniker tends to be focused more on politics. Black and conservative? Yep, Uncle Tom. Disagree with affirmative action? Oh, yeah, UT. And don’t be a Tea Party member!

Bottom line is, it is a true shame that within the black community, we often end up tearing down others who may not fit a certain mold instead of simply saying “to each their own.”  One wonders if we will ever get to that point.