Another look at 'Uncle Tom' - beyond today's distorted perception

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Of late, I have been the target of attacks by other blacks simply for upbraiding black members of the Richmond County legislative delegation, who I felt wrongfully accused Dave Barbee, then a white member of the Augusta Housing Authority, of playing race politics.

I touched on that big elephant in our own living room that we refuse to talk about - black racism.

Yes, I said black racism.

EVER SINCE MY guest column "Distractions and misunderstandings stunt community's growth" appeared in the Sept. 9 issue of The Augusta Chronicle, my loyalty to my race has been brought into question. I must admit, it is no surprise to me. Charles "Champ" Walker, a local radio talk show host and son of former state Sen. Charles Walker, says almost daily on his broadcast that I have disrespected the black community, and have earned the title of "the most dangerous black man in Augusta." He calls on me to explain to black people why I have changed from the politics I once practiced, especially during the 1960s and '70s, to today's politics of accommodation.

To be honest, I cannot say what happened. All I know is that one day I woke up and said to myself that this just does not make sense. How can we help solve the race problem when we ourselves are playing the race card and will not admit it?

Just as Harriet Beecher Stowe in her famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, had the difficult task of showing the inconsistencies of practicing Christianity and owning slaves, I, too, have taken on the task of trying to show the inconsistencies in our own Christian practices. We claim to be the most forgiving of all people. However, it is getting harder and harder to find a forgiving heart among us when the perpetrator is white. Even men of the cloth, who are supposed to be examples of this virtue, find themselves caught up in the frenzy of getting even.

My column was about fairness and forgiveness, not about race per se. I was pointing out that the very thing we pride ourselves in doing - forgiving - was slipping past us just to get the opportunity to get even. There is no greater virtue than that of forgiveness. And this is required of the victim.

My willingness to accept Dave Barbee's explanation concerning the e-mail he wrote to the Boardmans got me a membership in one of the most dreaded clubs in the black community - the "Uncle Tom" club. However, that does not bother me now. Like the Rev. Martin Luther King, I have been to the mountaintop. And I am trying to bring others there, too, so that they can see the whole picture, so to speak. Right now, many of my brothers and sisters have only a limited view living in the past.

"Uncle Tom" name-calling has gotten a lot of attention. This phenomena happens when blacks side with whites on an issue or issues that blacks feel they should not. Stowe portrays a Negro named Tom as a loyal servant to his master who put his master's wishes ahead of his own. In other words, he lives his Christian faith through his works, and it had nothing to do with the treatment he received from his masters. He never came down to their level.

OVER THE YEARS, the character "Uncle Tom" - as he appears and how she wanted him to be seen in the context in which he lived - has all but disappeared from the pages of this great novel. Some now see Tom as a pitiful person who is weak as a man, ready and willing to side with his white "master" just to get along - and sometimes to get ahead at the expense of his black brethren.

Truth be told, Tom was a man of principle. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, he saved the life not only of a little white girl but also the lives of two black women who had run away from their master, Simon Legree. Rather than lie about their escape, Tom - after receiving lashings from Legree and a flogging from Sambo, another slave - says, "Mas'r, if you was sick, or in trouble or dying and I could save ye, I'd give ye my heart's blood; and if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I'd give'em freely, as the Lord gave His for me. O Mas'r! Do not bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more that 'twill me! Do the worst you can, my troubles'll be over soon; but if ye don't repent, yours won't never end."

Tom died being an "Uncle Tom." He did not complain. He did not lift a hand. He did not rebel or run away. He was cursed and slapped. All of this after being a loyal, trustworthy, hardworking, contented slave. In spite of this, he kept his integrity. This is key. He was loyal, not only to his master, but to his Master, the Lord. Tom epitomized what is preached in sermons each and every Sunday: to love our enemies, whether they are black or white; to bless them that curse us; to do good to them that hate us; and to pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us.

Since Uncle Tom's Cabin, Tom has been portrayed in caricatures that are very different from what Stowe had in mind. In movies, Toms are portrayed as happy, passive servants. Sidney Poitier, a black leading actor, seemed to have had roles that were sacrificial and submissive. In advertising for products such as Cream of Wheat, Uncle Remus Syrup and Aunt Jemima Grits, blacks are shown in a disparaging way. Sadly, we have bought into these images, which have very little to do with the virtues of the original "Uncle Tom."

YES, CHAMP and others may be asking who I am. I am an "Uncle Tom" - an original one. I love people, black and white, even those who despitefully use me. How else can I claim the Christian doctrine? It is one of not an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but rather one of forgiveness. That is what I am about.

The writer is a retired labor relations manager from Bechtel Savannah River Inc.

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par 3
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par 3 12/03/07 - 05:40 pm
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I really enjoyed this column.

I really enjoyed this column. It was excellently written.

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