07/30/2007 02:53 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Redefinition of Uncle Tom

The history of black folks in America is a simple tale. We have been on the losing end of a severe ass-kicking for multiple centuries. With a few exceptions, most noticeably the Civil Rights Movement, we have never been able to get our act together and produce a unified front to turn the tide of racism. At select times in our history we have been mobilized by outspoken leaders like Nat Turner, MLK and Malcolm X but curiously whenever we start making some progress someone ends up assassinated.

Aside from Malcolm X versus MLK, the most significant debate between black leaders regarding the path of the race occurred just over 100 years ago between Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois. Washington, an ex-slave from Virginia who authored Up From Slavery believed blacks should not concern themselves with racial politics. Instead we would focus on learning trade skills that would make us indispensable to American industry. Our value to the economy would earn us equality. Despite his popularity among whites he was often labeled an Uncle Tom by his own people.

DuBois was Washington's foil. He was a northern scholar, one of the most accomplished social scientists in American history and he also founded the NAACP. Even though that organization doesn't do much these days, once upon a time it was the driving force that led to overturning Brown versus Board of Education and the ratification of the 24th Amendment. DuBois believed, the mind, not the body would set black people free.

Washington's work was eventually undone because he underestimated white folks' commitment to racism. At it's core, racism utilizes public opinion and the law to do two powerful things: deny access to equal education and condone discrimination in the workplace. Throw some guns, courtesy of the second amendment, and drugs into our communities and it's a chicken Caesar wrap. Like Diddy rapped back in the day when he was Puff Daddy, "We ain't goin' nowhere..." By no fault of our own, this stands as the standard experience for the majority of black Americans.

I know my white homies don't want to hear it but, for this, you are to blame. Admit it. Accept it. Let's move on. I love to utilize proverbs we all recognize to be true and in this case, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In that vein, as black folks go, so goes our country. Americans still have the opportunity to form like Voltron and make this joint a better country but that will never happen until white folks eat some crow. That's what your boy Bobby Kennedy, AKA the Great White Hope, BKA the White Shadow, wanted; which is why he too was assassinated. 

Owning up to a history that's a minimum 9 million caskets worse than the Holocaust does not mean black folks don't have our own house cleaning to do as well. To take it back to DuBois, his most noted essay, "The Talented Tenth" theorized that the top 10 percent of the black population would snatch up some education, return to the 'hood and the farms and help our people overcome the mess that was started by slavery and furthered by Reconstruction. Unfortunately, like Washington's plan, DuBois' was also undone, except in this case we did it to ourselves. Rugged individualism not racism is to blame.

In 1995 Mobb Deep dropped The Infamous. It's one of my favorite rap albums. More important than the beats, bangers from start to finish, the lyrics are an unabashed testimony of the mentality of black men who come up in dire straits. On "Survival of the Fittest" Havoc raps, "No matter how much loot I get I'm stayin' in the projects... forever." Guess what, even those hard rocks relocated to Long Island once they banked a little cash. I'm not suggesting that we mass exodus to the PJs and plant flowers but I do believe those of us who have expertise in something... anything, need to bring it back to our own people.

The main problem with black folks in America isn't hip hop, BET, I Love New York, drug dealers or gang bangers, it's our detached Talented Tenth. Among us are a small community of white-collar professionals, entertainers and athletes including notable Uncle Toms like Clarence Thomas and Condoleza Rice who consistently try their damnedest to create public policy that screws over their own people. According to the most recent census there are 36 million black folks in America. Assuming DuBois was roughly on the money that's 3.6 million people who's job should be to touch, in a positive way, nine other black folks before the day we die.

I'm one of the lucky ones who got the shot to go to college and I try to do my part to help our kids but usually when I look around, I'm surrounded by white women. Unfortunately most of my talented compatriots don't see it that way. More often than not their attitude toward their own race stinks of selfishness. It's fueled by the attitude that they made their own magic happen against overwhelming odds and every other black person should do the same. I recognize that we need soldiers on different fronts. Furthermore, I respect the spirit and intelligence of my people who have completed the arduous journey to become doctors, investment bankers or even a supreme court justice. After all, if you earned one of those gigs you put in major work and dealt with repeated affronts to your manhood in the process. However, suffering indignities to get your slice of the pie does not validate turning your back on your own people. If you've done so it means despite your intelligence and hard work you're lacking commonsense and dignity. That makes you worse than the ignorant people you're so desperately trying to separate yourself from in the first place.

I was raised to believe that every person in my village is responsible for every other person in my village. It's the same mentality that made the Montgomery Bus Boycott effective. If you've slave traded that ideal for American individualism you've sold out the nine black folks who need your help. You've also passed the buck to people like me. You may think that's a respectable trade but from where I'm standing, surrounded by 18 people in need of assistance, you're looking like an Uncle Tom.

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