Who You Callin’ Uncle Tom?

Just because I disagree with the conventional black political thinking does not make me a sellout. And I’m not any less black than you.

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The argument over how black folks with differing political viewpoints ought to deal with each other stretches back to the beginning of the last century with the “conservative” Booker T. Washington and has continued through Clarence Thomas, both of whom were derided for being sellouts and Uncle Toms.

It continues today when former District of Columbia Councilman Kevin Chavous runs TV ads saying he supports President Obama, but disagrees with his position on D.C. school vouchers, which were helping 1,500 poor kids get a quality education. It continues when Fox News commentator Juan Williams, who wrote the award-winning, Eyes on the Prize as well as the biography of Thurgood Marshall, is told on national TV by radio personality Warren Ballentine to “get back on the porch” because Williams was discussing the NFL. And then there was the Rush Limbaugh controversy where Williams said he thought Rush should have the right to own a football team, despite his conservative and sometimes incendiary comments.

In the final analysis, it is because of those who dissented from the status quo that black people have advanced as much as we have since we arrived here as slaves in the 1600s. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X had differing perspectives on how to move our community forward—nonviolent disobedience versus armed uprising—but both men wanted to see justice done.

My point is this: We need to stop the name-calling and put-downs. We need to listen to each other instead of tearing each other down. We can disagree without vilifying or attacking people.

We need to return to an age of civility and respect, and we need to encourage the voices of dissent among us. We can’t keep tearing them down.