Who You Callin’ Uncle Tom?


Black folks shouldn’t have their “black card” revoked just because they don’t share the opinions or conventional political views of the black community.


There is a troubling trend emerging in the black community relative to our freedom of speech and the right to dissent. I have been attacked and vilified, marginalized by some because I call for lower taxes and less government spending, and God forbid I try to talk about a strong national defense or disagree with President Obama’s handling of any particular issues. The smears come in a flood.

Just look on my recent Fox piece published on The Root or any other nasty vitriol coming, mostly, from black folks.


To be attacked or shunned for disagreeing (on occasion) with the black president, whom I voted for, campaigned for in Virginia (despite being a lifelong Republican) offends me deeply. I am proud of the Obamas, what they represent and what they’ve accomplished and no disagreement on policy will ever change that for me. And to have those policy disagreements escalate into racial name-calling is utterly ridiculous and a huge step backward.

While it is nothing new for black people to question each other’s loyalty to some idea of racial fealty, it seems to me to be more commonplace that we have come to see each other as “not black enough” or as “sellouts,” “Toms,” “House Negroes,” just because we disagree. And if those disagreements involve President Obama or his policies—then the scorn only intensifies. Then we become “Negroes gone rogue.” Some of us have come under attack for deviating, however slightly, from the Obama view of the world. Tavis Smiley, Bill Cosby, Michael Eric Dyson, Julianne Malveaux, Cornel West, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. (well he did go a bit too far with the “cut his nuts off” comment last year).

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.

Sophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to The Root.

Sophia A. Nelson is an award-winning journalist and author of the best-selling book The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Keys to Unlock Your Life. Follow her on Twitter.

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