Book Proposal: Uncle Tom & Social Norms: Improving Legal Interests and Affecting Public Policy
Brando Simeo Starkey
September 20, 2011
Racial solidarity, by marshalling support for certain goals, provides blacks a path toward legal gains. By itself, it surely is not enough. In concert with other tools, however, racial solidarity can be valuable. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1960s sit-in movements and Project Confrontation in Birmingham in 1963 are perfect examples. And even when it does not lead to substantive legal gains as was true with the anti-lynching movement, racial solidarity, in any event, provided blacks a starting point from which to resist their subordination. If racial solidarity is one in a set of various tools that helps blacks achieve legal goals, then social norms — the rules that regulate behavior in groups that are enforced through sanction — that encourage that solidarity are crucial.
My thesis is that the maintenance of constructive social norms to police racial loyalty, by helping forge solidarity, can aid blacks in promoting their legal interests and ability to affect public policy. This is observable by following the life of Uncle Tom, a common punishment for disregarding these norms. A person, in other words, is called an Uncle Tom when he or she violates a “racial loyalty norm,” signaling to the rest of the black community to conform or else. That is, the real power of Uncle Tom as a sanctioning device is the deterrent effect it has on the broader group. Shadowing Uncle Tom throughout black history helps us to understand where and how these norms were constructed, disseminated, applied, and enforced. From there, we can assess the propriety of these norms. The constructive norms help build racial solidarity by either penalizing individuals for consciously promoting the interests of the race’s enemies, for exhibiting inexcusable meekness in the face of racism or for lacking concern for the race. The destructive social norms discipline blacks for behaviors the race should permit. These destructive norms impede the cause of racial solidarity because they go too far in regulating behavior.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 7working papers series
Date posted: June 12, 2010 ; Last revised: December 31, 2011
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