Jim Crow and Uncle Tom: Law and Racism’s Impact on Black Culture
Brando Simeo Starkey
June 28, 2010
Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review, Forthcoming
Uncle Tom has grown into the most injurious pejorative that blacks can hurl at one another. That it occupies such a “lofty” status is due to law and racism. Racial marginalization, that is, affects intra-racial interactions in the black community and investigating the use of Uncle Tom in the context of segregation underscores this argument. Blacks hurling Uncle Tom at one another is a consequence of the need to police black conduct at a time when the race needed to act concertedly to remove barriers to equality. Before the Civil Rights Movement, the most pronounced sign of blacks’ second-class citizenship was segregation. Many blacks, in response, realized the need to unify to repel the onslaught of Jim Crow. Some blacks, however, might either retreat from the daunting struggle or be co-opted by the majority and become double agents, hindering the race’s ability to fight American apartheid. To prevent potential turncoats, blacks needed to enforce loyalty. Many sketched the contours of acceptable behavior; that blacks must both resist their subordination and refuse enlisting for the opposition. Deserters would be denounced with the most opprobrious epithet of which blacks could conceive: Uncle Tom. This Article argues that law and racism frequently steers and directs black culture and that it does can be observed through the community’s use of Uncle Tom in the context of segregation.
Date posted: June 29, 2010 ; Last revised: March 19, 2014
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