Note: We continue to struggle with race in America, even after electing a black man to a second term as president. Reelection of an incumbent president is not a given, having occurred only 21 times in American history. Although my book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom's Porch, was first published in 2010, it is still timely and topical today. It's a personal testimony of my journey as a Christian American conservative who happens to be black. The article below is the first chapter of the book. If the topic and the chapter below stir your interest, please visit my book page and consider picking up a copy.
Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. ~ Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General
"A nation of cowards." Pretty harsh words coming from our newly confirmed attorney general, not yet one month removed from the inauguration of the first black president of the United States. Holder, himself a symbol of achievement as the first black to serve as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, was commemorating Black History Month by criticizing our inability, individually and collectively, to speak frankly on matters of race. Such a dialogue, he opined, is the only "way we can hasten the day when we truly become one America."
Mr. Holder took a lot of heat for his comments and I was one of those bringing the heat:
[I]f we are a nation of cowards, Mr. Holder, it's because the black community doesn't encourage honesty but rather demands fealty to one worldview. If you want to eradicate cowardice in the national discussion on race, how about starting with us?
My beef with him wasn't with the intent of his statement--I, too, welcome the day when we can be honest with each other about race without incurring each other's wrath. The problems we have with, and perceptions we have of, one another can't be addressed if we are guarded in our disclosures and refuse to show our hand.
No, my objection was and is to the likely outcome of any attempts to discuss race honestly, especially in the black community. Let's be blunt: The white community isn't going to talk about race in any form or fashion because they don't want to be labeled as racists. It's like inviting them to walk through a minefield. The chances of their getting to the other side unscathed are practically nil.
Black people who wish to have an honest dialogue about race in America aren't treated any better. Ask Bill Cosby what happens when he speaks frankly about race and class to his fellow black Americans. Talk to Shelby Steele, John McWhorter, Thomas Sowell, Joseph C. Phillips, Star Parker, Ken Blackwell, Roy and Niger Innis, LaShawn Barber, Justice Clarence Thomas or any other black person who has dared to be candid about his or her views on race in America.
Not only will the high priests and scribes of the black orthodoxy lay waste to our reputations and integrity, they will sanction sympathetic whites to do the same. Oh, and no epithet is off limits, even if it is racially charged. The white enablers of the black orthodoxy are almost giddy with glee as they practice their best racist statements against those black men and women who dare to offer an opinion on race that deviates from the politically correct rendition of the state of blacks in America today.
I know this firsthand because I am a "sellout"--a Sambo, a Stepin Fetchit, a house Negro, an Uncle Tom. I know it because I refuse to become one with the hive and I am protective of the individuality and independence bestowed upon me by the Creator.
Incidentally, those who use the phrase "Uncle Tom" as a slur have no concept whatsoever of the character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Tom was a noble Christian man who endured the hardships of enslavement with amazing grace. He refused an order from Simon Legree, his cruel white master, to whip a fellow slave and was savagely beaten by Legree as a result. He also heroically resisted Legree's attempts to break him of his faith in Christ.
Tom comforted the other slaves, encouraged two of them to escape and refused to divulge their whereabouts to Legree. Because of this, he was beaten to death by two black slaves, Sambo and Quimbo, who acted as Legree's overseers. Tom forgave his assailants even as he was dying and they were so humbled by his mercy that they became Christians too. So Stowe's main character is a man of great dignity and Christian faith.
Tom represented Stowe's deliberate attempt to dispel the popular minstrel show stereotypes of black men as ignorant, lazy and frolicsome buffoons. In fact, it was the minstrel shows that subsequently took the Uncle Tom character and twisted him into a happy-go-lucky, boot-licking apologist for his white masters.
It seems that neither the minstrels nor the audiences of Stowe's day were ready to accept the portrayal of a black man as better than a white man, no matter how evil the villain was. So in contempt for Tom's goodness, many of the minstrel shows disposed of Simon Legree altogether.
Nonetheless, I smile when I'm called an Uncle Tom because, in the character's original and intended incarnation, he is a Christ-like figure. My willingness to embrace what my adversaries think is an insult confounds them, which brings me even more pleasure.
The reason we are "a nation of cowards" when it comes to discussing race is because we don't permit honesty to enter into the dialogue. There is a prescribed narrative that is deemed acceptable and no deviations from that narrative are permitted without negative consequences.
Yet I am no coward. Anyone who reads my articles on the internet--or anyone who's read one of my letters to the editor of my local newspaper--can vouch for my fearlessness in discussing and debating issues of race or any topic related to politics, society and faith.
There's an old saying that goes "Never discuss religion or politics in polite company." Well, I broke that rule a long time ago and we may as well add race to the list because the response of "polite company" to that topic is likely to be equally charged as it would be to the first two.
So let's talk about race in America, but from the perspective of a proud Uncle Tom and sellout. You may not like or accept what I have to say, but I am certain of my right to say it because it's not a privilege to be granted or revoked by the black orthodoxy, their white enablers or anyone else. I was conceived in the image of God, "fearfully and wonderfully made." I am a free man in the Creator's universe with a view of the world that is uniquely mine and mine to express as I think best.
Jesus Christ says, "[Y]ou will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." I didn't fully grasp what that meant until after more than 50 years of living. The knowledge of the truth instills in a person clarity, confidence and serenity, allowing one to stand firm against the lies and attacks of the world without fear.
Courage is true freedom and I came to that place because of Jesus Christ. Only in Him, the Eternal Word and Truth Incarnate, am I free to be a contrarian black man.