Location: United Kingdom

A Naija Guy living (and loving) in the UK.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sticks and Stones can break my bones…

I’ve been having friction at work with our team administrator for the last couple of months. Her job exists solely to service the administrative needs of my team ie typing, minute taking, filing, franking mail etc. She seems to get on well enough with my oyibo colleagues, but seems to save her bile specially for me. The embarrasing thing for me is that we are two of only three black people in an organisation of almost 70 people. She is of Jamaican heritage and I Nigerian. Yesterday the problems came to a head where after a team meeting she implied that I was adopting an 'Uncle Tom' attitude in order to advance in the company. I choose to walk away rather than let her see how much her comments had riled me.

Originally the central character that featured in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', the label has become one all progressive black men have come to fear. It is one that is thrown out to discredit, ridicule and depict men of African origin in a negative light. It implies that the individual is servile and has feelings of inferiority to Caucasians. It has often been used by black men who have ideological differences as to how to approach the civil rights movement/ advancement of the race (dependent on which side of the Atlantic you are). Malcolm X followers looked at the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King and labelled him an Uncle Tom. Malcolm's infamous "House and Field Negro" speech has retrospectively been used to refer to MLK's non violent approach (Even though he never refered to MLK in the speech).

Marcus Garvey used the term for the lighter skinned WEB Dubois due to their differences in approach for uniting people of African Ancestry in USA in the 1920s. Closer to home Frank Bruno cried in the ring when he beat Oliver McCall to win the heavyweight championship belt, while he repeated into his gloves, tears streaming down his eyes 'I'm not an Uncle Tom, I'm not an Uncle Tom'. He was reacting to Lennox Lewis's taunts due to his public persona of being the smiling black face, the jester to entertain the 'whites'.

In recent times the label has been bandied about very liberally once a black man engages in activities not considered 'black' such as skiing and listening to any music that isn't Hip-Hop or African (Whats wrong with liking music by Sting or Green day?). Black teenagers have also blamed a fear of being labelled as a reason for underacheivement in schools and even in more extremely surreal instances have complained that they were scared of eating with a knife and fork in the school canteen as it would be 'white' or 'Gay'. Clarence Thomas, OJ Simpson, Celebrities that have been tagged are aplenty. The worry is that the more widespread and liberally used the term is, the more likely it is to slide down the slippery slope towards insignificance. When a brother is truely deserving (why the hell would a black man stand as a candidate for UKIP? They want to send us all back to Africa! I was born here!!) similar to the child who cried wolf it might just be ignored.

In its original sense it has the power of evoking images of Aunt Jemima and yelps of 'Yes Massar', individuals who believe they are inferior and white race need to be respected and feared. This is the Uncle Tom that exists in the midst of us, his/her existence threatens the progress that the rest of us seek to acheive as he may be trumped up by the far right as the way a minority should be. This person is not me, I'm taking my four acres and a mule but I'm not going back to Africa with it, you all will need to put up with me a while longer. But since I've just spent the last hour exorcising this from my spirit perhaps words can harm me afterall.


Blogger Busola said...

Yeah, that would probably get to me too. It's amazing, you'd think your team admin woman would realise that there ought to be a need for solidarity amongst the only 3 black people in a firm right? Apparrently this is quite common though. Have a friend who went to secondary school in England, and she suffered racial abuse form other black people telling her to guess what.......(yep you guessed it!) go back to Africa!!!. Cause for disbelief and 'wonderment' in my book.

3:40 pm, May 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why can't we all just get along!!

7:22 pm, May 23, 2006  
Blogger Onada said...

i know belle. what is wrong with people!

8:37 pm, May 23, 2006  
Blogger Morountodun said...

Yep, Busola I agree with you, its saddening at how minorities instead of supporting each other (or should I be saying one another?) they squabble. The Damilola Taylor case was about West Indians Vs the new African boy on the block. Also state side they have the Hispanics Vs Blacks thing going on. Lets stick together guys. Come on sing: Solidarity Forever!

10:53 pm, May 23, 2006  
Blogger wolefash said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:20 pm, May 23, 2006  
Blogger wolefash said...

hey, thanks for educating guys like me. hearing of Uncle Tom for the first time and he seems an interesting guy. Has got his own issues to deal wt if we dig deep, am sure. anyhow, keep fighting. u have my vote and we have ur back not only as a naija man but also as a blackman in a predominantly prejudiced world.funny how we keep turning on ourselves when we ought tp be sticking together. funny again,i dunno, but she would seem the Uncle Tom to me here. Shalom

11:26 pm, May 23, 2006  
Blogger 2undeh said...


I feel you on this issue. The fact that you were aggrieved by the insensitive comment she made shows how deep and common place this issue is. Most importantly, and by far the creditable thing you did, was not to rise to the bait. That is the highest display of maturity in my book.

Keep doing your thing. Remain and continue to act black. Coz we gat your back.

9:55 am, May 24, 2006  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is the fact that she is Jamaican important to this story? Wouldn't it have been enough to say she was also black? You seem to want to separate yourself from her as many Africans do. Do you think that you are better than her because you are African? Your description implies that you do.

Also re: Marcus Garvey and WEB Dubois, you raised the issue of Dubois being light skinned, actually he was mixed race, and that fact like your co-worker being Jamaican was not needed, your inclusion of this implies it was a factor in Mr. Garvey's criticism of WEB Dubois. Having done my MA in this area (read the newpaper published by Garvey during this time as well as the critiques of his contemporaries)I can tell you that it is higly unlikely that Dubois' light skin had nothing to do with Garvey's criticisms. Garvey had similar critiques of dark skinned contemporaries.

7:38 am, August 10, 2007  
Blogger Morountodun said...

@Aug 10 Anonymous. I mention only that she is Jamaican because I have a strange suspicion that part of her difficulty with me stems from that difference.

And re: Marcus Garvey & WEB Dubois theories abound relating to their differences...

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