What Makes a Person a Tom?
What makes a person a tom? Many people think that if a black person exercises correct English or enunciates clearly that’s evidence plenty that they’re trying to be something they’re not, white. Many people think that if a black person would like to live in a nice house or in a nice neighborhood that they are trying to live white or amongst white people. There are brothers and sisters plenty who see a black person trying to get an education as someone trying to be something they’re not. A lot of people think that if a black person has a serious bank account with plenty of zeroes in the right places then they’ve sold out.
If I had a dollar every time one of my brothers or sisters took advantage of one of their simple minded moments to call me a tom based on such flimsy criteria I’d have a far better chance to die a very wealthy man. Thankfully I don’t connect my value to my community, my family, or my spirituality to such irrational criticism…well, at least not very often.
I know I do more than my share of tom calling. I remember one particular occasion with a stiff brother who managed the Greyhound bus station in San Antonio, Texas a couple years ago who didn’t see any problem with his rent-a-cops from some security guard company who targeted only African and Hispanic males to harass at the entrance to the facility. Minority men had to produce proof that they had business before they were allowed inside. White males and females weren’t confronted at all. When I tried to educate a brother about his support of a racist and sexist policy he merely pointed to the wall at the posted sign that said Greyhound had the right to search anybody they wanted. I tried to tell the brother he was reinforcing every negative image of African American and Hispanic men by subjecting them to a totally unwarranted search while everyone else walked on by. The brother shrugged with an “I’m sorry but this is our policy” smile on his face. I called him a tom and produced my ticket to Houston. He countered with regret that I felt that way about him. I replied with my own regret that I felt that way about him.
I regularly refer to Oprah Winfrey, Bouncy Knowles, Morgan “the Organ” Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Wesley Snipes, George Foreman, Tiger Woods, Ice Cube, Ice-T, Mr. T, Gary Coleman, Montel Jordan, Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Sean “Pee-diddle-lee” Combs, Clarence Thomas, Colin Powel, and Condoleezaa Rice as straight up bona fide toms. Why? Each one of these people has made conscientious efforts to separate themselves from their African American brothers and sisters.
The image of the original uncle tom is one of an enslaved African who does his/her best to ingratiate themselves to the plantation owner, even at the expense of their African brothers and sisters. The uncle tom personality is more than happy to accept the belief that their race is dominated by white people. Indeed, they use this fact to their advantage. The tom is more than happy to be the favorite of all the subjugated people instead of being an ordinary member of their own community. The tom would be willing to betray his family for an opportunity to show how much they approve of their master being in control.
Today, the modern tom is alive and too well. I don’t know how most people see this individual. But the modern tom is much more pervasive in American culture than we would like to give him credit for. The modern tom is ready to dance a jig at a moments notice. The modern day tom might wear a badge and a gun while willfully enabling his/her law enforcement buddies to abuse brothers and sisters when they need him most to step forward and help them. The modern tom would rather keep his/her mouth shut than say anything against the master who endorses his paycheck. A modern tom would say white people have the right to say what they want or do anything they want with their property rather than take a stand against racism. A tom doesn’t do what they do out of desperation. A tom does what they do for gratification.
The tom is a dangerous person. Malicious or not, the selfish and narrow mindset of the tom can console itself for their participation in the destruction of their entire culture with the belief, totally accepted or not, that the subjugation of their people under their master’s race is for the better good. Racial integrity means nothing to this individual. Personal integrity is secondary to getting a bigger, better share of the crumbs master distributes to his enslaved laborers. So what if everyone else gets less than enough to survive. Somebody’s got to do it. Somebody’s got to be the one to get the most.
Most people would like to think that they wouldn’t even entertain the notion of being an uncle tom if they had to choose. Yet, if many black people were to sit back and take a moment to honestly examine their values, goals, personal philosophy, attitude about materialism, and other components of their character, they would find an unwelcome surprise. Or they may find it a welcome surprise. It all depends on what truly motivates the individual.