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8 Bumps

Why do people say someone is an "Uncle Tom" in a bad way, when Uncle Tom was nothing but a perfect example of a good man?

I just read the book Uncle Tom's Cabin and, having heard people call well educated and "uppity" (not my word) black people "Uncle Toms", I wonder why that's said when the character in the book is none of those things. He starts out a "house" slave, but all throughout the book embodies nothing but the absolute perfect example of a Christian man, loving to every soul he meets, willing to stand up for what's right and help those who needed it regardless of their actions and beliefs. Does anyone know the history of this term?

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Asked by mommaserene at 9:57 AM on Dec. 16, 2010 in Politics & Current Events

Level 5 (99 Credits)
Answers (24)
  • No, but GOOD question...and I want to read that book now! Bump!

    Answer by spottedpony at 10:00 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

  • Because how dare a black man act like he's one of us! Its used like that. Very bad usage.

    Answer by butterflyblue19 at 10:00 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

  • Yep how dare he break away from the group and get better!

    Answer by pinkdragon36 at 10:01 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

  • It is the thought of a black man acting "white". I have never understood that one either. If being ethical, moral, and living by a set of values is "white"..................who decided that?

    Answer by jesse123456 at 10:04 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

  • Peeping tom, not from the book. Apparently, the original Tom who had his eyes burned out for peeping on a queen (can't spell her name so I'm not going to even try) had a sister, who got married and made her brother rich. Saying someone is an 'uncle Tom' is derogatory because it's from that original Tom who peeped on the Queen when she rode by nude.

    Answer by momnstepmom at 10:06 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

  • You're right, I never understood it either. A dear friend of mine is black, she said that her father used to call their neighbor "Uncle Tom" because he was a college graduate; he acted "too white" for his taste.


    Answer by Scuba at 10:11 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

  • Because they never read the book.

    Answer by SuperChicken at 10:11 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

  • If you google History of "Uncle Tom" you'll find a lot of ideas on this. The majority was that he was acting subservient to whites. But also that it was the communists that first brought this up. The common thoughts about the book have changed radically, depending on the pervailing ideas of the time. Interesting.

    Answer by SweetLuci at 10:13 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

  • momnstepmom that's fascinating! I'm going to have to research the whole thing.

    You know, on the topic of Uncle Tom of Uncle Tom's Cabin, he certainly wasn't well educated (his original master's son taught him the Bible, but he couldn't actually READ it, just had a Bible and wrote symbols by his favorite verses so he could remember them), didn't act white, accepted his lot in life as a slave and encouraged others not to rebel to the point of punishing themselves. He, many times, took whippings for helping fellow slaves.

    The book by no means follows only Uncle Tom; it follows several different storylines with a variety of different mentalities...stories of cruelty alongside paradoxical kindnesses...very interesting. I found it on audiobook at, where you can get free "public domain" audiobooks. The actual text can be found if you Google "gutenberg project."

    Comment by mommaserene (original poster) at 10:13 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

    This is terribly interesting. It discusses the feeling in the late 1800's in the South of black leaders who are stronger, more militant, more ready to stand up for themselves.

    Answer by Jenny-talia at 10:18 AM on Dec. 16, 2010

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