Billboards, Vlogs, and Uncle Toms

What do you get when you take a popular label, the meaning of which is misunderstood and widely misused, and blend it with an ahistorical and subtly racist analysis of Christian religious identity in the Black community? You get this nonsense, right here:

This video reminded me immediately of last year’s Billboard Brouhaha, when the PA chapter of American Atheist put up a billboard featuring a picture of a shackled Black man beneath a quote from Colossians 3:22, instructing slaves to “obey their masters”. The billboard was a part of a protest effort of the Pennsylvania state legislature’s declaration of 2012 as the year of the bible. The billboard was not received well by the predominantly Black neighborhood where it was posted, a fact that flabbergasted many in the mainstream atheist movement and even many Black atheists. As I said in my previous blog about the billboard, one cannot boil down slavery to the bible. And so it seems, that Dusty like many others in this atheist/skeptic/ freethought community has fallen victim to the same lack of understanding of the historical and ideological issues concerning slavery. Dusty goes a step further demonstrating ignorance by using Uncle Tom as a derogatory epithet to insult Black Christians.

I should not have to go into the reasons why Dusty, a white male, should not use racialized epithets to describe Black people for any reason (nor should anyone else for that matter) – so I won’t. However, Dusty also makes a mistake that we many of us atheists accuse Christians of when it comes to failing to read and read widely. Uncle Tom, the title character in Harriet Beacher-Stowe’s novel is a noble Christ-like character based on the real life Josiah Henson. This original characterization was purposefully altered in later adaptations for the entertainment of white audiences. These minstrel show versions of Uncle Tom’s character like all minstrel show depictions of Black characters were meant to mock and demean Black people. Sound familiar?

Perhaps, that is why I wasn’t surprised to see that Dusty refers to the film Django Unchained as though it is based on a slave narrative, or when he referred to “Uncle Tom-house negro” Stephen (played by Samuel L. Jackson) as one of the “greatest characters in movie history!”

He then goes on to say that “Uncle Tom-house negro slaves” were most hated by slaves because they sold out their own race for the white man. I’m not going to go into why he think that sort of character is one of the greatest of all time. He has to defend those words not me. But this false dichotomy of house slaves and field slaves is one that is used a lot. While there were some benefits for some house slaves let us remember they were still property. Moreover, this notion that house slaves or other slaves were content with their condition is a myth invented by those who defended slavery as an institution. There have been even been efforts to erect “Mammy” and “faithful slave” monuments. In support of such efforts, a southern congressman once stated, “No class of any race of people held in bondage could be found anywhere who lived more free from care or distress.” And so, the myth of the contented slave served the white supremacist ideology that sought to re-establish what they believed to be that natural racial order.

Which brings me to the main point… white supremacy is what led to the enslavement of Black people- not the bible. Certainly the bible was used as a justification later on for slavery but it wasn’t always so. Black people who converted were once able to earn their freedom in many colonies. However, laws allowing freedom for converted slaves were repealed due to increased demand for slave labor. Several writings and letters from people like Thomas Jefferson discuss justifications for slavery or the belief in the racial inferiority of Blacks that do not depend on scripture. So the notion that the bible provided the main justifications for slavery is untrue. Sikivu Hutchinson, dismantles this myth in Moral Combat in her discussion of the role religion plays in defining race and identity within American culture.

But Dusty and several of his fans see Black Christians as “Uncle Tom-house negroes” despite how ignorant this characterization may be in light of the facts.

This perspective also ignores the numerous ways in which slaves adapted Christianity to reflect their own unique cultural traditions and to resist and escape slavery. This perspective is also ignorant of the theological contributions of Black Christians who rebuked the prevailing assumptions about their oppression and inferiority being determined by “god”.

Dusty like many in the atheist/ skeptic/ freethought community is ignorant of these rich intellectual traditions. They deride these conditions in the same manner that many racist scholars ignored them for years until Black academics were successful in getting studies in Black history, anthropology, theology, etc. a voice in academic institutions. The subtle racism doesn’t end there. The implication of the entire video is that Black Christians are illogical or too stupid to leave the religion “that their slave masters gave them”. And because he views them as stupid, Dusty in his condescending and paternalistic manner is going to rescue Black Christians with his obviously superior intellect.

It is a recurring theme that seems to preoccupy many atheist/skeptics/ and freethinkers on various podcasts and internet media. This fascination with the question of “why would Blacks be Christian when it was forced upon them during slavery?” is racist, it implies that there can be no good reason or independent thought that would lead a Black person to practice Christianity. Many of the answers to this question, like Dusty’s, amount to an argument from incredulity. He cannot imagine another answer except that Black Christians lack logic and are behaving in a servile manner. Interestingly enough, this is close to the position of Calvin Candie, the villain, who uses a pseudoscientific argument based on his analysis of the indentations on the back of a former slave’s skull. Candie concludes that slaves are submissive by nature. I find it interesting that a picture of that scene is featured in the video.

As if his flippant remarks juxtaposed with scenes of Black slaves being beaten, chained, and dehumanized were not enough, he is accusing those who have criticized him of reverse racism.

Capture

I personally don’t mind White people talking about “Black issues” provided they are informed with regards to the relevant historical, social, and economic factors. But here Dusty has made yet another asinine assertion. The notion that Black Christians or that somehow the Black community is responsible for Prop 8 passing has been debunked several times. Their support was not necessary nor was it sufficient to get Prop 8 passed. And it’s just that sort of ignorance that makes his cries of “reverse racism” ring all the more hollow.

But while we are on subject of voting and politics perhaps he can muster a little of that phony self-righteous indignation concerning The Voting Rights Act? I won’t hold my breath on that one.

 

 

Video Responses:

Let’s Teach: Uncle Dusty’s Cabin

Where CultofDusty got it wrong…

Cultofdusty = Copperhead

Recommended Reading:
Sikivu Hutchinson- “Creepy Crackers n’ Shucking Toms”

Diminutive Diva- My issues with ‘Black Christians are Uncle Toms’

For more on this you can join Black Freethinkers Wednesday @7 CST

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/blackfreethinkers/2013/07/11/uncle-tom-uncle-ruckus-coon-tarbaby-and-christians

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12 thoughts on “Billboards, Vlogs, and Uncle Toms

  1. Ralph Dumain says:

    Bravo. The author of this video must be a blithering idiot. But I think it’s not so much because he’s white, as there are numerous black atheists just as intellectually illiterate. This is adolescent posturing at its worst.

  2. uhuruhouston says:

    I don’t think what he’s saying is so far-fetched since religion, the way it was presented to the slave on the plantation served only to further indoctrinate him. However the Term UNCLE TOM is wrong, because in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it wasn’t Uncle Tom that was the traitorous culprit, it was SAMBO!!!

    • His analysis is subtly racist and completely ahistorical. And the way it was presented is one thing but slaves resisted and adapted Christianity to preserve aspects of their culture and to resist slavery.

  3. Yahooey says:

    I enjoyed your analysis and learned somethings. It’s hard to find a rational voice on sensitive subjects (religion and racism) like this and I can only imagine what the comment stream for the video must look like.

  4. Thank you so much for this post Raina! I really appreciate the way you broke down the problems with Dusty’s video. It’s refreshing to see other black atheists calling him out.

  5. Dick Ross says:

    This article was 100% Correct ! Dusty definitely showed his ignorance of culture, history and religion as it relates to those in the community.

  6. […] Jay-z or Russell Simmons “house negroes” but perhaps that is something for Camara (or maybe Dusty) to […]

  7. Alan Barysh says:

    When some one yells at me no matter how much the point is well taken-I just get a little uh ticked off. I think there is a talk by Bob Avakian of the Revolutionary Communist Party that says a lot of what Dusty in his self-centered punk/neck way was groping at. I also suggest Away With All Gods by Bob Avakian -that makes the point oh so much better. I for one being Jewish feel there is no need for a white man to yell at Black people as if they were bad servants. I would simply ask the questions with out the cussing.
    I always ask my Christian friends who say if you do not believe in Jesus you are going to hell this question. Is Malcolm X in hell. I also ask all Christians this question. If you claim to love a God you can not see-why do you hate the image you can see? I just got all sick in the belly watching this rant. I think Dusty should watch 12 Angry men to see how a loving/respectful way of getting your point across is so much better. By the way this blog rocks! You have no idea how much better I feel knowing there is some one/some ones out there who have answers to questions that keep me up at night!

  8. […] Billboards, Vlogs, and Uncle Toms […]

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