Aunt Jemima and Uncle Tom Redux

In “Many Thousands Gone,” one of James Baldwin’s essays in Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin writes about white America’s favorite aunt and uncle, Jemima and Tom:

“There was no one more forbearing than Aunt Jemima, no one stronger or more pious or more loyal or more wise; there was, at the same time, no one weaker or more faithless or more vicious and certainly no one more immoral.  Uncle Tom, trustworthy and sexless, needed only to drop the title “Uncle” to become violent, crafty, and sullen, a menace to any white woman who passed by.”

James Baldwin, prophet that he was, given the historical trajectory of the “Negro” at the time he was writing, thought that Jemima and Tom would long be dead by 1991, and certainly by the New Millennium!  Unfortunately, white America’s favorite aunt and uncle are alive, embodied in Candace Owens and Clarence Tom, Associate Justice of the United State Supreme Court!  When Uncle was dropped from Tom’s name during his Senate Confirmation Hearing, when allegations of sexual misconduct took center stage at Tom’s confirmation hearing, he didn’t quite become the opposite of  Uncle Tom, for the allegations of sexual misconduct were levied by a Black woman, Anita Hill.  Nonetheless, Tom invoked the L Word, that terrible word, “lynching,” and said that his hearing was a “legal lynching!”  I have not read anywhere in the annals of American history where white men hung Black men for a sexual indiscretion or sexual misconduct or the rape of a Black woman.  Tom knew or should have known that there was no precedent for this claim but lobbed it in the U.S. Senate like a live grenade anyway.  It is a moot point what the outcome would have been for Tom if his accuser was a white woman. Tom, of course, is married to a white woman, which is beside the point and which, in a way, shows how far we have come since the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, in which the court ruled that laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

Uncle Clarence Tom has shown that he is crafty, and sullen, otherwise he would have long been unceremoniously booted off the bench had he not been deemed trustworthy by white folk.

About William Eric Waters, aka Easy Waters

Award-winning poet, playwright and writer. Author of three books of poetry, "Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present"; "Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats"; "The Black Feminine Mystique," and a novel, "Streets of Rage." All four books are available on
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