published Saturday, March 19th, 2011

’Uncle Tom’ remark exposes pain in black community

  • photo
    Toronto Raptors guard Jalen Rose, right, drives past Orlando Magic forward Grant Hill during a game in Orlando, Fla. Basketball stars Jalen Rose and Grant Hill are going head to head _ but this time, they're not competing on the court. When Rose said he had considered black Duke University players like Hill "Uncle Toms," Hill responded with a blog posting that went viral and exposed a sensitive and longstanding issue for many African-Americans. If blacks have success in a white man's world, and do not conform to assumptions of how blacks should act, are they less black? (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)


AP National Writer

Jalen Rose grew up poor in Detroit, the son of single mom and an NBA player he never met. He helped transform basketball culture as a member of Michigan’s iconic Fab Five team, then earned more than $100 million as a pro baller.

Grant Hill came up wealthy in the D.C. suburbs, the child of an NFL running back married to a corporate consultant. He helped establish Duke University as a paragon of success and virtue in college basketball, then overcame terrible injuries to enjoy a long NBA career.

So which one is the “authentic” black man?

The question may seem irrelevant. But when Rose said that he considered black Duke players like Hill “Uncle Toms” when he was a teenager, he exposed a sensitive and longstanding issue for many African-Americans: If blacks succeed in a white man’s world, and do not conform to certain assumptions of how blacks should act, are they less black?

Rose’s comment — aired Tuesday in an ESPN documentary Rose produced on the five black Michigan freshmen who rode their wave of talent, hip-hop style and trash talk to the 1992 championship game — inspired to a response from Hill on The New York Times website. Hill’s riposte spent several days atop the Times’ most-emailed list, and more than 96,000 people shared it on Facebook, stoking a free-wheeling debate on the Web and in print over which basketball star had the better point.

“I hated everything I felt Duke stood for,” Rose said in the documentary, describing his feelings as a 17-year-old high schooler. “Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.”

Hill responded that “Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those very vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., blacks from two-parent, middle-class families. ... To hint that those who grew up in a household with a mother and father are somehow less black than those who did not is beyond ridiculous.”

Chandra Guinn, director of Duke’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, said the argument went far beyond sniping between college hoops stars from decades ago.

“There are bigger issues here,” she said. Among them: the denigration of children from single-parent homes, and adults damaging the self-esteem of black boys. Guinn also senses “a moment of revelation about black men’s hurt. There’s often a feeling of being ’less than.’ It seemed to me that both of these men, for different reasons, have felt that way.”

Duke junior Julius Jones resents suggestions that “success somehow challenges your blackness. That if you go to school, get good grades, matriculate to an elite institution, that somehow makes you less black.”

Jones grew up in Portland, the son of an electrician and an accountant, and attended a majority white elementary school. In middle school, black kids saw Jones with white friends and told him, “You’re an Uncle Tom, you don’t want to be black, you talk white, you act white,” Jones remembers.

When Michigan met Hill’s Duke team for the 1992 championship, the Blue Devils were the clean-cut defending champs, and started three white players. Duke crushed the Fab Five by 20 points. (“I am proud of my family. I am proud of my Duke championships and all my Duke teammates. And, I am proud I never lost a game against the Fab Five,” Hill concluded his blog post, with a gentlemanly flourish of trash talk.)

Two decades later, Duke is still known as the rare school that mixes high academic standards and graduation rates — for both black and white players — and powerhouse basketball.

“The bottom line is this: (Duke does) recruit a certain type of player ... a lot of players from private schools,” Rose observed while explaining his comments in an ESPN interview.

Kenny Osakwe, a black Duke student, did not disagree, but suggested Duke players should not be tarred merely because they are fortunate. “I’m friendly with a lot of the team, and it’s true, most of them do come from relatively affluent families,” he said. “That’s the culture here at Duke. And you never hear of any recruiting scandals, everything is done the right way.

“Duke didn’t have their Final Fours reneged,” Osakwe said — an allusion to the games Michigan forfeited after it was revealed that some players, including Fab Five center Chris Webber, had accepted money from a Michigan booster.

But by operating in that fashion, the school is open to claims that it is elitist — and that the players it recruits are merely black genetically.

“Why doesn’t it seem like Duke ever takes a chance on a guy from a background like Jalen’s, instead of giving an opportunity to someone who was born on third base?” asked Reginald C. Dennis, a black journalist and basketball fan.

He remembers being angered by sports columns in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when hip-hop was merging with sports culture, that disparaged swashbuckling players like Rose.

“Grant was the one they liked,” said Dennis, who was raised by married parents in a New York City housing project. “They always want to separate the good negro from the bad negro. Grant was used as the example.”

Dennis once owned dozens of hats featuring the names of various college teams. “I didn’t have a Duke hat,” he said. “I never even saw a black person with Duke anything. I wore my Michigan hat until the M fell off.”

“Black people have been saying for 20 years what Jalen Rose said. This is just the first time it was done so publicly,” said Dennis. “It shocked white people who didn’t know the conversation was happening.”

“That’s what this is all about,” agrees Ron Miller, author of “SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch.” “There’s an ongoing discussion in the black community about what constitutes authentic blackness.”

Miller, a black conservative, describes the meaning of the term Uncle Tom as “a boot-licking apologist for white people, someone used by white people who is subservient to their whims and desires.”

He notes that although the term originated with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the book’s character was a heroic figure who refused to divulge the location of escaped slaves. White minstrel shows then changed him into a lackey often played by whites in blackface, Miller said.

He said he does not know any real-life Uncle Toms. “Most of the people I know who have had that label cast upon them are simply trying to play by the rules,” Miller said.

“Rather than trying to force an entire race to conform to a single model, we should celebrate the variety and energy that comes from people across the spectrum.”


Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. He is reachable at jwashington(at) or

about Associated Press...

The Associated Press

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
alohaboy said...

Grant Hill would NEVER call timeout when there are none available near the end of a very close game. If that is being "Uncle Tom", so be it.

March 19, 2011 at 8:28 p.m.
FreedomJournal said...


From our evaluation and experience there is a great deal of confusion and false assumptions about the use of Uncle Tom. This confusion has come about because those that have sought to confuse and mis-inform Black people about their history have distributed this false information. Also, since the advocates of economic racism have enlisted so many Uncle Toms, most if not all become defensive whenever someone (The FreedomJournal) exposes them to the masses.

Concerning the Brother's statement that places Josiah Henson as a Hero or Villain. Josiah Henson from our analysis is not to be held up as a Hero because he finally came back to his people. The record shows as our Brother has mentioned that Josiah committed crimes against his people. The record also shows that Josiah Henson later in his life helped bring other slaves to freedom. However, the record shows that Josiah Henson only came to his senses when the White Slave- Master clearly abandoned Josiah. Thus, if the Slave-Master had not attempted to sell him down river, and separate him from his family, Josiah Henson would still be a loyal slave. Also, if the Slave-Master had not swindled him out of his money that he paid the Slave-Master for his freedom Josiah would still be a loyal slave. Therefore, Josiah only sought freedom when the Slave-Master oppressed him beyond his wildest dreams. So Josiah Henson came back to his people because he had no where else to go.

Once upon a time a man was married to a good woman. He took this good woman for granted and developed a roving eye for every young lass he encountered. One young lass beckoned him to come to her. He left his good woman for this young lass. This young lass only wanted to break up his home and did not love him. When he left his good woman and children for her, she put him out. Since he had no where else to go he came back to his good woman. She accepted him back but she knew that he did not come back because he loved her or felt responsible for her and the children. She knew that he came back Only because he had no where else to go.

In the article that the Brother questions we note that the readers should read the article "Uncle Tom Origin and Reality." This article gives detailed information about the origin of Uncle Tom. For the record the FreedomJournal does not feel that it is necessary to mention the so-called eventual change of heart by Josiah Henson every time we have to use him as the one who set the precedent for Uncle Toms down through history. We make this conclusion because Josiah Henson had a change of attitude because of necessity. Thus this change was not sincere and it did not come From The Heart. We believe that Josiah Henson was still a faithful slave that had been scorned. Peace and Paradise, Carl A. Patton, FreedomJournal


March 20, 2011 at 1:06 p.m.
please login to post a comment

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »


Find a Business

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.