Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Letter to Reverend Sharpton

Re: June 13th, 2007 show on Keepin’ it Real with Al Sharpton, “Who is an Uncle Tom? And what can we do about them?”

Dear Reverend Sharpton,

Greetings. My name is Kamau Bobb. I am a Brooklyn native and have been listening to you and admiring your defense of black people since the days of Tawanna Brawley. I have been present several times over the years when you’ve sounded the call to action. Notwithstanding that, I have a criticism of you today.

One of the topics on your radio talk show on June 13th, 2007 was, “Who is an Uncle Tom? And what can we do about them?” This type of discussion is far beneath your caliber as a black man of such credibility with such a prominent public voice. Asking people what an Uncle Tom is and who they think is one invariably leads to slanderous, counterproductive name calling. I fail to see what productive ideas or insights could come from such a discussion. That type of conversation always degenerates to a mindless witch hunt as anonymous people publicly belittle other black people who are not there to defend themselves.

Michele from Detroit, who do you think is an Uncle Tom?....

Unless the discussion is about the very specific actions of a public figure who has influence over the living conditions of black people, there is no productive answer to this question.

I do not doubt that there are people who fit your description of an Uncle Tom, but I would challenge you to identify the benefit of having people call in to name people they think – based on their own very personal and individual criteria – are Uncle Toms. Your discussion invites slander and keeps us as a community practicing the techniques of belittling each other.

Your topic is particularly distasteful in a presidential election season that includes Senator Barack Obama. You are well aware that there are considerable segments of the black community that have questioned his “blackness” for a number of reasons. Some of that set have suggested that he is an Uncle Tom simply by virtue of his high brow education. They argue in part, that he cannot possibly have the genuine interests of the black community in his heart because he went to Harvard and Columbia. The implication is that elite educational accomplishment is incompatible with allegiance to the black community. I trust you would agree that the logic of that argument is asinine. Your discussion gives voice to such backward thinking. More dangerously, it helps create an environment that constrains the definition of high achievement, questions the motives of those who do not adhere to it and ultimately undermines the spirit of collective black advancement that you have been struggling for all these years.

I trust your motives and always have. I am also keenly aware of your special skills at identifying the hidden forces that affect the black community. In light of that I would hope that you do not allow your show to descend into the abyss. There are more than enough black talk shows that rely on minstrel antics and base foolishness to whet the appetite of the thoughtless. You have always stood above the fray and I hope that you continue to.

In support,

kamau


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