The Jolly Nigga

Imagine the year is 1840. You are an enslaved African working on a plantation in the southern United States. You work in the fields. It’s the middle of the day in the middle of summer. The sun is hot and even though your body has been conditioned to work from sun up to sun down off the meager sustenance you’re given it is nevertheless exhausting work. You need to take a break for just a minute so you stand straight to stretch your back. You look around and see the other field hands toiling in the sun. As you look around your gaze catches the porch of the plantation house. The plantation owner is sitting in a chair in the shade having what appears to be a cool drink. Now imagine sitting at the plantation owner’s feet is one of the house niggers performing some basic assignment in the shade of the porch. You can’t hear what’s being said, but it’s obvious that the plantation owner and the house nigger are having a jovial conversation.

Here’s the question: Which one of two thoughts is most likely to go through your head? Do you look with envy at the house nigger and secretly wish you could trade places and enjoy the relative luxury and comfort compared to your own situation or do you look with a sense of anger and rage wishing you can kill the plantation owner and his tom so that all the field hands could be freed from their enslavement?

I would imagine that most people would say that they would choose to put the plantation owner and his tom out of their misery. It’s obvious that to stop the enslavement would be a more community minded choice. Even though it would lead to a more comfortable life the selfish decision to become the new tom wouldn’t sit well with most. Judging from personal experience, no self-respecting field working African would want to be hated the way most would hate the uncle tom house slave. One could not imagine how any brother or sister would live so well while so many in their community suffered.

Now imagine it’s the early part of the 21st century. You work in a thankless job somewhere in the landscape of corporate America. In order to make ends meet you work as much as you can, signing up for overtime whenever you can, even taking a part-time job to help take care of yourself and your family. You come home from work mentally drained and physically exhausted. You need to forget about your day for just a minute so you turn on your television set. Flipping through channels you run across an immensely popular actor/actress, singer, sports star, musician, talk show host, corporate executive, government official, whatever of African descent doing whatever they do to earn a staggering paycheck and live a glamorous life oblivious to the plight of the community at large.

Here’s the question: Which one of two thoughts is most likely to go through your head? Do you look with envy at the black megastar and secretly wish that it was you living the life of luxury, comfort, and public adulation or do you look with a sense of anger and rage wishing you could stop their collaboration in the enslavement of the African American community. Unfortunately, I would imagine that most people would say they don’t have a problem with the modern day plantation owners and their uncle toms. Most people of African descent exist unaware of how their collective mindset has been manipulated to not just tolerate uncle tom-ism but to actually wish to be the tom.