Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nader Questions Whether Obama Will Be An Uncle Tom

Quite honestly Nader had a point when he stated that Barack has not aimed his message at the working/under class. His message has been completely directed towards the middle class.  It is a legitimate critique to point out that once elected Obama will be beholden to those that helped him gain power.

Where Nader went wrong was in his usage of the phrase uncle tom.  To use such racialized language on the night that the first African American became president was to engage the racial divide in a way that was demeaning to blacks. It seems that even as blacks where celebrating a historic victory there were those that sought to remind us our place. 

H/T Dog-Whistle Racism.


Anonymous said...

As much as I have agreed with Nader on so many things, he has always had a tin ear on racial issues, which is an inexcusable blot on his record. He totally undermined an otherwise very astute point that few people are making.

Clarice said...

Nader just provided a prime example of why he consistently fails to achieve his goals by digging a hole the Grand Canyon would envy. The valid point he was trying to make is lost because of his habitually poor command of the language and insensitivity to human dignity.

Vera H. said...

I actually saw that live on Fox last night. What was interesting to me was the Fox commentator questioning Nader about the statement, and Nader just not getting the stupidity of his remark, which BTW, will overshadow any valid point he was trying to make.

Anonymous said...

Nader was going to give the history of the term and explain how the term fit the question. It was Shep Smith that didn't allow him to elaborate on the history of the term.

In our country we've become so afraid of offending that even the smallest little item gets misconstrued and blown up to be something larger than it is.

If we are going to move beyond this, if we are going to be more than the color of our skin we need to quit whining and crying over the smallest of words or terms and criticizing people for using words or terms from a pre-civil rights era.

Anonymous said...

I like most of what Nader has done, because he does make valid points. He also has a point that Obama has consistently mentioned the middle class, I have not heard him say a lot about the people who are at the bottom of the barrel. Which is not to say that he wouldn't help them, I just haven't heard him say it.

But to use 'Uncle Tom'... wow... If I was Barack Obama, the first african american president in the history of the United States, I would do the absolute right thing, to hell what anybody thought of that. He will be the touch stone by which others will be measured. He'd be stupid to compromise himself. He is in a position to do anything he wants.

Uncle Tom is not a good comment. Obama -very much- is a thinking man with a great intellect. He would not be used as a tool and not be aware of it. The man is -not- a clown. He beats every president on class and intellect since Eisenhower [well, Carter is a class act and Clinto isn't an idiot either], he's got enough bite to defend himself surely.

Uncle Tom... if he had just expressed a danger of Obama being manipulated, that would be, that is, a valid point. Obama has run not run a race campaign, to use that phrase... Nader, you asshole, how could you.

Renee said...

@Anon..I am going to go ahead assume that most are aware that Uncle Tom comes from Harriet Beechers Stowes novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. The problem with Nader using that term in connection with Obama is that he would not have used the same sort of language with a white candidate.

When Clinton sold out the left and dismantled what was left of the new deal, no one referred to him as an uncle Tom though he clearly pandering to big business. Uncle Tom is a term that is reserved for people of color and it is offensive.

Anonymous said...

@Renee... Don't make it offensive. See the comment for what it is and the context in which it was being used. For too long now we get upset over one word being used in place of another... so much to the point that a lot of time we don't seem to get a point across.

I say we just calm down, look at the point that was being made and examine the point, not just two words out of it.

Questioning is American. Caring is American. Ralph Nader is questioning and is caring about the future of the country.

And just for the record, I voted for Obama yesterday. I proudly wore my button on my shirt as I voted. I called a number of my relatives and had long conversations about them voting for Obama. I am not against him. But I do think that we need to have discussions and be able to look past what some people "feel" offended to. Once we do that, and we forgive (if we feel that something has wronged us), then we come together. After all, Lincoln taught us that during the end of the Civil War... and eventually that brought our nation back together.

Sandalstraps said...


I'm confused: is it black people's fault that they are offended that a white man (Ralph Nader) first accused Barack Obama of not talking "black," and has now called him an Uncle Tom? Is that what you're trying to say, that if only black people would just stop being so sensitive Mr. Nader's patently racist use of language wouldn't offend? That the fault here lies not in the either clumsy (best case) or intentionally inflammatory speech, but rather in the hearing of said speech? Can that possibly be your point?

Anonymous said...

@Sandalstraps... We are all at fault of being "offended" by what we hear. We are all guilty of it.

There are numerous studies out there that detail just how peoples minds work. As far as being offended goes, it lies within the person "feeling" offended where that happens. It happens within that person's mind. We overcome that, we overcome the pettiness that envelops us.

Words change meaning over time. Words keep an "ill" meaning when such meaning is emphasized. If a step is taken back from a situation, a more academic debate on the ACTUAL issue that was originally mentioned can be discussed.

Joan Kelly said...

Shorter Anonymous:

Getting off the white man's back, already - ur doin it wrong.

Renee said...


Not sure if you are aware, but it is oppressive to tell a POC that they do not have a right to be offended at clearly racist language. I do not have to take Naders comments out of context for them to be racially charged. Simply put, Uncle Tom refers to a black man that has sold out to white overlords. You cannot honestly state that the term Uncle Tom would have been used as a descriptor for a white man and therefore based on racial based usage alone it is racist and damaging to black people. When we add the historical context of the term it only compounds the issue.

FEMily! said...

Where was Ralph Nader when that woman at the McCain rally said she was afraid of Obama because "he's an Arab?" Nader is Lebanese! Why didn't he say anything? I guess he doesn't care about racism at all.

exholt said...

This episode doesn't surprise me one bit. Even back in the mid-1990s when he came to my campus and defended the PIRG fee automatically tacked on the student tuition bill unless one goes through the trouble of opting out....he left an impression of being no different from a sleazy telemarketer.

His accepting GOP money for his subsequent presidential campaigns only added to my suspicions of his motivations....and I agree with Green Party Presidential Candidate Cynthia McKinney when she said he has destroyed the Green Party here:

White Trash Academic said...

I have always been fond of Nader simply due to his history of activism, but this is unacceptable. He has crossed the line too many times during this election and needs to just STFU.

Danyell said...


If you think it is "just two words" you are clearly missing the point. What is suggests in the entirety of the statement is what's most offensive. He might as well have called him a "house nigger". It not only perpetuates the notion that there is a certain amount of "Blackness" than a Black person must have and that Obama doesn't have it...but it also makes assumptions and accusations about what he hasn't even had a chance to do yet. Also, there are better ways to criticize than to use such racial loaded terms. Would you think we'd have no right to complain if in a otherwise completely valid criticism of Hillary Clinton, someone said she's an "uppity bitch"? Using such terms knocks the person down so they can't just be discussed as a politician, they have to be discussed as a BLACK politician or FEMALE politician (usually making a hissing sound while saying it) as if those are bad things to be.

I agree that Obama has focused on the middle class, but I think when he throws in stuff about "working families", I think he means "poor people". But I still wish he would talk to those of us that didn't make large campaign contributions. But he's not in the White House yet. So let's see what he actually does before he jump down this throat about what hasn't had a chance to happen yet.

Sandalstraps said...

Anonymous (that is, Anonymous 7 & 9),

You correctly note that the act of taking offense occurs in the mind of the one taking offense. However, this strikes me as a trivial point.

If I see a bird, for example, my act of seeing occurs in my mind. The neural pathways can be traced, some mental event observed, if my brain is being studied. Does it follow from that, however, that the event is an entirely internal one? Of course not. There is an external stimulus triggering an internal event.

The same is true here. It may be the case that the external stimulus need not trigger the internal event - that is, that it does not of necessity trigger the internal event. It may be that some Herculean effort of will could prevent the external stimulus from triggering the internal event. And it may even be that the exercise of the Herculean effort may have some spiritual/psychological value (though I am not convinced of this).

None of this, however, makes the act of taking offense a morally bad act. None of this means that any offense taken is the fault of the one taking it, any more than the fact that my nerve ending triggering an experience of pain in my mind when you hit me means that the pain is my responsibility rather than yours.

In this case, the moral agent is not the hearer but the speaker of offensive words, words known to cause offense, words that serve as a trigger for an adverse internal event. To assert otherwise is simply absurd, and also oppressive.

Anonymous said...

I think it was one of those moments where the stupid bug rears its ugly head. Racial slur language permeates our speech, and I think he said something without really considering what a horrible thing it was to say and how bad it would sound.

I don't think Nader MEANT it as racist comment, "Look at the nigger cosy up to his masters", but , frankly, that's what he said, and if he doesn't do a genuine apology soon, and I mean GENUINE, I will lose all respect for him and he will kind of make me sick.

The Unmarried Daughter said...

I watched the excellent Frontline doc on both canaditates the night before the election. From what I gathered, President-Elect Obama started his political career in Chicago, he did try to build a base made entirely up of working/under class people, predominatly of color. He failed in this endeavor but learned that it wasn't the working/under class POCs who made up his base it was the mostly white, college educated liberals who supported him. So, President-Elect Obama shifted gears and started to build his base around those people who supported him the most.

This makes him a politician. FTR, I also don't feel that President-Elect Obama is going to do anything much different from President Bush once the reality of the situation is explained to him. Obama is actually more conservative in views than most progressives want to believe. Or, as in the case of Jesus Christ, people have turned Obama into what they need to believe him to be.

Josh said...

Nader is saying Obama has amazing potential, and that he hopes that he doesn't forget his roots and become an "Uncle Tom", or someone who sells out people who say they will fight for (the middle class), to the people who are oppressing them (the corporations). "Uncle Tom" does not carry the perceived racial weight, it is just that he is speaking about a black man that this seems racist. It is just a commonly used phrase for people who turn their backs on their own people. Fox is just over-exaggerating and missing the point he is trying to make. Ralph Nader is the farthest thing from a racist, and has done so much for this country. Don't base you opinions on him from a misguided interview with Fox News.

Natalia said...

Josh - No, just no.

"It is just a commonly used phrase for people who turn their backs on their own people."

It simply isn't. And Nader, of all people, knows that.

The fact that Nader has been very strident about not apologizing for the remark is actually pretty telling too. He *is* holding Obama to a different standard, due to the colour of his skin.

Like FEMily, I also noticed that when "Arab" was being used as a slur during this election, Nader was nowhere to be found.

Seems that Nader has become both increasingly bitter and self-righteous, to the point of justifying a vicious and prejudiced attack.