With all due respect to the Ralph Nader campaign, and the accomplishments he has achieved during his career, there were two moments in his most recent run for the presidency that ruffled the feathers of some people of color. The first moment came when Nader criticized his Democratic counterpart as trying to “talk white.” The second most recent moment came in a post-election radio interview in which Nader employed the rhetorical device asking if Obama’s victory would procure a president who would be an “Uncle Sam,” for the American people or and “Uncle Tom,” for corporations. It wouldn’t have helped much, but did Ralph Nader make it a point to call out broad issues of white supremacy during the 2000 and 2004 election? As an avid follower of his campaigns, the simple answer is of course not. Why interject race in this election when white privilege critiques were never featured in Nader’s past stumps?
Fox news interviews by Shepard Smith aside, Nader’s “Uncle Tom,” rhetorical device has caught the long time consumer advocate much more heat from leftist people of color. Few if any, aside from the commentary by Empire Notes author Rahul Mahajan below, have grasped at the issue publicly, however. The response to his words has been tremendous in inciting debate, not just in the arguments suggested but also in their presentation (which I’m sure Mahajan can answer for himself better than anyone)
Obviously, my immediate reaction is that Nader should not have used such a racial pejorative in framing his criticism; even in posing a rhetorical question. If the argument is to follow; “Well, Nader didn’t directly call him an Uncle Tom,” then what is to stop the degree from rising into more charged words such as “House Slave?” Now, Derrick Coleman can call Karl Malone an “Uncle Tom,” after a NBA basketball game, as he did, and it’s not an issue because they are both black. Harry Belafonte can call Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice “House Slaves,” because he is a black person talking about black people. They have that license. Ralph Nader does not even have license to use anything of the like even for a rhetorical question. There are ways of framing Obama’s political centrism in relation to his people to be sure, but when I seek such information out, I’ll go ahead and read critiques by people like Kevin Alexander Gray, not Nader.
Rahul Mahajan Comments on Nader’s Campaign. Discuss: