Uncle Tom syndrome

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Illustration of Tom and Eva by Hammatt Billings for the 1853 deluxe edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Uncle Tom syndrome is a concept in psychology.[1] It refers to a coping skill where individuals use passivity and submissiveness when confronted with a threat, leading to subservient behaviour and appeasement, while concealing their true thoughts and feelings. The term "Uncle Tom" comes from the title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, where the African American slave Tom is beaten to death by a cruel white master for refusing to betray the whereabouts of two other slaves.

In the American racial context, Uncle Tom is a pejorative term for blacks that give up or hide their ethnic or gender outlooks, traits, and practices, in order to be accepted into the mainstream—a so-called race traitor. In African American parlance this is also derogatorily known as an Oreo cookie, black on the outside only, white on the inside.[2]

In race minority literature Uncle Tom syndrome refers to blacks that, as a necessary survival technique, opt to appear docile, non-assertive, and happy-go-lucky. Especially during slavery, blacks used passivity and servility to minimize retaliation and maximize own survival.[3] Key notions are integrity and self-respect. For instance, the Aboriginal Australian Corranderrk are reported to have conformed to European ways while still retaining group dignity and individual self-respect, thereby not succumbing to the Uncle Tom syndrome.[4]

In a broader context the term may refer to a minority's strategy of coping with oppression from socially, culturally or economically dominant groups involving suppression of aggressive feelings and even identification with the oppressor, leading to "forced assimilation/acculturation" of the cultural minority.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jackson, Yo; Yolanda Kaye Jackson (2006). Encyclopedia of multicultural psychology. SAGE Publications. p. 509. ISBN 1-4129-0948-1. , overviews of terms available here
  2. ^ Miller, Seymour Michael; Anthony J. Savoie (2002). Respect and rights: class, race, and gender today. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 134. ISBN 0-7425-1729-2. 
  3. ^ Sue, Derald Wing; Monica McGoldrick (2005). Multicultural social work practice. John Wiley and Sons. p. 54. ISBN 0-471-66252-6. 
  4. ^ Mulvaney, Derek John (1989). Encounters in place: outsiders and aboriginal Australians, 1606-1985. University of Queensland Press. p. 134. ISBN 0-7022-2153-8. 
  5. ^ Mio, Jeffrey Scott (1999). Key words in multicultural interventions. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 204. ISBN 0-313-29547-6.